Spotlight at Newport Folk 2017: C.W. Stoneking

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The famed Newport Folk Festival has been gradually releasing a rolling line-up of musicians appearing in 2017. Among the bigger draws are names like Fleet Foxes, 60s singer-songwriter John Prine and Regina Spektor, at least so far. Over the years the festival has embraced folk, jazz, (electric) blues and country.

Appearing on Sunday, July 30, will be Australian blues singer and oddity C.W. Stoneking, who is a said-oddity for a number of reasons, all of which add to his appeal.

When you first look at him, his outfit looks like it was plucked Wizard-of-Oz-style from a sepia photograph in the Dust Bowl into today’s world. He wears suspenders, a bow-tie, dons a slicked back old-time professional haircut and he lugs around a banjo like the image wouldn’t work without it, and in a way it wouldn’t. He’s out of his time but definitely of his time.

This is emphasized by the second thing noticed, but definitely his most unique element: his voice. He’s a white guy in his 30’s born in the Northern Territory of Australia, and his voice sounds like a 78 record cut in the very heart of the Mississippi Delta in the 1920’s, just without the crackle or any modern irony or put-ons at all.

Stoneking has been performing and recording for nearly 15 years. His music, while always rooted in the blues, has explored around the world in a diverse genre fusion with each passing album.

His first major release King Hokum (2005) distilled the old-timey vaudevillian blues to a science. He played guitar like he was born with one attached, and he cracked raunchy asides like the most hardened Delta blues singer.

“Jungle Blues” (2008) injected calypso and island rhythms as well as an air of adventure and menace as if he was off to hunt King Kong with his brass band in tow. Stoneking built on his already strong image to create one that was prone to wild innovation and exploration, akin to Tom Waits during his Island Records days in the mid to late 1980’s.

His most recent release, “Gon’ Boogaloo” (2012) is a deeper exploration from what was started on “Jungle Blues” and delves into electric zombie and voodoo boogie and rockabilly. Undoubtedly it’s also his most funky; standout tracks include the highly danceable “Get on the Floor” and the track “The Zombie” that would make Dr. John proud.

Since gradually gaining more exposure in the U.S., Stoneking has been performing sporadically in the country for the past few years, and this is a great opportunity to see a melting pot of a musician performing his music at an historic melting pot of a festival.

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