The Fariña Files
Newport Folk Festival 1965
The Festival put people up at the Hotel Viking in Newport. We may assume that Dick and Mimi arrived sometime on Thursday, along with Joan Baez and both Baez parents, Joan, Sr. and Albert. The festival grounds didn't open until just before the scheduled eight o'clock concert, which, though it didn't feature the Fariñas or Baez, did feature Donovan, described by some that year as Joan's protégé, and I'm sure all would have wanted to attend. Beyond that safe and handy supposition, nothing else is known.
1965 was the year the Festival moved to Festival Field, several miles outside of Newport's city limits, enabling an enlargement of both the space and the activities going on within it. It was now situated on a large field just outside of the center of town, with workshop stages scattered at intervals throughout. Prior to 1965, the field had served primarily for the drying of fishing nets. For the workshops, the Board exercised an idea of Pete Seeger's, according to Robert Jones, "which was to have them primarily all acoustic. In other words, a workshop would be done with as many people as could hear it, and then there'd be another [workshop]... maybe one or two had amplification. It was more after the style of the festivals in Europe, England, and Ireland. The workshop areas were small and there were many, many more. Some of them were made into little mini-stages where they actually had platforms and some of them were done right on the main stage."
The Fariñas weren't scheduled for anything that day, but had plenty of friends who were, as well as plenty of friends who weren't but would make for good company watching the performances.
The grounds opened somewhere around 10:00 or so, or at least the snow fence-surrounded park probably admitted paying customers about that time. The workshops started at 11:00, and you could take your pick of the String Band (with Cambridge favorites Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band, featuring Fariña pals Geoff & Maria Muldaur and musical cohort, Fritz Richmond), Broadside: Past & Present (with Donovan, Baez and Fariña friend, Mark Spoelstra), Blues Guitar (with Son House and Mississippi John Hurt, who no one breathing would have missed), Ballad Swapping (an all-day confab featuring, somewhere in its six-hour running time, Joan), and Negro Group Singing & Rhythmic Patterns (with Fariña favorites, the Chambers Brothers). So, there was ample reason for them to go to any or all. The sun was bright (it would cloud up as the day grew longer), there was Narragansett Beer in paper cups and a lot of dirt to sit on. The Gahr book documents the encounters of Ian & Sylvia (wandering off from the Ballad Swapping Workshop in the Ballad Tree area) with Donovan (Broadside, Area 2) and Gordon Lightfoot (just wandering), who would make his first major American appearance shortly.
Dick and Mimi dressed casually in striped pullovers (hers long-sleeved, his short) and jeans, Dick wearing Official Folksinger issue Ray-Bans and dirty Keds boating sneakers without socks, while Mimi sported flip-flops. The Gahr photo used on the backs of both Memories and the posthumous Long Time Coming was taken later in the afternoon of this day. Indeed, if you look at all the published photos of the Fariñas, you will find Mimi generally wearing one of three or four dresses, and Dick usually in his striped tank top, a black turtle neck, or his striped surfer shirt. Whether it was a look, or a limited budget...
Dick and Mimi are recorded sitting on the ground, giving someone or something the hard stare, and standing by the snow-fence with Dick grinning as Mimi cocks a leg and throws her arms out. By about midday, Dick was indeed hitting the Narragansett booth with the ubiquitous Donovan, Paul Butterfield and the not-scheduled David Blue (still David Cohen at that point, and later that year to join Dick on Elektra's Singer-Songwriter Project album). The beer may have had something to do with the fact that, very shortly after they both arrived on the grounds, a friend of Dick's dashed up with a copy of the Festival program in his hands, asking a naively incredulous question: "what does Albert Grossman's ad mean in saying that you two are being handled by his office?" Knowing they'd very recently made a handshake agreement with Manny Greenhill of Folklore Productions, who was at the time Joan's manager, and who, I believe, had been doing some of the Fariñas' bookings prior to this, Mimi could have rightly expected Folklore Productions' ad to list them. Grossman's representation was news to her. Could it be our boy's done something rash? Grossman had a reputation as a hard businessman, but also as one who looked after his clients and had no qualms about getting them the money they deserved. While many idealized folk music performance as an anti-commercial, non-showbiz avocation, the younger singers were looking, as Yarrow explained, "to be able to devote themselves to it and make a living from it." Geoff Muldaur was a member of Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band at the time, a group which had been in the stable of Folklore Productions for a while, but then had defected to Grossman. "Manny wasn't doing a great job ... We didn't just want to be regional... It was a little too loose. I think he thought of us as a bunch of kids having a good time. He was a great guy, but we were ambitious," said Muldaur, "and we wanted Big Albert." The Fariñas worked their jaw muscles, clenched their teeth and didn't start the best day of their lives.
The late afternoon held promise of something new on the grounds. At 3:30, in the Bluesville staging area, there was a Blues: Origins and Offshoots workshop scheduled. Hosted by Board member and arch-traditionalist Alan Lomax, it was to feature Son House, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, Mance Lipscomb, Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, Josh White, and white country blues legends Sam & Kirk McGee. But the real name everyone had come to see was the previous night's opening act, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The band was from Chicago, of mixed race (uncommon for the time) and played electric blues, with Butterfield fronting on vocals and harmonica, two lead guitarists, Elvin Bishop and Michael Bloomfield, Sam Lay on drums, and Jerome Arnold on bass. Together, they made a mighty noise. While electric blues had been common at the Jazz Festival, the Folk Festival had not yet fully plugged in. (Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry had played the jazz festival, as had Muddy Waters, the latter even recording and releasing an album in 1960, Muddy Waters Live At Newport. Curiously, the cover showed Muddy standing by the stage with John Lee Hooker's archtop acoustic in his hands -- handed to him by the photographer while Muddy's own blond Telecaster was waiting for him up on stage. Lomax had never altered his view of who could -- and who couldn't -- play blues. "My guess," recalled Robert Jones, "is that he probably said something to the effect of, ' well, here's some simple white people that probably [think] they can play the blues' -- it was probably a comment about that, knowing Alan -- he's a very hard view -- still probably does have a hard view -- of what white people can play and what Black people can play as far as the blues goes." In short, Lomax had introduced a highly talented and professional Chicago blues band with one Elektra LP to their credit as essentially a bunch of shallow white boys who had no business playing the Black man's music, much less plugging it in. Obviously, he must have also had issues with the white John Hammond Jr. playing them unplugged, and must have studiously avoided the 1960 Jazz Festival. But when you combined white boys, the blues and Reddy Kilowatt, Lomax had had enough. No sooner had Lomax stepped off the stage than the band's prospective manager, the burly Albert Grossman, basically asked him "what the hell kind of introduction was that?" Words were exchanged and the next thing fight fans saw was two grown men rolling around and slugging it out on the ground. The even larger Sam Lay hopped off the stage to break it up, but the crowd was going wild. They were primed for Butterfield's assault on their ears and not disappointed by the pre-play slugfest. Supposedly, a huge number of people were there to hear what would happen next, the word having spread from the night before, and expectations being high. The Fariñas stood stage right at the back of the crowd, in a line of slack-jawed, boogying Cambridge folkies, including Eric von Schmidt, Mitch Greenhill, Owen DeLong, Geoff and Maria Muldaur and honorary New Englander, Spider John Koerner. Mimi later said that seeing the Butterfield Blues Band at the festival had a very solid effect on the way she and Dick were growing musically -- louder, wider instrumentation, and "words that said things that we wanted to relate to."
Neither Dick and Mimi, nor Joan, nor Donovan was on that night's concert, set for the main stage two and a half hours later. It's likely everyone went, saw, and after a slight detour for roistering, went back to the Viking. For some more roistering and playing. And then to sleep. Some of them, anyway.
© 2002 by Greg Pennell