Spent some quality time in Newport last week/weekend, including Saturday & Sunday at my first Newport Folk Festival. Will share some words and pix, day 1 today and day 2 tomorrow...
The festival is sponsored mainly by Dunkin Donuts which is absolutely perfect in the metaphorical sense. See, there was plenty of iced coffee and Coolattas and the like to be had, but not a donut in sight... but that's OK because DD ain't about the Bavarian Creams any more. Similarly, there was a whole slew of wonderful music to be had over the course of the weekend, but very little honest-to-goodness folk music. Instead, they've brought the water to the horse, stretching the definition of folk music to meet the needs of the festival and, more importantly, the festivalgoers.
Here, the notion of folk encompasses the opinion that music was better at some indeterminate time in the past. Of course, exactly when in the past depends deeply on who's playing and who's listening. So, for example, Duane Andrews has settled on Django Reinhardt circa 1933, the Allman Brothers on Robert Johnson 1937, the North Mississippi All Stars on the Allman Brothers in 1970 and Ralph Stanley on Ralph Stanley at any point over the past 40 years. As long as you're looking backwards, you seem to fit in just fine at the Newport Folk Fest. Innovation is discouraged and everyone is fine with that.
I'm plenty fine with that, mainly because the music was top-to-bottom superb, but there is an irony in the subtext, ain't there? Wasn't folk music supposed to be the agent of change? You know, like the times they are-a? Not only is the music not changing, but there's little call for change. If ever we needed someone to stand up and sing "enough already!" at the world, it's now, today, August 2007. But that doesn't seem to be music's place any more, music is the safe place, we go to the internet to rage against the man. So be it. It was too damn hot to protest, anyway.
Without too much in-depth, some brief notes by way of review:
- Dirty Dozen are the professionals professionals and a great way to get the big ball 'o wax rolling, no matter what kind of festival, party or hullabaloo you're trying to throw. In a weekend filled with pitch-perfect covers, these guys are the masters, tying classics like "Saints Come Marching In" together with "What's Going On" like peanut butter meeting jelly and/or chocolate and everything in between.
- Phonograph is a name that's always popping up on my SOTW radar so I was glad to finally catch them. Of course, the 2.5 songs weren't nearly enough. Much more energy and groove than I was expecting for a band that seems to play monthly @ the Living Room. Songs verging on masterpieces, one of the few alt-pop-ish acts of the festival. Will definitely be checking 'em out again.
- The Waterside tent/stage was overrun by our Canadian neighbors on Saturday and was pretty much one revelation after another. Vishten was next-level Celtic swingin' and the aforementioned Duane Andrews deservedly drew some of the loudest and most enthusiastic applause of the day.
- My first Grace Potter encounter was a good one. She owned the main stage -- it wasn't just the knee-high brighter-than-white boots, but they didn't hurt. You don't need to innovate when you've got that much soul. Badass band as well. The festival was lacking that heavy rocking bass playing, but there was plenty of it in appropriate doses supplied by the Nocturnals. Definitely picking up her album out this week.
- John Butler is a perfect fit for this festival. He encapsulates the really-good-not-mind-blowing level that almost everyone played at, from my point of view, at least. I've always enjoyed who I call the Australian Dave Matthews, but just can't get too excited about it. I will give him props for fighting the power!
- NMAS did the thing that they do at about the level they usually do it. Best cover selections of the day with bang-up crowd pleasing versions of Hendrix-esque "Hear My Train A Coming," nod-to-Dylan-(electric) "Slow Train Coming," and a nifty "Some Kind of Wonderful."
- Been digging the Assembly of Dust on CD for a while, so was psyched to check 'em out live. Apparently, the kids dig 'em as well judging by the size of the crowd in the Harbor Tent. Happy-go-lucky jammy vibes whirl around some real winning songs. They opened it up quite a bit considering the environs. One of those bands that seems to make better music than the sum of their talents would allow. They made me happy, they made the Boy dance, but I couldn't help but find them somewhat lightweight when it's all said and done. Missing a certain edge... probably what makes 'em so popular.
- Allman Brothers Band closed the long, hot and hazy day with an Allman Brothers show. Opened in a steamer with Hot 'Lanta, perfect way to draw it in. I remember the exact moment 12+ years ago when I realized that it was Warren carrying the band and the short leap it was to feeling near-embarassment for Dickey. It's getting toward that moment with Derek these days. By the time Trucks finished his you-will-hear-nothing-better-today solo in Liz Reed, it was time to pack up camp and head home.