Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013
12:36 p.m. PDT

Returning to her vocal roots

Folk singer Tracy Newman, who detoured into TV writing, will be playing at the FAR-West Music Conference in Irvine.


Daily Pilot trio photo

Gene Lippmann, Tracy Newman and Paula Fong. (James F. Dean / August 7, 2013)

By Michael MillerOctober 8, 2013 | 1:43 p.m.

Hard traveling is an admired trait of folk singers, and Tracy Newman took a long journey to her gig this week in Irvine — even if it didn’t quite adhere to Woody Guthrie’s mythical highways.

Newman, who recently turned 70, released her first CD less than 10 years ago. As a young adult, she played gigs on the blossoming folk scene, but she didn’t spend all the years in between as a hungry talent eking out a living from the tip jar.

Rather, she headed to Hollywood, where she garnered acclaim as a writer for “Cheers,” “Ellen,” “The Drew Carey Show”and other programs. She performed with the comedy troupe the Groundlings, which spawned Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and other alums.

But even through all those years, Newman never forgot her love of music — and she’ll tap into that passion Saturday night when she performs at the FAR-West Music Conference at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

“I did clubs and everything for a number of years, off and on,” Newman said by phone Friday, remembering the 1960s. “I mean, you have to be so committed to it. And also, when I started out, I wasn’t writing. You know, I was singing Bob Dylan stuff and Tom Paxton and stuff like that.”

Now, Newman is singing and writing. Her two albums, 2007’s “A Place in the Sun” and last year’s “I Just See You,” feature original work. And speaking of Dylan, she’ll be in good company at the Hyatt: Chris Hillman, who made “Mr. Tambourine Man” a No. 1 hit as a member of the Byrds, is among the other performers on the program.

FAR-West, taking place in Irvine for the second year in a row, is the western-states gathering of Folk Alliance International, a group dedicated to promoting folk music and dance. For four days, the Hyatt will host performances, workshops, panels and more.

(And despite the old-time feel of much folk music, the conference has a strong modern sensibility: Seminar titles include “1-to-1 Social Media Assessment” and “How to ‘Tweet’ and ‘Like’ Your Way to Better Concert Promotion and Organization.”)

The jury-selected performers range from the Hawaiian ensemble Keale and the DamNatives to the New Orleans-flavored Quinn DeVeaux and the Blue Beat Review. Newman will close Saturday evening’s show with her band, the Reinforcements.

The artist had sent audition tapes in the past for FAR-West, but finally snagged the coveted slot this year after filming her performance at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. She plans to perform her original work at the Hyatt and will have a deep catalog to choose from: Newman began writing songs in the 1970s and even briefly had a publishing deal, though she said the experience left her feeling “burned” by the industry.

If she has any lingering questions about the business, perhaps Hillman, who will share the bill with her Saturday, can answer them. The founding member of the Byrds, who went on to play with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Desert Rose Band in addition to doing solo work, is making his first appearance at FAR-West, accompanied by his longtime bandmate Herb Pedersen.

As introductions go, it’s a stylish one for Hillman: The organizers have chosen him as one of the recipients of the Best of the West award, which honors artists who have contributed heavily to the folk scene.

For Hillman, the joy of folk music is directness and simplicity. In the 1960s, his band won renown for taking acoustic originals and layering them with harmonies and jangling electric guitars. He values a solid tune over fancy production and still vividly remembers the demo of “Tambourine Man,” featuring Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, that the Byrds used as a prototype for their version.

“You knew that was a great song,” Hillman said. “You knew it was an incredible song. But the way it is now, it’s like a demo is a complete master, almost, with all the instrumentation and everything. It doesn’t necessarily make for a good song.

“Dressing up the song isn’t going to make it a good song. So I guess folk music to me is really honesty and integrity in the presentation.”

If You Go

What: FAR-West Music Conference

Where: Hyatt Regency Irvine, 17900 Jamboree Road, Irvine

When: Thursday through Sunday (check website for performance times)

Cost: $10 for Venues’ Choice Concert at 7 p.m. Thursday; $10 for Official Showcases at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $15 for film screening of “The Wrecking Crew” at 1:45 p.m. Sunday; conference registration $175 for Folk Alliance International members, $200 for nonmembers

Information: (949) 975-1234 or