2012’s Newport Folk Festival is now a thing of the past, and as expected the weekend ended up being yet another glorious celebration of music - albeit a slightly soggy one.
For fifty three years now, the Newport Folk Festival has been, and continues to be, the greatest American music festival in existence. Sure, it has evolved, and continues to evolve, beyond its “strictly folk” beginnings – that ship sailed in 1965 the moment Dylan plugged in – but it is that spirit of exploration, that willingness to take risks, that makes this annual weekend by the bay what it is.
While other festivals try to include practically every band in existence, the organizers of the Newport Folk Festival picks acts that embody the spirit of the fest. Each artist is complementary in some way to the others, which is a good thing because you’re lucky if you can make it through even one set with out a sit-in, or multiple sit-ins, by artists at the fest that weekend.
While other festivals seek to grow into the biggest MEGA FESTIVAL that they possibly can (looking at you Coachella /ACL), Newport welcomes a measly ten thousand people through its gates. Could they fit more? Sure. But by keeping attendance relatively low, it creates a familial vibe that permeates the festival grounds at Fort Adams. You’re just as likely to run into an old friend walking around as you are Jackson Browne eating some clams from a local vendor.
The Newport Folk Festival is the place where music consistently comes alive in a way that is utterly unique, and this year was no exception. Yes, the rain came – at times in buckets - shortening sets and boosting poncho sales through the roof. But nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the artists or fans in attendance.
We’ll be talking about the fest in greater detail on a special edition of our podcast out later this week, but here are some of the highlights of the fest as we saw it.
FRIDAY – ONE BIG HIGHLIGHT
(See all of our shots from Friday right HERE)
We’ve managed to miss this crew from North Carolina each and every time they have come through DC. NEVER AGAIN. Delivering a set that was a gripping blend of psychedlia, folk and foot stomping rock, it is absolutely inconceivable that a stage smaller than the one at the Fort could ever contain them. Biggest surprise of the weekend, and it was the first one out of the gate taboot!
Despite the truncated set, their performance was well worth waiting out a sudden rain shower for. Blitzen Trapper hit it big a few years back with the song “Furr” (Kevin called it possibly the best written song of the decade at the time…and still does) but there’s so much more to this band than that lilting folk gem. Bridging the gap between the 70’s arena rock, 60’s folk and OUTER SPACE, the guys of Blitzen Trapper tread fearlessly upon the hallowed grounds of all things RAWK, and come up smelling like a black light. Which is to say that nobody embodies the spirit of Rock N Roll these days more than these guys.
Epic, career spanning sets are what we’ve come to expect from these minor legends, and that’s exactly what we got. Bonus: There’s nothing like sitting at the end of the pier at Fort Adams, while songs like “California Stars”, “Can’t Stand It” and “Shot In The Arm” ring out across the water. DOUBLE BONUS: “Laminated Cat!!”
The Apache Relay
Bows and Arrows era Walkmen as fronted by Bono? YES PLEASE.
We cannot stress enough how great this duo is. They took over the main stage effortlessly, and even
though it was one of the first sets of the weekend, after all was said and done, it was one of the best.
Spirit Family Reunion
The Brooklyn based string band Spirit Family Reunion brought to the stage their brand of homegrown traditional American music that was born on most street corners and puts you in the mood to sing along with the multi-part harmonies while you clap to the rattling washboard and stomp your feet to the thumping bass and slap of the drum.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
took to the fort stage in the early afternoon to continue the tradition of traveling the world to spread their mission to nurture and perpetuate the art form of New Orleans Jazz. Throughout their energetic hour long set, this 7-piece roster reminded the audience about the intoxicating energy and importance of one of America’s greatest creations: JAZZ.
Do you like your rock and roll a little raucous and out of control? Or do you prefer it to be thoughtful and heartfelt? Or maybe you just like it to be flat out entertaining. The best thing about Deer Tick’s performance at Newport was their ability to mix all of these aspects of rock into one awesome bowl of fun. John McCauley seems to be one of the new “ambassadors” of the fest, and this year, along with his band, they most definitely rose to the challenge.
All hype aside, Brittany Howard’s voice is a ferocious force of nature, and it was on full display for the crowd assembled in front of the Fort Stage on Saturday. Given the time, this is a band that has the potential to turn into something truly great.
First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit provided yet another data point in our research on how Sweden is taking over the rock world. With the addition of a drummer to their touring act, a steady foundation was laid for the two sisters, Johanna (keys) and Klara (guitar) Soderberg, to show the power and emotion that can be produced from the fusing of their gorgeous harmonized vocals. Definitely a top pick as one of the best performances of the festival.
Guthrie Family Reunion
Take multiple generations of the spawn of Woody Guthrie and get them all on stage at once and you have the Guthrie Family Reunion. You can’t really go wrong with that one, can ya? The influence of the Guthrie’s on folk music and musicians of all genres could be heard and felt throughout this year’s festival, continually reminding us of the lasting importance of this type of music on modern American culture.
My Morning Jacket
Jim James and Carl Broemel strode onto the stage wearing matching white jackets adorned with flowers in their breast pockets to greet a rabid crowd as the end of the first day of the festival drew near. Kicking things of on the quiet side with “Welcome Home” and “Golden”, the rock juggernaut that is My Morning Jacket quickly exploded into a joyful rage of sound and spectacle. As the clouds gathered and the raindrops fattened, the crowd only became more determined to see the set out. Eventually the thunder and lighting came, but not before Brittany Howard joined the band to sing The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” providing for many not only the high point of the festival, but of their concert going careers.
Tune in tomorrow when we break down the overload of awesome that was Day 2, and wrap the whole thing up in a neat folktastic bow.