This year's Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island has some heavy hitters on the bill -- My Morning Jacket, Iron and Wine, Conor Oberstbut certain festivalgoers are in for a special treat each night after the main festival winds down. Native Rhode Islanders (and Newport Folk mainstays) Deer Tick
have curated this year's official festival after-parties at the Newport Blues Cafe. In addition to playing the main stage just before Wilco during this year's opening night, Deer Tick will play every night at the cafe, joined by Sharon Van Etten, Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit, and festival headliner Jackson Browne, among many others. The other, even more awesome element to the after parties (besides the fantastic roster of acts) is that all the proceeds from these shows go to the Newport Festivals Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Deer Tick bassist Chris Ryan had a chance to talk with us about his relationship to the festival, and what we can expect to see in the Ocean State this weekend.
Many of you guys grew up in Rhode Island. Did you go to the Newport Folk Festival as kids?
Chris: Not when I was very little, but my brother took me to the festival when I was in high school. It was the first festival I ever went to. And out of all the festivals we've played, it continues to be my favorite.
Do you think the music Deer Tick makes could be considered "folk"?
The obvious answer is that Louis Armstrong quote: "All music is folk music, I ain't never heard no horse sing a song." But to be honest, I don't really know what folk music is. Some people say it needs to be steeped in tradition, some people say it needs to be political, some people insist it needs to be acoustic. But what does John Jacob Niles have in common with the What Cheer Brigade or Delta Spirit? Ultimately I guess it's just music that people make that other people like. I don't know why we were invited to this folk festival, but I do know there will be people there who will come watch our set.
You are playing every day of this year's festival, and have played it multiple times in the past. What is it about Newport Folk that keeps you coming back?
Gee, should I just give you a list? In no particular order: Newport, the Blues Cafe, and Fort Adams have long been dear places to me -- our first set at the festival I could stand on stage and look across the water and see Goat Island, where my high school prom was. I think Rhode Island shits gold, so I would obviously be behind any festival that happened here. I think the size is perfect, not too overwhelming, but not seeming inane; and it comes across as being remote without being isolated. People talk normal here. The stages are ingeniously set around the fort so that there is almost no noise competition between stages. I like that the festival is almost designed to attract freeloaders on their boats. And I admire the way that the tradition and the vision are married in this festival: our first year here I was sitting on a wall for a few minutes before I realized the man I was sitting next to was Arlo Guthrie. For that to happen someone must be doing something right.
How do you think the aesthetic of the festival has evolved in recent years?
If my memory serves me right, the first year I came to this festival I saw Emmylou Harris and Sam Bush. This year has acts born out of traditional folk, but each with their own individual flavor - the weirdest maybe being Tune-Yards. But, music keeps happening, and if the festival didn't keep up on that, I don't think it would keep selling out.
Deer Tick and its surrounding projects (Diamond Rugs, Middle Brother) seem to draw upon a close-knit group of musicians. Since you guys are curating the official festival after parties at the Newport Blues Cafe, did your other collaborators factor into what acts you included in the lineup?
I didn't think about it like that, but probably. I love my friends, and I love playing music with my friends. So when you find yourself in a situation with so many amazing musicians in a town and you have three bills to fill, naturally, you first turn to the devils you know. Some could, some couldn't, and we ended up three amazing nights.
Can we expect some surprises during the after parties? Are the shows at the Blues Cafe more prone to excitement than the festival events during the day?
It's much more natural for me to play in a small venue like the Blues Cafe than in a tent or an outdoor stage. There is a power to seeing countless waves of fans spanning across the horizon, but if I had to choose I'd pick the little bar. You can smell the heat off the crowd, feel the sound bounce through the room, hear the cougar whisper to her friend that you have a cute butt -- all of which make for a more powerful show, I believe. But for surprises. Probably. The best surprises are surprises for us, too.
A lot of the acts on the bill for the after parties seem to be close friends of Deer Tick (Jonny Corndawg, Matt Vazquez, and Providence's Ravi Shavi). Will there be an appearance from Deervana?
I doubt it. They broke up. And besides, that's not folk music . . . unless they did Unplugged.
What are your plans for the future? Do you hope to do more curatorial work? Or become even more involved with Newport folk next year?
I know we'll probably curate a run at the Blues Cafe again. As for our involvement with the festival, that's up to Ken. Other than that, I just think we'll continue to make music. It's what we do.
Check out the event poster below.