"Festival!" captures classic Newport Folk performances

Released theatrically in 1967, "Festival!," a documentary capturing a series of classic Newport Folk Festival performances from 1963 to 1966 is now out on DVD.

From the press release:

Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Murray Lerner, "Festival!" notably captures Bob Dylan's legendary first electric performance. Segments from "Festival!" are prominently featured in the recently released Dylan documentary, "No Direction Home," directed by Martin Scorsese.

Along with Dylan's performance of "Maggie's Farm" backed by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and his rehearsal of "Like a Rolling Stone," the film also boasts a constellation of American music stars like Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and Howlin' Wolf, plus an array of seminal folk and blues artists like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

On its original theatrical release, "Festival!" was nominated for an Academy Award and honored at every prestigious film festival of the day. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "It is a masterpiece," while The Hollywood Reporter called it, "one of the best documentary films in years and one of the best American films of this year." The Christian Science Monitor praised its "sharp-edged honesty which induces one to wish it would go on forever." "Festival!" set the bar high, and as the first of the youth counterculture festival films, had considerable influence on every music documentary that would follow -- "Gimme Shelter," "Woodstock," etc.

The big stars of 60s folk music are represented in full: Peter, Paul and Mary sing their signature versions of "If I Had A Hammer," "The Times They Are A Changin'," and "Blowin' in The Wind," and Pete Seeger, Donovan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez each deliver impassioned performances. The film includes aforementioned blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, as well as the Chicago big band blues revivalists the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

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