It lay at our feet, dead. Decomposing. The Grinch of All Festival Curmudgeondry. Flies buzzed; vultures circled. We moved on.

Desert sands shifted beneath our boots. The sun beat an oppressive cadence on our shoulders. It was hot; it was hot. Through the dust, we could make out a distant oasis. It came closer, crept closer. There were drums, there were horns; there was a woman on stage, shouting; congas pounding. A crowd of some sort of worshipers. We stopped by to see the commotion (these photos (c) Ravings as well).

The Suffers’ strangely armed guard and their lead conjurer

“Who are we,” she demanded.
“The Suffers,” the crowd replied.
She rewarded their fidelity with a siren-song: mixes of soul, Latin and jazz poured from forceful lips.

We pondered on their Sharon-Jones sentiments. Big band, big energy, lead siren to bring you in. But with the curmudgeon in us gone, we knew we had to keep moving, knew that we couldn’t stay all day. Acts to photo. Alas.

One half of Luluc

Wanderlust inspired. Luluc was next, guy/gal acoustic duo. Quiet, solemn, they seemed a good choice to keep cool on a blistering hot day. But you know us, we’re picky. Particular. We started the day off strong, and wanted an act to burn away the heat. Not some place to lie down and cool off.

Country-style Traveller took the back stage next. Their opener, “Get Me Out of the South,” was just what we were looking for: a hot, pounding one in the sun. But then the cooled off, and our attention wandered, wandered to an artist whose album we absolutely, certainly should have covered…

And artist whose hippo we still have. Cosmic hippo, to clarify. (Though he came minus cosmic hippo, and with the wifey).

Bela Feck. Abigail Washburn. Banjo to banjo.

They were unconscionably late to the stage, causing all kinds of ulcers of anticipation for something we’d held off listening to since the release of their duet album late last year. A calm, sophisticated bluegrass duo (sophisticated, even with a bit of clog dancing), dense, the kind of stuff that tends not to play well in a big festival. But: Bela Fleck. And Mrs. Washburn, too. It was a fantastic change of scene. We were stunned that they decided to sign CDs and albums (and even our shirt!) by the merchandise tent. After the set, Abigail was sweet as peach cobbler; we think Mr. Fleck was a bit out of his element there. No banjo in the hand, perhaps.

The Mama Bear (and Tom Hudson) and Madisen Ward

We heard a bit about this mom and son duo from one of the other photographers. “His voice, his voice…” Seeing him live, Madisen Ward shakes a bit of vibrato the old country way: dance the jaw into the mic. Like a hungry barracuda. And yes, the voice, the voice. Folksy and soulful; we were all about vocals. We only caught a couple, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” being one of them, but even in two songs Madisen and The Mama Bear were one of our highlights of the day. That’s saying a lot, considering…

Considering some of the rumors floating around. “Next set is going to be such-and-such.” “I heard it was hmm-hmm.” “I don’t have this verified, but it might be…”

Whatever. We heard a few different things on Saturday. It turns out it was The Optimal Solution.

Which, in all cases, is James-Freaking-Taylor.

James Taylor. Whom we’d pay to have as our biological uncle.

It was a short, short set. We cried, we laughed; we waved goodbye from behind the security guards escorting us away. We’re willing to bet NPR streamed his set and has it up somewhere, but just be warned there were some audio blips/bloops/explosions, really, during that set. Some imperfections with the sound, we’ll say.

And Mr. Taylor?

Pretty much looked like this. Despite the 100+ Decibel shrieks, he looked pretty much like someone was passing him a tea cake and he was politely declining. Whatever. When you calmly croon about Fire and Rain, losing 5% of your hearing is probably not that big a deal to you. His set closed with “You’ve Got a Friend.” Our life was complete.

Sufjan Stevens is an old, old man. But he can still get down and funky.

Jungle Boogie, c.o. Michigan.

Okay, so he’s not that much older than us. Probably. There was a general consensus that Mr. Stevens’ set was the one to hit (other than James-Freaking-Taylor) because, let’s face it, Illinois. And perhaps a little bit of his latest album, which maybe we like a little bit. Just a smidge. We enjoyed this set. We enjoyed it despite:

-Sufjan forgetting some of his lyrics
-His deep voice. Like, almost Morgan Freeman deep. Making some of his own vocals hard to hit
-Sufjan dancing to “All of Me” like a white guy

Not everyone’s perfect. Sufjan is a brilliant writer, probably the most earnest, heartfelt ones of his/our generation. We can’t say his performance at the Newport Folk Fest this past weekend was flawless, but we still can appreciate it for not being as such. For being honest. He was good, certainly not a let-down, and if we had any other set to be at, we wouldn’t have changed our minds. And we’re not going to pay NASA ticket rates to see him perform live, either. Though we’re sure it’s worth it. (We took 100 pictures of Stevens and Taylor each.)

We know some of y’all like The Decemberists. We haven’t really kept up with their albums since 2009’s “The Hazards of Love,” and as a closer to the ‘Fest, they were spot-on.

Colin Meloy, avec la beard.

It was a very good set from them. They knew their crowd, they rocked it out, they played a song about oatmeal. “Quaker Oat Blues,” we think it was (okay, we just made that name up).

(But really, it was about oatmeal.)

This would be another great set to catch streamed, but – and no offense to these Portlandiers – we were still in shock by James-Freaking-Taylor. So much so that that’s where these travelin’ shoes are going to stop.

You’ll come back for Friday, right? The Philosopher?

Y’all comin’, right?

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