The Counterculture Spirit of Festival

In the late fifties and early sixties, the Newport Folk Festival became a haven for audiences who were craving a message in their music. Reacting against the lyrically frivolous pop that dominated the airwaves, the artists showcased at the festival offered candid perspectives on a wide range of provocative subject matter, giving voice to the tumult of the times. Shot between 1963 and 1966, and released in 1967, Murray Lerner’s Festival—one of the first major music documentaries of its kind—captures the political conscience of this dynamic folk scene through performances by stars as varied as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staple Singers, and Pete Seeger. In the below clip from When We Played Newport, a program on our newly released edition of the film, Lerner, Newport founder George Wein, and some of the festival’s most beloved performers reflect on how folk music became a vital reflection of the era’s burgeoning counterculture movement and its ideals of social equality and creative expression.

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