Welcome back. Halfly to you, our readers, and halfly (not a word, actually) to us. It’s been too long! Oh how we’ve missed you! How work has plummeted us to the depths of Moria. Forgive us the Lord of the Rings reference, it is wholly inappropriate to a three day music festival of grandeur and great indie heights. Perhaps we’ll get to that shortly.
We do have to be honest: our favorite years were ’15 and ’16, absolutely amazing years. But the Newport Folk Festival really is the Jewel of the Summer Music Scene. (Not our words, paraphrased from someone else.) This year was not an exception, certainly not, and perhaps Rick Massimo’s book on the Fest made us want to post about this gentleman firstly and mostly. (All photos (c) Matthew Keefer.)
This man in the Folk Fest swag is none other than Jay Sweet. He’s the mastermind / Executive Producer of the Folk Fest, and has taken it from the doldrums of the ’80s to the blessing to Newport it is today. He is primarily responsible for finding and bringing in the acts that made it the indie music mecca it is today; without him, the Folk Fest wouldn’t manage to sell out in a record, what, a day? Almost sold out in about 2-3 hours, anyway (Friday takes interminably longer to sell out – a handful hours more.) In any case, we often talk about the people who make the Folk Fest possible, people usually in the background. If we had to give Jay Sweet a title that better reflects what he’s done for the Folk Fest, it’d be Mr. Folk Fest. See what we did there? Okay, not clever enough for what he’s managed since becoming part of the Festival since 2007. A short ten years, and it is, yes, the Crown Jewel of the Summer.
And now to the acts.
Aaron Lee Tasjan is one of those acts that we’d say “bends the boundaries of folk.” We have appreciated Mr. Sweet’s broad, expansive definition of “folk music,” and we’d probably peg Tasjan as more “rock” than anything. But that’s neither here nor there; who cares what the genre is? As long as it’s good music is what counts here.
Tasjen has a great voice for rock, and his group has some good, talented guitar solos in there, too. He was a first course, yes (or technically, second in the day), but we have some ground to cover. If you like classic rock, we suggest you give him a listen.
And speaking of rock, the Seratones feel like a really classic rock-and-roll outfit, plus soulful vocals, with the result coming to general screaming and jiving. It was good. Here they are.
That is the lead vocalist right there, who was kind enough to sign our shirt for us. Well, not our shirt, as it was a present-shirt, after being informed of which, made her sign it extra sweet. Woman is something of a sweetheart, yes. Add to that a gut-punch of a voice, and generous but not saccharine vibrato… let’s say they had a good Newport debut on Friday.
Inside the Museum stage was the Ben Miller Band. This was the first time we’d heard of them, and certainly the Ben Miller Band = total bluegrass awesome. They had a fiddle, drums, and… some bass guitar thingy?? Nope, that’s a “Cigar Box Guitar,” obviously. Can’t you tell, you pleb?
Ben Miller spoke to us about a guitar, well, nutjob, who built a guitar for a band member. We’re not going to get too far into it, but if you want to see what the guitar basically looked like, check out the guitar maker’s site – cigarboxguitars.com. Dude’s name is Johnny Lowebow, and our understanding of him is… well, we think we just explained. But smart, though. The most dangerous kind of nut.
Running through this review at warp speed: Carl Broemel, the guitarist for My Morning Jacket… well… he was there, too.
We listened to his second solo LP, 4th of July, and, yes, we enjoyed it. It was good, certainly above-par, and while not measuring up to My Morning Jacket’s finest, watching Broemel perform was certainly the better way to catch him. We suspect that his songs – actually more than suspect, we have heard and seen that they are – his songs feel more like quickly-written shells for just awesome guitar solos. So, yes, he’s the guitar soloist for My Morning Jacket. Proven.
We’re not going to knock his songwriting, it’s fine, and he and his band were solid performers on Friday. Absolutely. And about his songs, we’re going to say he knows his element very very well. He’s talented with not your typical shredding, but fantastic melodic solos, and… yes, do catch him live, please. Even if you didn’t like 4th of July like we did, it’s a good experience.
We still have quite a few more sights to see! We’re going to attack Ben Gibbard, who had our favorite cover of the Folk Fest (despite Hooray for the Riff Raff performing Survivor, we believe “Santa Ana Winds”). That cover being Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights” by the Postal Service.
Despite having a weird, kind of Colin Meloy psuedo-British tone to his vocals, Gibbard was actually rather refreshing to catch. A one-man folk band, his was one of the acts that we enjoy discovering. Something not too flashy, definitely not Top 40, but powerful and emotive. Music that speaks from experience, not from virtuosity. We must needs check into Gibbard further, and we suggest y’all do, too.
We’re going to round out the day with the more recognizable acts. Acts such as… the Head and the Heart. We love love love their debut LP, the self-titled one, and while we like the ones that followed, it is that first one we always come back to. We caught them at Newport before, some time back – gosh, in 2011! – and they were transcendental. There isn’t a weak song on that first LP; they’re all brilliant and singable). Without further ado:
Next, you may have heard of this folk artist. He’s a wood-worker, an actor, and a generally hilarious human being.
Okay, that caption is entirely disingenuous; Nick does not need to rock and/or roll. And yes, folk artist. “Artist.” Nonetheless, he was on a roll the Newport weekend. Here he is being generally funny opening for Nancy and Beth, half of whom he married (the Megan Mullally half). More about this bearded genius on Sunday.
Regina Spektor was there. We photographed her for a song. We caught a photo of her shoes. That is all that is here.
She was seriously hard to get close to. One song… and the whole of the photo pit was grappling with each other to get a single shot. This is the one we got. But seriously, we’re not bringing home the bacon with our photo gallery. God no. Let them beat the s— out of each other for her photo. We’re going to chill over here and watch her tap her shoes.
And no festival coverage is complete without a photo of the headliner (who happens to be Fleet Foxes).
They debuted at the Newport Folk Fest avec la beards. That was… oh wow, 2009? We certainly are getting old and remember-y. And we suspect this time they dropped off their fake beards (okay, they never had fake beards, just real ones) due to 2009 – some random in the crowd yelled that he wanted to set up residence in their beards.
Scarring, certainly. Actually, it was just very weird. But funny.
This was Fleet Foxes’ first live performance after a six-year touring break. How fantastic they they came to Newport to dust off the cobwebs of hiatus-ness! They were rather good, but we LOVED them back in ’09. As with the Head and the Heart, their debut LP (and EP) – which is also strangely self-titled – is the one we keep coming back to again and again. It’s brilliant. You probably have it, too, and think the same thing. Anyway, they might not have been the highlight of the day (“Such Great Heights”, remember?), but they were rather enjoyable all the same.
Breakneck speed, right? And some cool photos along the way. We impressed ourselves with our shutter talents this time – catch us later this week for Saturday’s bucket o’ review.