Let’s start at the end. There was soul. There was dancing. There was camaraderie, a vicious sunburn, and music, through and through. We’ll say this, too: 2015’s Newport Folk Fest was still our favorite of all the years. But there was something special, something different about this one, just from a personal point of view. It was different, different from all the other years we’ve been. But we’re going to get to that on the Sunday post. Right now, we’ve got music to attend to.

We’re going to start an hour into the ‘Fest. We’d known a couple people partial to Basia Bulat, and figured we should check her out, get the low-down on this lass (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer).

Bulat on keyboard and occasional tambourine.

Bulat was groovy, jamming her keyboard on electric organ setting, charging the audience in her poptastical, erm, pop. We caught up with her a little later in the day by the main stage, and she was so pleasant and congenial, and even signed our Newport Folk Fest shirt (more on that later). #1 on our shirt, by the way.

Straight outta Chicago, IL, we caught the Fruit Bats on the Harbor Stage. We’ve heard the quintet described as “alt-country” and “folk rock,” but we felt they were pretty straight rock to us, probably moreso than any other act we caught. Here’s one of lead singer Eric D. Johnson:

Put yo’ arm in the air like you just don’t…

The crowd gave in to their song “Baby Bluebird,” and yes, it really was pretty fantastic. Lotta applause. But the real hollerin’ came right after, on the main stage.

The music gods decreed: “Let there be horns.” And there were horns:

The horns.

“Let there be a funky bass.” And there was a funky bass.

The bass.

And on the seventh beat, they decreed: “Let there be this guy.”

Mr. Janeway, taking it away.

Coming on stage after their instrumental warm-up, Paul Janeway, of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, must’ve shook some hips out there. We can’t mince words here: they were the highlight of all three days. St. Paul is as soulful as they get, from his thin hair to his corpulent stature to those amazing sequined shoes on his feet (rainbow stars, yes). He shook the stage, we shook our bodies, and he shook that $20 bill out of my wallet for their debut album – with a follow-up coming out in September. Our mouth is salivating trying to get our hands on that one.

We love this next act a lot, though we didn’t really connect with his “Solicitor Returns” solo. Matthew Logan Vasquez has been a mainstay of the Newport stages for a handful of years now, and graced the Festival with a solo and Middle Brother performance. Friday was his solo stuff (including “People, Turn Around”) which we liked, but were not crazy about. What did make us crazy, though…

MLV is in the building. And now you know.

Check out this amazing coat that Mr. Vasquez’ wife made. It’s something else, huh? In addition to “People, Turn Around,” Matt Vasquez’ performance was, of course, incredibly energetic, and he always has a stage presence. Now he has a coat to go with that stage presence (though it was certainly hot to don the thing that day).

We have a couple of quick, quick stops. One, Neko Case at the Case/Lang/Viers stage:

Ah yes, Neko.

Theirs was another album we didn’t quite get into, though it has its good parts to it. Second stop: Ray Lamontagne. We’d heard a lot about him, but really… why?

It’s not like Mr. Lamontagne has the stage presence of Flight of the Conchords. The Aussie duo’s set was replete with humdrum deadpan humor, and we were surprised by these closers. Was there something we’d missed in their two seasons on HBO? We admit, we’d seen a few episodes and weren’t pulled in, but here at Newport, Jemaine and Bret were in top form, improvising all kinds of schtick that you’d’ve appreciated mostly in person, but also if you caught the NPR stream of the performance. Some things you might not’ve caught were a time-altered photo of the duo to more appropriately perform “Father and Son,” as well as Bret catching a cheapo disposable camera from a fan to take a photo of the audience for them.

The two were stark raving mad. In the most polite, Australian way. Here are some photos:

Jemaine Clement and…
…Bret McKenzie, the Flight of the Conchords.

They were spot-on and totally worth waiting through the traffic to catch. But still, our sequined soul-fedora goes off to St. Paul and the Broken Bones. So just keep that in mind.

That’s our first day of our Newport Folk Festival coverage, come back at us later this week for Day II: The Revenge. (We didn’t use that joke before, right?)

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