The Fariña Files
Newport Folk Festival 1965
Dick and Mimi - where they were, how they got there, and what they did for three days...
According to David Hajdu, the Fariñas "rented half of one floor in a two-story row house on Putnam Avenue" in Cambridge, Massachusetts in late fall of 1964 and were centered there (as they would be the following year, same time) making club appearances around the east coast through the summer. Their first album, Celebrations For a Gray Day, had been recorded in late fall but would not be released on Vanguard until April, 1965, although for most folk acts (as well as rock acts of the time), album sales were good for grocery money and buying that surprise bicycle for your uncle, but the real money was in touring. Since the majority of American folk clubs at the time were crowded into the Northeast, almost any major city from Philadelphia to Boston could be reached in only two or three hours from anywhere else, turning the whole East Coast into Folk Central. Most folk clubs booked single nights, two weekend nights (Friday and Saturday), or the rare week, thus enabling the Northeastern folk artist to turn a career in club performance into essentially a commuter job.
By the end of March, Random House would accept Dick's novel, and the Fariñas would temporarily relocate to their buddy, Judy Collins', Upper West Side apartment. While in New York, Dick would dulcimer away at two tunes for Judy's forthcoming LP, the Fariñas' "Pack Up Your Sorrows" and Gil Turner's "Carry It On", and possibly have time to write the liner notes for what was to be released that summer as Judy Collins' Fifth Album.
At the end of April, the Fariñas, along with Dick's friend Alfredo Dopico, joined the recently arrived Joan Baez and her friend, Barb Warmer, for an early birthday trip to Bearsville, NY, the home of Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. The Fariñas stayed in a small room above the town's Cafe Espresso, according to Hajdu. Dylan and his friend Victor Maimudes decided to join in the fun during a birthday celebration for Mimi which was held downstairs at the Cafe. Unfortunately, the fun was run through a bad translation and emerged as Dylan's soon-to-be trademarked concept of fun -- looking for weak spots in people and then mining them with a blow-torch. He first laid flame to Alfredo and then to Joan, resulting in a sobbing Joan, an angry Fariña, and an uncommonly livid Mimi. Enraged to the point of temporarily abandoning her pacifist personality, Mimi laid physical siege to Dylan, bringing him to tears and making damned sure he'd think twice before indulging in any more sporting events with her big sister.
Through late spring and early summer, the Fariñas returned to touring, with a June 2 appearance at the New Gate of Cleve in Toronto, playing to an audience of six. A reviewer remarked that they'd gamely made the best of it, and though the songs were good, their act was nonexistent, their demeanor too quiet. Surely, the first and last time those words would ever be applied to Dick Fariña.
July 5th, they were back home in Cambridge for their usual monthly Monday night appearance at the Club 47.
At various points during this period, the Newport Folk Foundation's Board of Directors were having a series of meetings to plan for that summer's Newport Folk Festival. The Directors that year were:
As a group, the Foundation Board exercised sole responsibility for choosing those who would perform, what workshops would be presented, and what performers would be matched to those workshops. Individual members could be involved in the actual producing of the evening concerts. According to Robert L. Jones, former performer of "haunting Guthrie ballads", m.c. of the Club 47 Sunday hoots, and now a top officer at the Newport Folk Foundation, the question of who chose the talent was a complex one: "When one says 'who chose the talent?', there was nobody who said 'I wanna have this guy' -- it was all mutually decided upon at two or three of the meetings". Traditional music, "primarily music that was not found by picking up a phone or hearing about it from some agent" was brought in by Ralph Rinzler, who was funded by the Foundation to make field recording trips, which oftentimes resulted in tapes being brought back and played for the Board. Jones says judgments on these tapes would be made based on "whether we thought that this could be dovetailed into a very strong, popular kind of audience, an audience that was ready to listen to popular things as well as traditional things. Some people probably would not have been able to handle it." The Board, he says, was also aware of the contemporary folk scene, and as performers "were constantly aware of other people in the field, whether they'd be popular or in some instances, the traddies. But generally people knew of other people. Later on there was some instance of when it was important for us to balance out a program with enough popular people to pay for the event..."
Board member Peter Yarrow, the youngest member of the board, loved traditional music and had been a heavy promoter of folk music since teaching English 355-356 ("which was a class in folk music and folk ballads under Dr. Harold Thompson") in his student days at Cornell. He had known fellow student Richard Fariña, "but only in passing -- I met him later in the context of his writing". Yarrow was concerned about the contemporary folk scene. "At a certain point , I told the board that I didn't think it was appropriate for the people like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul & Mary to draw these huge crowds and not acknowledge the new urban singers that were coming up through the ranks." His unhappiness that "the emphasis was on traditional music and the people who would draw the crowds -- namely Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, etc." at the expense of the thriving younger scene was accompanied by a suggestion "that my continued involvement with the board was contingent upon -- not taking anything away from the evening concerts -- but letting me organize and book a concert and then host it and run it, for the new folks...." Out of his concern was born the Sunday afternoon concert known, with good reason, as "New Folks" (renamed "New Directions" in 1966).
There have been many theories over the years about how the Fariñas were invited to perform at the 1965 festival. Some say it had to have been Joan Baez putting the squeeze on the Board. Some say Albert Grossman, Dick and Mimi's eventual manager, used his connections to pull it off. Others say it was Dick himself, or his reputation as a songwriter. "Oh, I don't know," admits Yarrow, "You know, I might have heard a song here or remembered them from somewhere. It might have been because I knew Dick before that, or from knowing Joan Baez. And I had known Mimi for years because of Joan". The suggestion that Dick had sent emissaries to lobby for him was laughable to Yarrow: "You didn't have to promote Dick Fariña, man, he was a promoter! He was a mover, he did things, he got things done! He was an organizer! You didn't have to promote him; that was one of the things I liked about him -- he was going places. And Mimi was so beautiful. People were curious about them, they wanted to know about them." But without a specific memory from the Board member most likely to know the Fariñas' work and put them forth for inclusion, we're left to theorize.
Joan Baez certainly had the clout to put forth the Fariñas, and Dick wasn't shy about humbly letting her do it for them. There is no reason she wouldn't have, unless she thought there was a good chance they'd get the nod even without her. On the other hand, Robert Jones says the Board wasn't necessarily susceptible to outside pressure, that the schedules were made up from ingredients blended to give the concerts an even flow, and that the Board certainly would have known of Dick and Mimi, though they also would have known a number of other promising new acts.
In an interview in Hajdu's book, Mimi states that she assumed that Albert Grossman had managed to finagle them an invite to the New Folks concert on Sunday afternoon. As I explained above though, acts were never invited with a single performance venue in mind. Acts were simply invited and then the Board set about fitting them into the available slots. Robert Jones testifies that "the only people ever brought in [just] for workshops... would have been later on when we brought in a lot of craftspeople." With the Fariñas, it would be logical to assume that at least a few members of the Board were familiar with their act (Yarrow and Bikel were notably attuned to the contemporary scene), and probably also with their talents as individuals. The Saturday Contemporary Song Workshop would seem a natural placement; Mimi & Richard would certainly have been viewed as being "contemporary". Also, this workshop was another of Yarrow's projects, something into which Peter would put full effort as part of his mission to showcase the contemporary folk scene. Though not all workshops repeated from year to year, I'm sure that Jean Ritchie's 1964 Autoharp and Dulcimer Workshop (co-hosted with Mike Seeger), shortened by an autoharp, an hour or so, and quite a few performers, would have been seen as another likely venue, given Richard's ready identification with the featured instrument. The Sunday afternoon New Folks would have constituted another logical placement. Not only were the Fariñas perfectly suited to the vision Yarrow had outlined for this showcase, but again it was Yarrow's concert to book. As for Grossman, there was no contractual representation of the Fariñas until just prior to the Festival. Grossman had looked over their contract with Vanguard, at Dick's behest, in what was probably a preliminary flirtation by both sides. I suspect the promoter would have had enough to keep him busy pushing his own stable if any pushing was going to be done. Reportedly, had Grossman been doing their bookings ad hoc prior to that point rather than Folklore Productions, run by Joan's manager Manny Greenhill, the look of total surprise on Mimi when she found out Grossman was to manage them would have been doubly surprising. Mimi should have been more surprised by an earlier handshake management agreement with Greenhill than Grossman's wet ink on the quarter-page festival program ad. With all these twists under observation, I doubt Grossman had much to do with their invitation to perform.
My theory is that the Fariñas made it on their own steam, though probably with a powerful boost from Peter Yarrow. Peter recognized not only talent, but also who and what would have made for a good mix at the festival. Fariña was a known entity on his own; Mimi had long been a favorite with the insiders of the folk crowd. With the commotion over "Birmingham Sunday" at the '64 festival, people would have been naturally curious, as Yarrow pointed out, about what the couple was up to. They made a gorgeous couple, and that certainly would have made their faces and image known, followed by a natural curiosity about what that meant. The release of their album in the spring would have been a sufficient inducement to the Board (I think it was John Hammond, Jr. who pointed out that, when it came to booking new acts for the Festival, "An album was your ticket"). With his knack for self-promotion, if Dick couldn't get himself target-marketed to the Board, nobody could have. Yarrow's talent for creative juxtaposition was especially evident at the Dulcimer Workshop. While renowned as one of the nicest people in folk music, Jean Ritchie was also a strict traditionalist, more at home with Chet Parker, Howie Mitchell, or Frank Proffitt than with any non-relative under the age of 40. Yet even she was quick to realize that the Fariñas could be as much benefit to her as she to them. I think this would be the best testimony to Peter Yarrow's skill at and love for folk music. The idea was to make the audience grow.
© 2002 by Greg Pennell