Tim Buckley – Newport Folk Festival 1968 –‘Honey In the Sun’

by | Sep 4, 2017 | 0 comments


Playing today in the ‘rock room’ is a brief, but stunning
and historic performance by legendary West coast troubadour, Tim Buckley.  Inspired by news of two upcoming (October
2018) live releases hailing from Buckley’s 1969 residency at the Troubadour, I
decided to play a few choice live cuts from the available circulating Buckley
live performances to be found in the ‘rock room’ musical files. Similarly to
his career this all too short set by Buckley comes from his performance at the
1968 Newport folk festival. Thankfully recorded for posterity Buckley’s set is
available ‘officially’ via The Bill Graham collection at Wolfgang’s Vault and ‘semi’
officially on import compact disc. I do not pretend to know the legalities recording
this concert, so it may be a boot, it may be official, but one thing I can
confirm is that it is special and worth seeking out. 

Buckley’s July 28, 1968 set is an aural snapshot that
develops to reveal an artist on the cusp of full personal gratification through
artistic experimentation and creative development. Luckily for admirers of
Buckley’s work this set settles smack dab in the middle of Buckley’s most
fertile and respected era. The blurred segue that blossoms colorfully between
1967’s Hello and Goodbye and 1969’s Happy Sad can be explored here in
Buckley’s hearty 12 string, Carter Collins’s deft percussion and the emotive
ringing of David Friedman’s vibes. Guitarist Lee Underwood is not present on
this recording, unfortunate but allowing for Tim’s acoustic to take center
stage. The available recording is a soundboard four track master with perfect
aural characteristics, with a set book ended by Buckley originals with its core
made up of a folk standard and a Fred Neil (Buckley’s idol) classic.
Following Buckley’s short British visit which resulted in
the posthumous regal live release Dream
Letter,
Buckley returned to the states for dates well practiced and
musically peaking. Buckley’s Newport performance begins with an introduction by
Oscar Brand who expresses Buckley’s uniqueness by stating that Tim works in a ‘modern
idiom on a fine bed of folk music’.
Later disregarded by its author, Buckley’s set begins with ‘Buzzing
Fly’. Here in the freshness of its compositional birth ‘Buzzing Fly’ hovers
spacious and in panoramic. Buckley’s vocals pour from within like ‘honey in the
sun’ while his acoustic chime circles only supported by tambourine and
glistening vibes. I feel that throughout this show and others of the era that
Buckley is finding ways to use his live voice and what he can do to manipulate
it. Obviously by 1970 he would exceed those vocals limitations and more. ‘Buzzin
Fly’ is a proper introduction to a crowd that in its entirety may be getting
their first exposure to Buckley.
Appropriate to his surroundings, Buckley follows his opening
number with a definitive version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, a folk song covered
by many and born in the 19th century. Strident and urgent acoustic
guitar work is dressed in a startling falsetto and Buckley’s dramatic vocalizations
that like ancient pottery are cracked in all the right places. The rendition is
a highlight of the recorded performance and a chill inducing musical
expression. Buckley takes a short moment to introduce his fellow musicians to
the crowd following the song to great applause.
A stirring reading of Fred Neil’s ‘Dolphins’ follows and at
the risk of sounding redundant is again an inspired and moving reading. Fred
Neil’s influence is found throughout the Buckley catalog and ‘Dolphins’ would
be performed by Tim, until his untimely death. This version finds Buckley
stretching each line to its precipice before submerging below the ocean surface,
then breaching back into the glorious light of his musical ecstasy. Tim’s gentle
waves of vibrato stir above his undulating acoustic, vibe, percussion stew. The
performance feels definitive to me and judging by the feedback of the crowd, they feel the same way.  

Just like that the set is concluded and while brief, even on
tape I feel like I am witness to something profound. From the collective crowd
appears one of the finest moments of the capture. A woman’s voice can be heard
on the recording calling for Buckley’s ‘Morning Glory’. While not acknowledged verbally,
Buckley responds in kind and encores with the final track from his Goodbye and Hello LP.
Buckley’s most covered song (Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat and
Tears and others) is one of the Beckett/Buckley team’s most enduring tales; its
lyrics drawing the interaction between a ‘searcher’ in his ‘fleeting house’ and
a passing traveler. Unable to understand one another through their limited time
together the song exhibits a sense of loss, misunderstanding, and sadness, in
addition to a clandestine finality. All of the emotion stirred in the song
stays at arms length as you never really know what the narrator expects or
hopes to find, nor what keeps the ‘hobo’ from opening themselves more.  
This is what makes a great song its multiple interpretations
and its way to bring to the surface feelings that the listener doesn’t even
know existed in the first place.  What a
way to end a show, ‘Morning Glory’ is played here in filigreed arrangement, a
moist morning spider web glistening, only threatened by the slightest breeze,
but sturdy because of its thoughtful design and delicate beauty. ‘Morning Glory’
played here is a breathless and fitting conclusion to this beautiful concert, a
sparse and natural collective of organic expression.
For an artist in constant flux, this 1968 clip encapsulates
Tim Buckley and acts as a primer to understand what he was about and what he
was striving to be. Soon even the aspects on display at Newport would be
replaced by new and more experimental ways of expression. Buckley’s acoustic
would be put on its stand while jazz trumpets and atonal guitars eclipsed his folk leanings. Differing breezes were already beginning to stir on this
aforementioned performance, but for the moment Buckley was content with where
the journey had led him….to the stage at Newport.

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