Rhiannon Giddens Delivers an American Musical History Lesson
"I'm a very historical kind of person," Rhiannon Giddens announced midway through her mainstage set on Sunday afternoon. "What's happening now has roots in what happened 500 years ago." During her spellbinding, 14-song performance, Giddens sang a mix of traditionals and originals as she elevated "voices that need to be represented," as she put it, in her mix of contemporary protest anthems, Civil Rights-era folk standards, and reimagined slave narratives. Giddens' appearance provided the weekend’s finest, and most essential, dosage of traditional American music, as Giddens and her band cycled through string-band stylings, gospel, country, Cajun music and hip-hop. Giddens offered up gorgeous modern spirituals ("We Could Fly"), channeled Odetta ("Waterboy") and ceded the stage to guitarist Dirk Powell, who led a touching tribute to his father-in-law, pioneering cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa. To cap off her triumphant show, she offered up an appropriately righteous, Mavis Staples-approved cover of the Staples Singers' "Freedom Highway," with the festival's original founder George Wein nodding approvingly from the side of the stage.