Who Could Ask For Anything More…
I am feeling overwhelmed with feelings of joy, gratitude, fellowship and love for last weekend’s Newport Folk Festival. It was as close to perfection as I can imagine.
Sure, there were sets I missed that I know I would have enjoyed, but I am thoroughly satisfied with the sets I saw. Rather than moaning about what I did not see, I choose to rejoice in what I saw.
This is a long review with many photos (mostly in the gallery at the end of the review). Please read all the way to the end and enjoy!
In the parking lot on Sunday night, I spoke with a couple who asked for my top three moments from the Festival. There were so many but it was fairly easy to pick three.
My favorite occurred during Graham Nash’s set on the Quad Stage. This was my first time seeing him without Crosby, Stills or Young and I was excited for it. Nash is very political as you would imagine, and the set included protest songs. I sang to most of them, and was transported back to the late 1960s and the anti-war protests in which I participated.
The penultimate song was ‘Chicago’ and by the third note I had tears streaming down my face. It was such a beautiful moment, with people singing right along with Nash. How appropriate to hear it on the eve of the 2016 DNC.
Another favorite was during the Texas Gentlemen and Friends set, also on the Quad Stage. I heard rumors that Joe Ely, Terry Allen, and Kris Kristofferson were the ‘friends’ and those rumors proved accurate. Each one performed three songs with the band, but the last song was the most special.
Kristofferson and Margo Price (who performed the next set on the Quad Stage) sang ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ with the band! This was my first time seeing Kristofferson, who recently received news that gave him a new lease on life (his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was changed to lyme disease). He was on fire, and the duet with Margo was incredible!
The third favorite occurred during Patti Smith’s closing set on the Fort Stage. Smith is another artist who is quite political, and her set delivered a strong message of peace, hope, and love.
She said she felt moved to pay tribute to Pete Seeger because he was an integral part of the Festival. She was nervous to perform, for the first time, ‘If I Had a Hammer’ but she did not need to be. The choice of that song was perfect as was her rendition of it. I doubt there was a person in the crowd (which was more sparse than I expected) who did not sing along with her.
There were other favorite moments: k.d. lang singing ‘Helpless’; Glen Hansard asking if anyone had a tambourine and having Elvis Costello come to the stage and perform; Middle Brother, their whole set.
When I attend this Festival, I choose the sets I want to see and see almost all of them in full. A lot of the magic seems to happen after the first two songs and I prefer not missing that! I saw six sets each day (seven on Saturday) and I enjoyed each one. My intention this year was to see mostly bands I did not know, and I succeeded.
The first set I saw was J.P. Harris, a honky-tonk musician from Nashville (although a friend told me he is originally from Boston), on the Harbor Stage. This was the first time in the five years I have attended the Festival that I saw a full set on that stage.
I loved him! His music is lively, his lyrics are fun, and he is an engaging performer. I am already on the lookout for him to play some shows in the Boston area.
Next up at the Harbor Stage was Freakwater. As I wrote when I posted the announcement of this artist, how could I not want to see a band with a name like that! I recently started listening to their alt-country music, so I was excited to see them.
While I was slightly underwhelmed by their performance style (which could have been caused by their following a set that wowed me), I love their music and would see them again.
In the category of here-is-another-band-with-a-name-that-makes-me-want-to-see-them, Fruit Bats was next up on the Harbor Stage. I had never heard of this folk-rock band but they have been around almost twenty years! Where have I been?
I have seen Aoife O’Donovan perform a number of times over the past ten years, so I broke my own rule by seeing an artist I had previously seen. I had not, however, seen her since her recent album was released so I did see her perform new-to-me material.
I then went to the Quad Stage to see case/lang/veirs, a supergroup composed of Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs. I had not heard their album, but knew I liked Case and lang.
They performed an electrifying set. They alternated leads, although it seemed that lang sang more leads (that could be because I like her best of the three). They appeared to have a fabulous time playing for us and we appreciated that!
The last set I saw on Friday was The Arcs, a rock band fronted by the terrific producer and member of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach. I know they are talented, and I was glad to see Auerbach perform. I need to become familiar with their music so I can appreciate what they brought to the stage.
Saturday started on the Harbor Stage with traditional country act The Cactus Blossoms. Fronted by brothers Jack and Page, their harmonies are reminiscent of The Everly Brothers (and that is a beautiful thing). While some of their songs contained sad lyrics, others were love songs.
Next was Ruby Amanfu, a singer born in Ghana but now living in Nashville. She has a hauntingly gorgeous voice and I am sorry I did not see her entire set. I cannot wait to see her again!
The Texas Gentlemen and Friends were the next set us saw up at the Quad Stage. This was one of my favorite sets of the Festival, as I previously mentioned. I knew Ed Jurdi, one of the guitarists, from his work with Band of Heathers, although it took me most of the set to figure out why he was familiar to me!
The talent on stage for this set was astounding! I hope I can see them again, even without the friends. They are well worth seeing.
I was excited to see Margo Price who was next on the Quad Stage. She is a current favorite out of Nashville, and her début album is on frequent rotation on my iPod. She did not disappoint me.
Scottish band Frightened Rabbit is another band that I knew nothing about, and they appeared on the Quad Stage next. They made a comment about once being a folk band, and guessed that was why they were invited to perform at the Festival. I would call them an indie rock band, or maybe indie folk-rock. They were fun to watch and hear.
The last set I saw on the Quad Stage was Graham Nash. Performing with Shane Fontayne, he had the audience hanging onto every word and note. This was an emotional and highly charged set and it will live in the annals of the Festival as one that everyone adored (including the ten-year-old boy sitting in front of me).
The closing set was Patti Smith on the Fort Stage. What a way to end a day of incredible music!
Sunday started with River Whyless, a folk band from Asheville, North Carolina. They were overwhelmed to be at the Festival, which fiddle player Halli Anderson expressed with tears in her eyes. The audience was thrilled their performance, which ended with Kam Franklin (of The Suffers) joining them on vocals for the last song.
I went to the Fort Stage for the remainder of the Festival. The Oh Hellos, my favorite set from the 2014 Festival, took the stage to thunderous applause. They so clearly love performing that their audiences cannot help but love them. They are animated (okay, maybe super-animated) and a joy to watch.
They have ten members now (I have seen them with as many as fourteen and as few as nine) and they made great use of the large stage. I will see them again and again, even if they play at larger places than I prefer.
Glen Hansard was one of the artists whom I was most looking forward to seeing. He also performed a fairly political set, and had a number of guests take the stage with him. When he asked if anyone backstage had a tambourine, Elvis Costello came to the stage with one!
He was also joined by Shovels and Rope, Jocie Adams of Arc Iris, and a member of the audience who had a surprisingly good voice. The highlight of this set was the traditional ‘The Auld Triangle’ and they had the audience singing with them.
Jay Sweet announced the next set, saying he had waited six years to be able to welcome the band to the Festival – Middle Brother! Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, John McCauley of Deer Tick, and Matthew Vasquez of Delta Spirit comprise this supergroup who put out an album as a side project in 2010.
This was another electrifying set! I do not know if they toured when the album was released, but I presume most people had never seen them perform together. They had the rest of Dawes backing them for most of the set.
Elvis Costello with Larkin Poe had to follow that set which would have been daunting to a lesser artist. Larkin Poe is a great addition for Costello; I love them! They performed the first few songs as a trio, moving across the stage, harmonizing with one another.
This was another set that the large audience adored. Dawes backed them for much of the set, and that added to my enjoyment.
The last set was Alabama Shakes. I had not seen them live since the 2012 Newport Folk Festival where they were one of my favorite sets, so I was extremely excited to see them again. They had a large crowd listening to them and dancing the early evening away.
No special guests joined them (I had been fantasizing about a duet of Brittany Howard and Kam Franklin) but it did not matter. Howard has such an incredible stage presence; it is impossible not to fall in love with her!
Making new friends, spending with old friends, hearing amazing music and generally feeling the love. Thanks to the entire staff of the Festival – paid and volunteer – who put much sweat and love into ensuring that everyone has the best possible experience at the Festival.
Jay Sweet’s closing remarks were the icing on the cake. Be the love, not the hate. And go out and hear live music! It will change your life.
Thanks to the Newport Folk Festival for the ticket; all opinions are my own.
Posted on August 6, 2016, in festival photos, festival review, Uncategorized and tagged Alabama Shakes, Aoife O'Donovan, Cactus Blossoms, case/lang/viers, Elvis Costello, festival photos, festival review, Freakwater, Frightened Rabbit, Fruit Bats, Glen Hansard, Graham Nash, J.P. Harris, Joe Ely, Kam Franklin, Kris Kristofferson, Larkin Poe, Margo Price, Middle Brother, Newport Folk Festival, Patti Smith, River Whyless, Ruby Amanfu, Terry Allen, Texas Gentlemen, The Arcs, The Oh Hellos. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.