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“In case you were wondering what instrument I’m playing… it’s an acoustic guitar,” chuckled Joel Rafael as he took the Harbor stage early on Sunday. “It’s a daring choice for a festival like this.” Rafael is credited to be the leader in interpreting the work of Woody Guthrie, the famed folk singer whom recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Rafael has been touring since the early nineties and is on the rise in the national folk festival scene.
Rafael often tours with a band that includes his own daughter, Jamaica, but today here at Newport he performed a stripped down solo set. Rafael released his eighth studio album, America Come Home, earlier this month.
The set started off strong with a harmonica solo by Rafael that transitioned into his title track off of the new release America Come Home. Between songs during the set, Rafael talked casually with the audience about Guthrie’s legacy and his experience performing at the 15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival just a few weeks ago in Guthrie’s hometown Okemah, OK.
The set this afternoon was simple and relaxed; it truly showcased Rafael’s showmanship, as he held his own with just his guitar. His vocals really showed his decades of experience, the seasoned pipes filled the tent with deep tenor and conviction. Stand out tracks included “Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key” and “Don’t Kill My Baby and My Son”.
What I really enjoyed about Rafael is how involved he is – in addition to participating in several folk festivals nationwide, he was also a contributing artist to the Occupy This Album project that was released this past May as a part of the Occupy. Other contributing artists included Tom Morello, Jackson Browne, Yoko Ono, and many others. The project was a four-disc compilation box set released under Razor & Tie; proceeds from CD sales were donated towards sustaining the Occupy movement.
Rafael wrapped up the set with “Meanwhile the Rain” off of America Come Home to a standing ovation from the entire audience. It was such a pleasure to see a veteran folk musician like Rafael performing with such strength and a positive attitude. He seemed to be having a great time up on stage.
“It’s so good to be in Newport, I heard about this festival during the ’60s when I was about thirteen years old and it’s always been my dream to be here,“ Rafael said. “I spend my life trying to make my dreams come true and this is one of them that has.”