Dit gedeelte van het interview met Bill Clifton begint met herinneringen van Bill aan het eerste Newport Folk Festival, hij maakte daar deel van het ‘board of directors’ uit. Eerder in deze reeks heeft Bill hier ook al over gesproken. Hij vervolgt met opmerkingen over het allereerste Bluegrass Festival, dat op 4 juli 1961 in Oak Leaf Park in Luray, Virginia werd georganiseerd (door Bill Clifton). Het was in verschillende opzichten een gedenkwaardige dag met een schitterende line-up. We laten Bill natuurlijk uitgebreid aan het woord, maar ik heb ook een recente analyse van deze dag toegevoegd. Duidelijk wordt daarin dat het na dit festival niet veel beter ging met de vriendschap tussen Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs aan de ene kant en Bill Monroe aan de andere kant. Wederom wens ik je veel lees en/of luisterplezier. En uiteraard mogen de bekende kanalen weer gebruikt worden voor opmerkingen, aanvullingen en commentaar…
Newport Folk Festival & Luray, Virginia
You’ve mentioned the Newport Folk Festival a couple of times now. How did you get involved with that? Got a letter one day. When I was living in Charlottesville I was working as a stock broker. Which I did for two years. It pleased my dad. He had paid for my fees for my master’s degrees program at the University Of Virginia. When I finished that I felt like I well owed him something and he really wanted me to be a stock broker and he thought I should do that. And I didn’t want to go to Baltimore and do that so I thought ‘Well, maybe I can do it in Charlottesville’; which is a town I really like. And I managed to get myself hired by a company there which is now called ‘Pane/Webber’ but it used to be called ‘Abbott, Procter & Pane’ back when I joined them. And it was just a small office. There were four of us that worked there and I got a couple of really nice accounts but it just wasn’t my style; I didn’t like it at all, you know, and I wanted to get out. The New York Stock Exchange gave me a ‘buy or leave’. They said you may be a registered representative of The New York Stock Exchange in fact but you must first say that you’re gonna give up music before we give you full title to that position. I told the people that hired me, ‘I can’t give up music. I’ve got a record contract for three more LP’s and I have to honor that’. They said: ‘Yeah, but then you need to give it up’. And I said: ‘Well, I’m not sure I can do that but we’ll talk about it’. To make a long story short: I, finally after two years, I turned in my resignation and a couple of days after I turned in my resignation I was told that The New York Stock Exchange said it was OK. I could continue to play music and I said: ‘Too late!’ And I knew I didn’t want to do it for full time. But when I was there in Charlottesville I… how did we get here?
We were trying to get to the Newport Folk Festival… Oh, Newport Folk Festival. I got a letter from Pete Seeger and Theo Bikel, who were the two people that had been asked by the man who ran the Newport Jazz Festival if they would take over and do a Newport Folk Festival. Now the same man who had done the Jazz Festival had also done a Folk Festival, Newport Folk Festival prior to that but it hadn’t been successful. And so Pete and Theo got together and said to George Wein, who was the man who does the Jazz Festival, they said: ‘George if you let us do this as a non-profit thing we will try to get other people involved on the board who have different interests in folk music and where it comes from and make up a board and we’ll have a non-profit organization and, yeah, well do it in 1963’. Well, this was 1961, when they said that. So I had the letter in 1961 and I had it right after I had done the ‘All Day Bluegrass’ in Luray, Virginia.
That was one of the first bluegrass festivals, wasn’t it? Well, that was the first, yeah. And it was on a Tuesday, but it was 4th of July, it was a holiday for most people. But it was a Tuesday which meant people couldn’t travel too far. Nobody thought it would be successful but I had people from California, New York City and Boston, Philadelphia and Washington and all over the place that came, so…
Who were the ones performing? At the first bluegrass? Had Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, I had Jim & Jesse and The Virginia Boys, The Stanley Brothers and The Clinch Mountain Boys, Mac Wiseman, myself and The Dixie Mountain Boys. I can’t remember if there was anybody else there or not right now but that was the main thrust of the event. And the idea was to get Bill Monroe together with former Bluegrass Boys and get on the same stage and sing a song together again. And they did, Bill did. But it was the first time Bill had done that since any of his former Bluegrass Boys had gone out and formed their own band. So, from that point of view, yes it was the first bluegrass festival but it was only a one-day event. And it did not occur on a weekend, it occurred on a Tuesday. We still had 2.250 people, which wasn’t bad.
Well, for a first festival… Yeah, it was pretty good. Now, if you look back at it, I’m amazed that we had that many people ‘cause we didn’t advertise it.
But then again: there weren’t any bigger names in the bluegrass business than the ones you had then. Well, that’s right. Except Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and I had invited them. And I also had invited Reno & Smiley, who were very popular. I did not invite The Osbornes or Jimmy Martin but, don’t ask me why but I think, The Osbornes I should have invited and would have invited because I knew them. They were people I respected and I could have easily had them on, I’m sure. But it was a matter then of how much money can we say that we can put up here for this thing? And will we be able to get that money in at the gate? Well, we did get the money in at the gate but only just. Actually, I said I had 2.200, but I had 2.250 paid entries and the bill I had to pay for all the talent was $2.200,- So I had [made] fifty dollars at the end of the day and that was all! But it was still a wonderful event and I still meet people who teil me that they went to that. I didn’t know in those days. Talking about the Conference in London, he wrote the book on Bill Monroe, the first one. He lives in up in… Neil Rosenberg. And Neil said he was there. Well, I know Dave Freeman was there but I didn’t know that until many years later and a lot of other… Pete Kuykendal of the Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. A lot of those people came that I didn’t know at the time. Actually I did know Pete Kuykendal, I take that back, but a lot of other people I didn’t know came and in later years I met them.
Did you do a lot of advertising for that festival? None, none at all. I had one thousand handbills printed and they were sort of nine by eleven [inches] I guess it was, in size and about that tall and about that wide [shows size with his hands, A4]. And I just mailed a few out to radio stations, yeah about that size, and, you know, would leave a few here and there at a business or whatever and that’s all I did.
Did the bands advertise it that were… Well, I knew Bill Monroe would advertise it on WSM and it helped.
That would help, yeah. And I guess The Stanley’s and Jim & Jesse but they were down in Live Oak, Florida and in Georgia so, you know, I didn’t expect any people to come up from there and they didn’t. But I’m sure they advertised it on radio and television, The Stanley’s were on television in Live Oak, Florida at the time. Jim & Jesse were in Bethesda, Georgia. I don’t remember whether they were doing television or radio but they were working full-time there. And I’m sure both of them probably mentioned those dates but nobody’s gonna drive up from there to Virginia…