The Fariña Files
Newport Folk Festival 1965
Sunday morning started out overcast. On the other hand, if you were to look at a history of coastal Newport, Rhode Island, it's likely the percentages would lean in that direction for the better part of the year anyway, so one more day didn't mean much to anyone. The weather forecast predicted the possibility of showers, but with the way the weekend was running so far, the weatherman could have predicted Ooblik and nobody would have cared as long as the music went on as scheduled and the beer tent remained open for business.
On the schedule were only three events, all slated for the main stage: the 10:00 a.m. Concert of Religious Music, where hell was kept at bay; Peter Yarrow's (oddly scheduled) 2:20 afternoon concert, New Folks, which went from heaven to hell and back again; and the finale, the Evening Concert, whose theme, as announced by Pete Seeger, was to be a message from the performers to a newborn child about the state of the world. A world where Dylan plugged in and some people's vision of hell was made manifest, while others floated on angels' wings.
Dick's plans for the afternoon included bringing several other performers up on stage to create a fuller sound, to capitalize on and enhance the image they'd made with their Saturday workshops and finally, to create a memorable party atmosphere on stage that no one would soon forget. To that end, Dick and Mimi had a run-through of several songs just outside the performers' tent with Al Kooper, Fritz Richmond, and Kyle Garahan. As evidenced by the Gahr photo, this session was observed by Butterfield, Rev. Gary Davis, and a nattily-attired Eric von Schmidt, raising the fashion bar for all in surfer shirt, burmudas, and flip-flops. The rehearsal most likely occured between the third and seventh performers that afternoon, if one may judge by Gahr's published photos. Since Rev. Davis was a performer at that morning's sparsely-attended Religious Concert, it's unlikely he'd have been elsewhere during that time, so placing him in the rehearsal photo could conveniently place it after the morning's concert. We also know that the main stage was borrowed by Peter Yarrow for a sound-check on Dylan as the latter ran his ad-hoc electric band through their three numbers between the morning and afternoon concerts (roughly somewhere between noon and two), which would have made it impossible for anyone to have an acoustic practice during that time. We can infer the rehearsal time based on Gahr's known photos of the New Folks' two opening acts (the Berlines backed up by Jim Rooney and Bill Keith, and Spider John Koerner backed by Tony Glover) and the seventh act (the Chambers Brothers). The gap in published photos between the second and seventh acts can be logically explained if Gahr wandered away from the stage then to take the photo we know he took of the rehearsal, since he obviously couldn't be in two places at once. Also, from the photos of both the morning's Religious Concert (where the sun came out briefly to see its favorite, Son House) and the practice, though hot and dusty, it's clear the sky was beginning to cloud over...
New Folks, though due to start at 2:20, actually started about 2:30 under the three-story high canopy of the Main Stage, as the skies continued to cloud up. With the concert planned to last three hours, everyone would ideally get 15 minutes although, again, this didn't always hold true. As Robert Jones explains: "Somebody might have sung 30 minutes, then somebody sang two tunes, then another person sang two tunes... It was not formatted, it just sort of fell in like that. And because of the technical situation, which basically was one or two microphones, maybe two at the most, maybe three at some places, one was limited -- you couldn't have three people playing together, because two people probably would not have a chance to be heard (where only one mike was available). And the recording was [done inside] just a small little van behind them, recording them". Those limitations understood, first up was Byron & Lue Berline, a father and son fiddling duo from Oklahoma, accompanied by two of Boston's finest, Jim Rooney on guitar and Bill Keith on banjo. Spider John Koerner followed, accompanied by fellow Minnesotan Tony Glover, followed in order by the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, Hamilton Camp, and Kathy & Carol (performing an a capella version of the Fariña-composed, "A Swallow Song". We can presume that they had, as a courtesy, first checked with Dick to make sure the Fariñas weren't planning on performing the song as well). Next up was Mark Spoelstra, followed by the Chambers Brothers, a wonderful gospel group then in the process of transforming themselves into a formidable rock band The Chambers, joined by Joan Baez along with Sam Lay on drums, appeared on stage dressed-down from their morning appearance at the Religious Concert. Lay's regular gig, The Butterfield Band, had already excused themselves from this Concert out of fear for rain and been rescheduled to open that evening's concert. In the eighth position, it was singer-songwriter Patrick Sky, followed by another stage-stomping appearance by the dancers, and then Gordon Lightfoot capping off a successful debut weekend. The Boston bluegrass band, the Charles River Valley Boys, also slotted to perform at New Folks, opted instead to perform that morning at the Religious Concert. As the skies thickened and grew darker and the odds on rain increased with every flutter of the breeze, Dick and Mimi Fariña took stage. It was somewhere about 4:45.
With Dick wearing what appear to be pressed brown corduroy Levis, Beatle boots and his short-sleeved black turtle neck and an ever-shoeless Mimi in her sleeveless, striped jumper, they sat down on folding chairs, adjusted their two microphones (each!), and let the party begin slowly, intending to gather speed with each song. The audience was about to get a quick glimpse of the size of Dick Fariña's Kicks Warehouse.
Never having heard the existing tapes, I have constructed this thin raft to float a theory which is mine (in whole or in part) concerning that day's playlist. After sifting through Hajdu's Positively 4th Street, the existing released tapes, 35 years of hearsay, and a host of way-too-close examinations of the Fariña segment in the film Festival, I've found this to be the sequence that works best:
1. "Birmingham Sunday" - This again was Dick's solemn song about the deaths by bombing of three young African-American girls in the basement of an Alabama church. It has been noted by Hajdu as a probable, and by others as a definite, opener.
2. "The Falcon" - (And here I veer off from Hajdu) The Fariñas must have done another slow one, as Dick's master plan was to gradually bring on additional performers, building up steam towards a hoped-for memorable climax. Not wanting to start small, the first of these invitees was none other than Joan Baez, by then the reigning Queen Of Folk and, somewhat conveniently, Mimi's sister and thus Dick's sister-in-law. In a lost interview I conducted with Eric von Schmidt some thirty years ago, I remember him saying that he was furious at Baez because she came back out later on, a move which he saw as an attempt by the older sibling to steal some of Dick and Mimi's hard-earned glory. In order for Baez to come back on, by definition, she would have had to have been on previously. The photos show Dick and Mimi singing, eyes closed, with Joan joining them in the middle. According to Hajdu, Joan wasn't on stage until the end, when they performed another rousing sing-along version of "Pack Up Your Sorrows", surrounded by three additional players (who would have had to crowd the two vocal mikes) and people swirling all around them. In the Gahr photo, Mimi sits at stage left with Joan in the middle and Dick at stage right. There is no one else, just the two mikes for the voices and two mikes for the instruments. Dick holds his dulcimer sideways with his arm across it, holding it on the bottom, which, considering the finale song has constant dulcimer accompaniment, is not the optimum way to coax a tune from a stringed instrument. Meanwhile, Mimi carefully picks strings and Joan crosses her arms and looks downright gloomy. Or soulful (your choice). None of the three are exactly bouncing in their seats, showing the usual outward signs of ecstatic success. What Hajdu writes about "Birmingham Sunday" fits much better here: "The ballad was apparently not moving the festival crowd as it had in Mimi and Richard's club shows; people were squirming in their seats. Before the song was over, at least a dozen of them got up and left. Mimi was horrified; Richard stiffened, but he grinned and adhered to his plan, introducing Fritz Richmond." In the Waterman photo from von Schmidt & Rooney's Baby Let Me Follow You Down, we see over the shoulders of the three and out into the audience. At this point, the sky is very gray, top to bottom, but the crowd seem for the most part, to be in their seats with their faces towards the stage rather than investigating low-flying clouds and dripping water.
** "Hard-Lovin' Loser" - I have my doubts that this was performed, though Hajdu's interview with Mimi says it was, and I've also heard so over the years: "We went from that [the first song] straight into Hard Lovin' Loser and everything else we did that cooked," said Mimi. "I looked out, and the audience started dancing in the pouring rain. Everybody was getting soaked, and people were laughing and dancing to the music." Here, I suspect Mimi may have been telescoping events only half remembered. (At one point in the mid-1990s in response to an interview request, Mimi wrote me a short note on the subject noting "...in 30 years' time I have forgotten a great deal." But Hajdu, it should be pointed out, had the cooperation of Vanguard and more importantly, had access to the tapes... It's likely that Bruce Langhorne (tambourine), Fritz Richmond (bass) and Kyle Garahan (harmonica) would have been brought out for this number, considering the arrangement later done for the Fariña's second album. It would also get them to the stage for the next number, where we know at least two accompanists performed, and the number following which we know featured all three.
3. "Dopico / Celebrations For A Gray Day" - This makes much more sense here than at the end where oral tradition has always parked it. Dopico is a song that starts out slowly, building in depth and sound as more instruments are added. The released live recording gives audible proof that Bruce Langhorne and his Turkish tambourine were in on this song (and also later appeared on the studio version), as was Fritz Richmond and his off-mike washtub bass (both credited on the Memories release of the song). From the audience's vantage, starting from the left, it would be Richmond behind and to the left of the seated Dick, a seated Mimi (Joan's chair having departed along with Joan), and to the right and behind Mimi is Langhorne. In the film Festival, the four of them are shown performing an instrumental (and this medley was the only one) with a very dry Baez dancing around behind them. At first, some of the people in box seats are seen starting to put their programs over their heads, but nobody is seen leaving. A splice later, over the shoulders of the performers and the still dancing Joan, some of the box seats have become notably empty, with more being evacuated and pronto. The end of this tune produces a good round of applause and a polite "thenkew" from Dick. After another pause, they launch directly into the next song without any intro. The conclusion here is that if anyone was wet at this point, it was bearable, and certainly the stage wasn't wet because there'd have been panic from the stage hands to get the microphones away from the edge of the stage. I am told that when this particular type of microphone gets wet, it sounds like a light bulb popping. With limited funds to replace them, the protection of the non-profit's valuable mikes would certainly have been a high priority. No one can be heard making even a sniffle or cough and there is no sign of any panic on the stage. It is possible that a light preliminary sprinkle had started, causing a small evacuation of the expensive seats. This was noted by Dick, who registered what was going on and began to look for reasons. Dick Waterman, who was photographing the event, told me years ago that "You could see the rain cloud moving across the fields towards us." And the heavens were about to open.
4. "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" - You can tell on the recording that Dick is in a hurry by this stage, as he drops his beloved lengthy intro to the song and just lets her rip. It was clearly time to get moving, and the Fariñas were as ready as the day is long. Somewhere over the course of this song the clouds finally dumped what they had. I suspect that this occurred near the end of the first verse. To be more precise, right on the word "pill" from the line "So I hopped on a plane, I took a pill for my brain," because both Dick AND Mimi hesitate, as if on cue, at a common distraction. Mimi giggles very slightly and then, within what is no doubt the span of a millisecond, both dive back into the song. With very little chance to duck for cover, most of the crowd becomes instantly soaked and opts to stay in place. "Really, where else could they go? The beer tent was the nearest place, and it was a little late..." offers Waterman. The rain pounds the crowd. In the film, a stage hand comes out during the song, stands in front of Dick and tries to protect the mike, if not to move it back as much as possible without physically lifting the performers and their chairs midsong. Joan is still dancing, but has moved stage right behind Mimi, who now has two Board of Directors members hovering over her. Ralph Rinzler has dashed over with a large striped umbrella and holds it over as much of Dick and Mimi as he can manage. Peter Yarrow has come over to educate Mimi on the dangers to be found when introducing water to electricity. According to Hajdu: "Peter Yarrow bolted out to tell Mimi and Richard to stop -- the audience wanted to leave, and the rain was unsafe for everyone near the stage; the microphones and wiring were not weatherproof and needed to be shut off immediately". At the end of the song there is thunderous applause, though some are still obviously unsure if the Fariñas will continue or if the show will be shut down. Dick quickly jumps in with "Ladies and gentlemen! Wait, wait, wait, waitwait! Wait!" I believe it was clear to Yarrow and everyone else that the crowd wasn't going anywhere, except maybe closer to the stage, and the Fariñas were staying. Quickly adapting to this change, and probably just as eager as Dick and Mimi for them to succeed and his New Folks concert not to be washed out, Yarrow grabs a mike and announces, "Right, come on back, come on back!" Off-mike, he adds to the stagehands, "Move this whole thing back -- all the mikes and everything -- everything comes back," before he refocuses on the crowd, adding, "all right. While we get the mikes set up, out of the rain so they won't be clobbered ('Bothered?' questions a comically incredulous Richmond), I wanna make one point very clear -- it is not raining!" Wild cheers and applause erupt, probably from both sides of the proscenium. Equipment and musicians are brought back from the abyss, both virtual and real. Slightly revising Hajdu's chronology yet again (though he's heard the tapes...), I'd say it is at this point that Dick tells the crowd, "Okay everybody. Everybody get up from your seats now, okay? You can't dance sitting down! Right? Okay - let's go! Let's boogie!". And as I've heard from all directions, the Fariñas proceed to pull out every fast song they know. The audience commenced a soggy boogie in open defiance of Artie Shaw's minimalist claim that "If you wanna dance, a windshield wiper'll do it - all you need is a beat."
5. "One Way Ticket" - This song is undocumented among those who've tried to piece together a set list over the years, but can be detected by the active anal-retentive mind as it zips past on five seconds worth of audio tape in the Festival film, playing against what is probably the Dopico/Celebrations footage. It should be noted here that the Fariña footage in that film is seemingly all done against non-synchronized soundtrack. The soundtrack is an audio collage of the Fariñas' performances from that day put together by director Murray Lerner and his editor, Howard Alk and run against a visual collage of the Fariñas' performances from that day. On the audio side, it opens with an initial round of thunder; the performances start with "One Way Ticket" separated, after five seconds, by another thunderclap before splicing right into "Reno Nevada". This is followed by the Yarrow "not raining" quote and then "Pack Up Your Sorrows". The film footage, on the other hand, is something else again. It appears to be thus; "House Un-American" runs under "One Way Ticket", followed by what may or may not be the slightly out-of-sync sound of "Reno, Nevada" against its actual filmed sequence. The clapping and dancing is usually to the correct on-film beat - then it goes back to "House Un-American", as witnessed by Kyle Garahan leaning into Dick's microphone with his harmonica, then a pan of the audience followed by footage of the end of "Reno" and into "Pack Up Your Sorrows."
6. "Reno Nevada" - The film footage shows an obviously drenched Joan Baez (hence dating this tune late into the chronology) dancing next to a loopy and slightly soggy Peter Yarrow. Yarrow bops past a notably dry Noel Stookey while the soundtrack plays an almost to-the-beat background of "Reno Nevada", though the cuts here back and forth are a bit confusing.
The possibility that the songs played and those filmed could be at some variance with each other, that the entire performance was filmed and then only selected footage used here and there from all the songs is a possibility largely scoffed at by a filmmaker/collector and fan that I know who went directly to Murray Lerner and asked about outtakes. He was told that due to budgetary constraints, literally everything they filmed was in the movie. Hence, they only filmed half of Howlin' Wolf's set, which appears in the film right before the Fariñas, although it actually dated a year later. Lerner only filmed, or had usable video footage for scattered parts of the festivals, though possibly the audio had better coverage. This would explain the use of the collage technique in the film. Unlike Vanguard who taped everything, no one else ever seemed to be sure of what they had taped. There was always some confusion about this. A letter exists in the Archive of Folk Culture in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress from Geoff Muldaur asking if they have any festival tapes, if they know what tapes exist or even where any tapes might be found. Nobody was ever quite sure of anything to do with Vanguard's taping.
Thanks to Mary Katherine Aldin's remarkable reissue program at Vanguard, it is clear that the label did quite literally tape everything. So they should have the complete New Folks concert, even though I've heard over the years that they stopped the recorders midway through the Fariñas when the rain started. Recently, in the notes to The Complete Vanguard Recordings, they state that "Though Vanguard's tapes were rolling long enough to capture two songs, the disturbance from the rain and noise from a loud blues band at an adjacent stage rendered the tapes virtually unlistenable." This, I suspect, is a lie of sorts. Witness the crystal clarity of the two songs they admit they did record, and actually released, "Dopico/Celebrations" and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream", and you'll have several reasons to doubt their statement. First, under their own admission, they stopped recording when the rain became a problem -- so what happened to the first two songs performed when it wasn't raining audibly? Second, there was only one concert at a time on Sunday, and no workshops. Even if there were another concert or workshop, it's very unlikely anyone would have been playing plugged in; certainly not anywhere on the festival grounds because the main stage was the only one with a roof over it. Third, I have no trouble listening to the two songs released. In fact, nobody I ever knew was forced to tear off their earphones and utter vile oaths or other sordid unpleasantness in regards to the sound quality. There is no noise, no rain, no splashes, no microphones blowing up. But, had Vanguard included the two songs from this concert already released on LP and CD, would they have been able to excuse the rest of the missing songs?
7. "Pack Up Your Sorrows" - The film footage shows an obviously beaming Mimi having just finished "Reno Nevada", with the rain having slowed to a tolerable spitting level and the skies brightening perceptibly. The Fariñas are still under the watchful umbrella of Ralph Rinzler; Yarrow leans in front of him talking to Dick and nodding his head. The camera then moves to a glowing Richard Fariña who's been given the okay for one more song. He acknowledges quickly, then leans towards Mimi and says "Pack Up Your Sorrows!" Done at the slower tempo they'd used the day before, the audio is played over scenes in the film (probably shot afterwards, during the next act) of the audience drying off. Dick's plan for this finale had been to have lots of people singing on stage, and indeed they did. Visiting Brit and eyewitness Ian Woodward listed the revelers in his diary as Joan Baez, Sebastian Dangerfield (actually one of the many aliases used by the finally just plain Norman Greenbaum of the Kweskin Jug Band), Kyle, Fritz and Bruce, Bernice Reagon (also the next act), and at least the better part of, if not the entirety of the Charles River Valley Boys. Dick again uses it as a sing-along, repeating the first verse, but ending with "... and we'll sing the sun right out!" And that they did. It was no miracle, but that afternoon, everyone walked on water.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (whose drums are clearly visible behind the Fariñas, left there from earlier service behind the Chambers Brothers) was originally scheduled to do mop up, but after the cloudburst when the metaphor became reality, suddenly the middle of a large, wet stage was not thought the best place to end their careers by plugging in. They were rescheduled (and did play) as the opening act for that evening's concert. So it was left for the formerly next-to-last act, Bernice Johnson Reagon, to close the soggy show. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a gorgeous African-American woman with a wonderful, large voice, is described in the program as hailing from Albany, Georgia and an original member of the Freedom Singers. She'd record an album for Folkways just after the festival, but it would be another 8 years before she finally got the fame she deserved as founder of Sweet Honey In The Rock. This day, though, the Fariñas would be a hard act to follow.
It was traditional on the last night to assemble as many of that weekend's performers as could be corraled up on the main stage to form a huge chorus. In 1963, performers had coalesced to sing the freedom song "We Shall Overcome." For the 1965 finale, Pete Seeger led the collected performers, as well as the audience, in a version of "Don't Study War No More." As the camera scans a packed main stage, it pans across the front row, past Bernice Reagon, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez. The lens pauses for a second and then comes back, but in that second you can catch a glimpse of Mimi in a scarf and Dick looking around the stage and audience with smiling eyes. Just before the final fade, Dick is caught alone in a grin that demands cinerama.
Lord Buckley said, "If you get to it and can not do it, there you jolly well are, aren't you?" Richard and Mimi Fariña had gotten there and done it with balloons on and would be whispered about and celebrated for their gray day until people stopped talking.
They'd return to touring small clubs after Newport and then relocate from Cambridge to Carmel to help Joan in her Institute For The Study of Non-violence until the end of September. That month Vanguard would pay for their flight back to New York to perform at a "Sing-In For Peace in Vietnam" at Carnegie Hall and to record their second album. Reflections In a Crystal Wind. Recorded in the last few days of September, it would be released at the end of the year.
In the spring of the next year, Sing Out! lists a roster of performers scheduled for that summer's 1966 Newport Folk Festival. The Fariñas are included.
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© 2002 by Greg Pennell