08 August 2007

P+R: Newport Folk Fest Day 2

Click here for the Day 1 recap

Sunday, the heat and humidity broke a bit and it was pretty much darn near perfect weather for some outdoor music. It was one of those days that serves as the picture-in-the-dictionary example of high pressure system. I got "miracled" while waiting to buy tickets (sick!), which was a nice surprise... not sure that's ever happened to me, before. Put a nice face on the festival overall, not that it needed much of a spitshine. Newport Folk is like the consummate professional of music festivals, not too big, they act lik ethey've been there before... cause goshdarnit, they have.

Day 2 was much more prototypical Americana-based with a heavy dose of that O Brother soundtrack vibe throughout.

Some pix and thoughts:

  • We made it in early for the Carolina Chocolate Drops. These guys were steeped in history, so much so that they literally sounded like a scratch old recording. Old timey music at its best, with jugs and washboards joining fiddles and guitar and harmonica for a really nice mix. I was pretty impressed with these guys, whatever the color of their skin. The "Another Man Done Gone" sung a capella by the woman in the quartet was a keeper moment of the day.
  • Concurrently running in the 1st slot over at the waterside tent was Sierra Hull and her band. I've seen a few YouTubes of Hull absolutely killing the mandolin and/or guitar like no teenager should be allowed to do, so it was nice to see her live. Knowing that she could run laps around the early crowd's consciousness, it was actually pretty refreshing to see her leave her chops somewhat at the door and concentrate on the songs, her band and the live show aspect. She is able beyond her (14) years in all respects, even showing the tell-tale bluegrass country sense of humor (read: corny beyond belief) in between numbers. Great playing, great voice, great songs -- you will hear more from her whether with this band (who's just as young as her pretty much -- the guitar player's voice is a youthful octave higher than Sierra's) or someone else.
  • Alejandro Escavedo wasa nice rollicking big band rock-and-pop way to get into it in the afternoon. Semi-Latin tinged, but not as much as you'd expect given that name... actually a lot closer to Elvis Costello than anything. Nothing stands out too much here except for the addition of a string section with the violinist taking the loudest solos of the day, by far. That's some ripping violin!
  • The biggest surprise and biggest treat of the day, nay the entire festival was easily Elvis Perkins in Dearland. These guys channeled folk and old-school Americana through a Beatlesy sweet-pop that just plain worked. The perfect combination of all the elements that you look for in good music, these guys had it. Just enough multi-instrumentation to keep things intersting, but this was the kind of music that begins and ends with the songs. Their tune "While You Were Sleeping" was a total chills moment for me and everyone else in the tent. There were also some old-timey covers in there that mixed in like something new and exhilirating. Heck, some folks have it, some don't. Do yourself a favor and check out Elvis Perkins, you won't regret it. Write it down and put it in your special place... trust me. Elvis Perkins -- you are on my list... welcome!
  • Amos Lee struck me as rather blah. His line at the Borders tent to sign CD's seemed disproportionately long to me.
  • At around 3pm, Newport fell under the spell of some serious roots music gravitas as both Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris played opposite ends of the cozy festival grounds. Stanley has a perfectly balanced live act, deferring to the best talent his name can buy, twisting in jokes, anecdotes, matching duds and a wee bit of nepotism to round out a well-polished and crowd-pleasing act. The band cooks, the music is tried-and-true and when he wants to, Ralph has still got enough bluegrass soul to run circles around everyone else playing the festival. The third big damn-that-was-good moment of the day went to Ralph Stanley crooning "Oh Death" a capella like a man who's gonna escape the Reaper for another 20+ years of constant touring.
  • Emmylou was none too shabby herself. Having stolen a good chunk of the bluegrass band Seldom Scene, not to mention longtime Tony Rice Unit stalwart Rickie Simpkins, they put on a clinic. Just the kind of tight-knit songsmithing you'd expect at the Newport Folk Festival. I was darned impressed with these guys, and by the time we were ready to go, I was surprised to say that the 2nd day was more enjoyable than the first.
  • Allison Krauss & Union Station closed the festival Sunday evening -- we were not there to see it.

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