Joan Shelley (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer)

This was where we started off the third and final day of the Newport Folk Festival. She’s actually the second act of the Harbor Stage, having missed the first one (whom we later discovered was an amazing highlight of the whole Folk Fest – Ian Fitzgerald with Smith and Weeden…). But here we buckled down for a bit, sat and enjoyed Joan Shelley’s acoustic duo, nice, simple, sparse. Kind of a palate cleanser, musically speaking. Refreshing start to the day.

And if Joan Shelley’s brand of folk is refreshing, then the Oh Hellos are just a knock-out, high-octane pounding of folk-rock and harmonies.

Maggie Heath of the Oh Hellos.

Not only do we love their songwriting and execution, but we love how they execute: just sheer craziness. Absolute havoc wrecked the stage, especially because of this shoeless banjo bandit:

Unidentified Acoustic Guitarist (UAG) and troublemaker Reagan Smith, a la banjo.

Here you see Mr. Smith just singing along. Most of the time, he was a blur to our camera for the Cain he was raising. So that’s why he appears all nice and approachable now. Be warned.

But yes, the Oh Hellos are an entirely energetic bunch of a nigh-dozen musicians, and we do love them madly. Next is Glen Hansard, whom we’ve never caught live before. We think this photo makes a strong case for buying a pickguard for your guitar.

A beat up guitar, maybe some traveling shoes (lyric stolen from Mark Erelli).

Like Joan Shelley’s set earlier in the day, Glen Hansard’s performance was one of those stripped-down, bare, let’s even say naked kind of performances that sometimes you just need. Sometimes it just takes some scribbled lyrics and some damned emotive vocals to bring you to it. And that’s what Hansard has, in spades, even. Never mind that he gave a Bernie Sanders shout out, and was maybe 4% political compared to Father John Misty (which is still more political than normal); Hansard was one of those acts… let’s say we were definitely glad we caught him. It was enjoyable, yes, but moreover powerful. (Plus, he sucked Elvis Costello into a tambourine cameo.)

These guys… now these guys we love.

John McCauley, 1/3 of Middle Brother.

Middle Brother made a fantastic return to the main stage this time at Newport. And not only the three of them (Deer Tick’s McCauley, Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes), but a ton of cameos hopped aboard, too. Kam Franklin, lead singer for The Suffers, was around Newport all weekend, and got in some good spots, including one for Middle Brother; and Shovels and Rope was another who joined in later on. We’d like to post more photos of the trio, but we figured we had a pretty bad-arse one of Vasquez on Friday already, so here’s one to Goldsmith:

Goldsmith, another 1/3 of Middle Brother.

Middle Brother unfortunately has no plans for another album… we asked Vasquez himself… but regardless, their collaboration is one of our after-the-fact Top Albums of 2011 (review here) because, quite frankly, we still listen to it too much. It’s fantastic, and worth it on vinyl if you have a player.

One more stop! We know, we know; why does the fun ever have to end? Because all good things must come to an end, and all things must pass. But thanks much for stopping by, for supporting the blog with your curious eyes and clicks, and for throwing an occasional comment up there. We appreciate your time and energy (and fun), so without further ado, we figure…

Mr. Elvis Costello. (Who had all kinds of stage cameos.)

Here’s lookin’ at you.

We don’t think there’s much to say about Mr. Costello: you know him or you don’t. You respect him or you don’t. We, honestly, don’t know his music much, but stayed for the whole set; it was good. He brought along female rock duo Larkin Poe, who’s new album we listened to a little bit, and liked. But yes, words don’t always convey that much. Basically: you had to have been there.

So goodbye! Thanks for stopping by! We’ll catch you all next –

Bye bye!

Oh wait, it’s the Alabama Shakes! Led by Brittany Howard! We bought their vinyl Sound and Color at the folk fest, and while it’s not too bad, really now, you have to catch these powerful musicians live. Howard is a madwoman fighting her guitar most of the way through the set, slashing and soloing like… like… like this, really:

The old myth of “sell your soul to the devil… for a guitar.” Worth it.

They are so talented and ridiculously tight live, especially Howard, that we kind of don’t get why their album didn’t grab us that deeply. But yes, catch them now, catch them live, and enjoy the raw power of rock goddess guitar shredding.

There. You knew we wouldn’t let you down (too much). Thanks again, stop by sometime next week (we’ve got something special planned), and catch y’all next festival season,

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