Gushing about The Newport Folk Festival is not hard to do. Ask my co-workers. This past weekend was my third trip in as many years and I seriously won't shut up about it. The festival is close quarters, swinging in and around a hollowed out fort on a smallish spit of land in a magnificent harbor. Boats bob about 100 yards off the main stage, an air conditioned New England-approved breeze cooling things down. Most impressive, there's a Del's frozen lemonade stand approximately every 25 yards. It's spectacular, a perfect summer setting I return to in my mind's eye every winter when tickets go on sale.
Newport is also one of the most manageable festivals I've ever been to. You can plop a blanket down at one stage, hop on over to another in five minutes' time, come right back to where you started, and no one's messed with your stuff, even if you've staked out prime territory (side note: NPR made a humorous little doc on how you go about claiming the perfect spot
What's interesting is, from an artist's perspective, Newport seems to be just as accessible. From the stage during a picture perfect, head-lining performance on Saturday night, Jack White commented that this was the first festival in 12 years where no one bothered him, he could seriously just walk around and check out bands like the good old days. Not only that, but absolutely every single artist seemed to be awestruck, moved, amazed, or honored (just a few things I heard during my two days in Newport) to be occupying one of the festival's four stages.
The incredible thing about a festival that's so extremely comfortable for the artists is they tend to stick around, enjoying the scenery, the company, and incredible collaborations along the way. Mavis Staples, the last artist to play the entire weekend, was seen in and around the Fort all weekend. Lucius seemed to fulfill the role of house back-up singers. Every time I wandered through the media area I saw The Milk Carton Kids (who also hosted their own amazing revue at the Jane Pickens Theater on Friday). It's this kind of atmosphere that helps to foster powerful, mind melting, soul quenching, damn near profound moments for the music fans who gathered at Fort Adams last weekend. These were some of my personal favorites, along with a few snaps from the sets. To see all our photos, check out our SATURDAY PHOTO ALBUM
and our SUNDAY PHOTO ALBUM
Someone howled the inevitable "Dewey Cox" when John C. Reilly took the Harbor Stage to play with his traditional folk trio early Saturday afternoon. His reply? "There's something perverse about people yelling Dewey Cox wherever you go. It's the life I picked!"
Benjamin Booker, the wailing, Louisiana feedback machine of a musician mentioning, "This is the first festival we've played where everyone's not falling down drunk. It's nice," all while a smiling Jack White looked on from the sidelines.
Lucius, already turning in an incredibly powerful set brought Mavis Staples onstage for a goose bump erupting version of "Go Home". That's how you make a sad song sound so very happy. Bonus points for recruiting Brooklyn banjo bud Mike Savina - aka Tall Tall Trees - onto the stage as well.
Kurt Vile sending a shout out to everyone who has been coming to the festival since 1965. Also, upon experiencing technical difficulties in the pedal department: "Well, sometimes you gotta go Wah-less."
During their pre-storm set on Sunday afternoon, Portland OR's Ages and Ages confessed they never in a million years would have guessed they'd get to play Newport. They made the most of it, bringing The Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir out for a rousing version of "Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)".
Introduced by a woman who traveled all the way from New Zealand ("the farthest folk") as her favorite artist at the festival, Gregory Alan Isakov and his band unplugged before one of the biggest gatherings I had ever seen at the Quad Stage. It was such a lovely moment for the Colorado quartet.
Hozier, the twenty-something-year-old Irish singer whose voice is like nothing I've ever heard live, seemed the most perplexed to be at the festival. He sounded a bit nervous between songs, talking about being a teenager watching the flicker of vintage Newport footage. He asked to come back next year right from the stage.
Father and son, Jeff and Spencer Tweedy (with help from Lucius) sharing cuts from their forthcoming album Sukierae
. Then Jeff strolled through a few Wilco classics on his own. Then the band invited old friend Mavis Staples out for a rousing cover of CCR's "Wrote A Song For Everyone". With lightening threatening to shorten the rest of the day (it didn't) that was the culminating moment of the fest for me.