Turn, Turn, Turn

A wiry 90-year old man steps to a microphone in front of 9,000 people. He explains that he doesn’t have much of a voice left, but he’ll provide the lyrics so everyone can sing. Then he starts playing the guitar and reciting from the Book of Ecclesiastes. He tries to sing a bit anyway. It comes out wobbly. His breath fails.

That was the scene as Pete Seeger closed the Newport Folk Festival last year. It couldn’t have seemed like much to the uninitiated, to those without the story of who Pete is. But there were surely longtime fans in the audience brimming over with affection, just as I was as I sat on my porch 400 miles away. I listened to the live broadcast of the whole festival on WRUR last year and again last weekend. It’s starting to feel like a tradition. NPR’s Bob Boilen and WFUV’s Rita Houston anchor the coverage, providing between-set patter and information on the artists, but it’s mostly music, hour after hour, band after band, with singing and shouting and applause from the crowd and an occasional horn blast from the sailboats in the bay.

The finale this year came from another legend whose voice was failing. Levon Helm managed to get through a recent bout with throat cancer but couldn’t muster much for his set at Newport, which ended with a version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Fortunately, just about every musician who was still there Sunday night wanted to be on stage singing with him.

If you missed it, NPR has a huge archive of full performances from the last three years of Newport.

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