Hello, and welcome back our much-delayed coverage of the Newport Folk Fest ’17! Thanks much for coming back, and we hope y’all appreciate our mid-way point on these festivities. We’ll spoil a little bit and say one of our favorite discoveries was today.
So then, a quick starter in the form of Mt. Joy.
Mt. Joy is Philly five-piece that is your fairly typical indie rock group. Their music came off very… chill, we guess? Not bad, a good way to start, but we didn’t feel any need to follow up further, especially when our second favorite act was today. (The anticipation builds!)
Next stop: Chicano Batman. My long-time friend mentioned he wanted to catch Chicano Batman. Oh, we asked, what did they sound like? He replied, oh, I don’t know, but I love their name.
One point for you, Chicano Batman.
That ensemble the bassist wore was apparently how the whole band decided this set would go down. Is that a felt bow tie? Perhaps. Regardless of their band uniforms, we enjoyed the Chicano Batmen, as they’re (also) a very chill band, and we do enjoy quality psychedelia. It was definitely tough making out the singer’s vocals, though, so that’s not to say everything went according to plan.
We think we’re there. Yes, we are: Jalen N’Gonda performed perhaps the best covers we’d ever heard. Here he is.
N’Gonda is one of those incredible, almost indescribable pop singers that we’re supposed to despise because he sings, well, pop. But you can’t. And after a while, you discover that you end up loving everything that comes from N’Gonda’s lips because he’s a singer. A real singer.
It pains us to say that you can catch some of his performances on YouTube or on his Soundcloud (he doesn’t even have a real site yet!). And it pains us to say this because we’ve listened to his Soundcloud as soon as we got back, and it’s maybe 1/10th of the talent the man has live. Imagine a sweet taste of honey, a taste sweeter than wine, joyful and melancholic and perfectly pitched. And that to leave this taste of honey is more bitter than wine.
Okay, so he didn’t sing “A Taste of Honey,” but that’s the one song we could think of that would describe his sugar-sweet vocals tinged with soul. After shooting him on stage, a few of us photographers hung around to enjoy how incredibly beautiful this man’s voice was. We have to move on now… more bitter than wine…
We have to move on to get to one of our musical heroes. This beautiful man right here.
There are too many reasons we love Joe Pug. His music, his marketing plan, his lyrics, his voice, and his podcast. Podcast? Why does a musician need a podcast? To talk about music, silly. What else?
His podcast, The Working Songwriter (with link here) is a great little pick-your-brain-about-music style interview that Pug holds with musicians of various stripes. We knew we had to catch at least some of it, given that previous episodes have included Justin Ringle (of Horsefeathers) and Tift Merritt (of Tift Merritt).
It’s a fascinating little concept, where a fantastic songwriter navigates those kinds of waters with some of his favorite musicians, and while sometimes it meanders, sometimes the subject isn’t quite on point, it’s something we strongly suggest checking out. We did, and here’s a cool over-the-shoulder shot of Pug interviewing Wilco’s guitarist Pat Sansone.
Okay, so it wasn’t music per-se, not exactly, but Pug is a good host and a good interviewer. And anyone who can make his guest talk about Big Star (and the sweet beauty of “Thirteen” in particular) gets a few points in our book. (Sorry Chicano Batman – more points than you.) Pug has the interviews he conducted on Saturday, again, on his site.
We have a few more stops for y’all!
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, aka Yim Yames, aka a Monster of Folk… well, you get it. He’s got a lot of side projects. Anyway, what more can we say of the man? We are definitely a fan of his music. We feel that MMJ’s Evil Urges is one of our favorite rock albums of all time (minus the ’60s). We hardly took any notes of the performance, as, well, what more can we say? He’s a mainstay at Newport, a fantastic musician, and absolutely worth your time. So go catch him or MMJ at your nearest performance hall or record store (live and LP are both fantastic).
Two more! Then we’ll set you free. This next photo is Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. These old fogeys are the very definition of folk, singing… well, Lead Belly (okay, more like blues) and songs about the railroad (okay, that’s more folky).
We appreciated Bragg’s and Henry’s set, which Bragg said was their attempt to “reclaim the poetic language of the past.” Trains, yes, are a big part of our past, and their cover of “John Henry” was all too welcome with us. (Delta Spirit also does an AMAZING cover of that song.) They didn’t want to be just nostalgic, because, let’s face it, sometimes the good ole days just weren’t that good. But these two gents were fresh air to us, even though Bragg must be 102 if he’s 50. Okay, not really, but we meant that in a good way. Remember when Bragg and Wilco did that album together?
Of course Bragg had to join Wilco on stage. Of course! (And of course we don’t have a photo of that, of course!) Still, Wilco is Wilco, which is to say they’re one of the seminal indie bands of our current times. We might gander to say Wilco may even be the Big Star of our time… but give us a couple more decades, and maybe we’ll say that. Highlights other than Bragg include a rendition of “Via Chicago” which was more on the bizarre side of distortion (which is not the original Summer Teeth song, if you recall). Other highlights of the Wilco set would include: dernit, it’s Wilco, alright! We’ve caught them 4-5 times by now, and they’re utterly fantastic; if you don’t think so, listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot three more times. We think you’ll change your mind.
Folks and gentleladies, that’s it for our Saturday review. Sunday, we have a treat; that is, our favorite, we can’t believe we never heard of her (or him) kind of discovery that makes us ashamed to think we’ve reviewed music and not caught her (or him) before. It’s going to be a fantastic write-up, and we’ll even give away a pair of tickets to Aruba (tickets may or may not be valid to travel to Aruba). Thanks much for stopping by, and we’ll catch all y’all next week!