Saturday, July 28, 2012
Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island
I should premise this by saying that I am not much for music festivals—I have no problem with crowds, but care a lot about being close to the stage. Music festivals tend to have multiple stages, so I’m forced to make difficult choices about which acts to see and will usually decide to stay at one stage and forgo hearing other acts to keep my spot up close. I am sure that there are great craft, non-profit, food, and drink tents, too, but these interfere with me being close to the music. Like I said, I’m a bad festival-goer.
All in all, though, I had a good experience at my first Newport Folk Festival. And I’d say it is because of three things—first and second row seats both days, meeting new friends, and beautiful music. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to snag those seats, I’m confident this would be a VERY different post.
If you’re me, or someone like me, festival-going takes advance preparation. I sat with the Newport Folk Festival published schedule and listened to every single band online. I checked out NPR and Paste Magazine’s previews of the Newport Folk Festival, too. I made choices about who I had to see based on who I knew and liked but hadn’t seen live yet. There were four stages (one, very intimate new stage called the Museum stage), and most of the people I felt I had to see were at the smaller Harbor and Quad stages. I would have liked to see a lot of the bands (well, frankly, I would have liked to have seen ALL of the bands all weekend, but that wasn’t possible) at the main Fort stage, but I knew I’d be far back and I’d seen most of those bigger bands before. I was sad to miss Alabama Shakes (who I hear are great live) and Patty Griffin (who I’ve seen a couple of times and adore) there, though.
I woke up super early on Saturday morning to make the four-hour drive to Newport and expected to get there in time to park and catch Nashville’s Apache Relay at 11:30. This was not to be, though, because I sat in traffic for a solid hour and a half just trying to get into the parking area. I got to the Harbor stage, a little bummed, just in time to catch the end of Brooklyn’s Spirit Family Reunion. They were amazing. I knew immediately I’d missed a high-energy, talented bunch. I caught “I’ll Find A Way” with audience participation and they ended with “You Were On My Mind.” Here’s a video that captures the energy and musicianship that I briefly witnessed. Their new album is available for $8 on bandcamp. If you like bluegrass and/or spirited folk, check them out. Their full set was recorded by NPR and you can listen to it here.
I have wanted to see Rhode Island’s Deer Tick for ages, so made it over to the bigger Quad stage in a hurry. I ran into Ian, someone I know from teeny Bayside, Maine (near Belfast), right away. I knew there was no chance I’d get a spot in the tent, so I grabbed a burrito from Tallulah’s Burritos and watched a bit from the ground behind the tent. I liked their smooth, rock sound, but had an important, reinforcing moment that if I am not pretty close to the stage and can’t see facial impressions, I don’t feel like I’m really there at all. Maybe there’s music lovers therapy I need or something. Here’s Deer Tick’s set, recorded by Folk Alley.
I wasn’t expecting to have to grab seats under the tents in order to see the shows. I guess I expected standing general admission. To maintain fire lines, if you don’t have a seat in the tent, you have to be outside the tent. So, I figured I should get over to the Harbor tent early because the shows I wanted to see for the rest of the day were there. I hoped to snag a good seat up close for First Aid Kit as people left their seats to go to other stages. It worked wonders, and changed my whole weekend for the better. First, I got to see LA’s HoneyHoney wrap their high energy, powerful set. I was super impressed and sad I’d not made it there earlier (I had planned to catch HoneyHoney’s set the next day) to enjoy Suzanne’s raspy, powerful voice. She was adorable with her cowgirl ensemble, and they played a beautiful last song that started slow, but quickly became a frenzy of energy. They rocked.
The other great thing that happened because of my timing at the Harbor tent was that I saw this very sweet looking young woman in bright pink lipstick and a great dress grab one of two newly available seats in the second row and asked if I could join her. She warmly said yes, and we got to chatting. She was wearing a media pass, and we quickly figured out that her boyfriend Chris has the popular music blog, Boston Through My Eyes. He is the one who I’d emailed to ask if I could use his Laura Marling pictures for my post since my photos had been destroyed. He’d been really nice about it, and Rebecca wasn’t at all surprised to hear that. What a small world. Check out Chris’ beautiful photos from day one of the NFF here. Furthermore, my concert friend Bob (who I’ll always adore for taking me to see sold out Adele from the third row), texted me that he’d had a debacle the night before because he forgot some of his money for tickets in his apartment back home, and it turns out that Chris and Rebecca had saved the day for him. Again, small world. I often go to shows alone, and so it was nice to have a concert buddy. We looked at our schedules for the rest of the festival and realized that we were completely in sync. Awesome.
I absolutely love First Aid Kit’s album The Lion’s Roar, and was so impressed with Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna’s live show (also recorded by NPR). They wore beautiful and interesting dresses and were clearly pleased as punch to be playing the Newport Folk Festival. I loved their harmonies and the vaguely polka influence in their music. For girls in their early twenties, they are definitely influenced by music of a far earlier era, and covered Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust.” They also covered another Swede’s song—Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up.” I loved “Emmylou,” which they wrote for four of their musical heroes—June Carter, Johnny Cash, Graham Parsons, and Emmylou Harris. The girls bantered comfortably and appreciatively with us, Johanna danced with her piano, and Conor Oberst surprised us on stage to join them for their final song, “King of the World.” I’d see them again in a heartbeat.
Rebecca and I were able to move up a row to the front row between sets, and chatted about The Fruitbats and Langhorne Slim while waiting for Portland, Oregon’s Blind Pilot to set up. I’d decided against going to see them the previous night in Portland, Maine since I’d see them here, and they were such fun to watch live. I’m loving their newest album, We Are The Tide, which my favorite radio station, 98.9 WCLZ, has picked up. Everyone on stage seemed to be having a great time, including their jubilant, heartily tattooed pianist with an awesome beard. Their upright bassist was in a great mood, too, for that matter. I’ve rarely seen smiles so big. There were many times that the band picked up the tempo and added multiple percussion parts to their songs. Looking back over my notes from the show I realize that I said that I loved just about every song. They welcomed Newport cellist Sergey Antonov for a song. I’m listening to their album right now, and it’s actually far mellower than their live show. They were great. NPR recorded their set, too. Check it out.
I was trying not to freak out that I was sitting front and center for Dallas Green’s set. I love him so much, and he’s the only person I saw at Newport that I’d seen before. I couldn’t miss him. Canada’s Dallas Green tours with a hardcore band called Alexisonfire (currently on a farewell tour) and City and Colour is his side project. I love the juxtaposition of the two genres, as City and Colour is essentially a folk-pop project filled with depressing songs of love and loss. Right up my alley. Many years ago, one of my students introduced me to City and Colour, and I fell in love immediately.
Dallas was chatty, which immediately made me realize how little banter most of the other acts that day had offered. I think that having just one hour to play made people mostly stick to the music. Dallas said he’d been told he couldn’t bring his touring band (which I am just fine with, because I hadn’t seen him solo before), because NFF organizers had told him “it wasn’t that kind of show.” Since six people had just left the stage before him, he was politely puzzled. He told us a lot of the stories behind the songs, which I really appreciated since I always want to know about songs I love.
If you listen to Dallas Green’s music as City and Colour, you may be surprised to find out that he is covered in tattoos from his neck to his fingers. He talked about how he got away with those tattoos with his parents when he was on eTown last week in their inaugural show at their new facility. Here’s the recording of that show. Apparently, he was really impressed with their efforts to be environmentally friendly in their new building (eTown Hall), so he donated his pay at the end of the night to their building fund. I am always relieved that people whose music I love are also good people. It’s a fear I have enough that I rarely stick around to meet artists I really love.
I loved every single song Dallas played. His clear voice, hitting falsetto notes out of this world, and powerful lyrics are magic to me. I can cry within thirty seconds of starting nearly any of his songs. There’s something organic and pure about them. Luckily, NPR recorded his set, too. He asked us to sing along, and I am positive that I can hear myself.
He opened with “We Found Each Other in the Dark” from Little Hell. Dallas jokingly told a guy in the front who had a little harmonica to “take a solo” when he had to switch his own harmonica. He explained that “Body in a Box” is about his grandmother’s death on this 18th birthday. He said it was the first time he’d ever seen his dad vulnerable, and it was really unsettling for him. He divided up the audience to sing in parts on “What Makes a Man,” and I think we sounded pretty good. Someone shouted out for him to take his shirt off and he said there’s a list of things you can’t shout out at a show and that’s on it. Asking for “Freebird” is not okay, either.
He said that “The Grand Optimist” is about his parents’ “complications.” Dallas told us that “Fragile Bird” is about his wife’s night terrors (crap, he’s married, and she is gorgeous). He said that her night terrors are terrifying except when they’re hilarious because she shoots up out of bed and asks him what’s on the wall. He wrapped his set with “Comin’ Home,” which might be my favorite of his songs. I was so so sad when his set was over. I noticed that he stayed after the show to greet everyone who stayed behind. That made me really happy, and no, I didn’t dare talk to him. I had no one with me to pick me up if I passed out due to elation.
Thunder and lightning started in, so I decided to skip My Morning Jacket and head to the parking lot to try to beat the traffic out of Fort Adams. As I got to my car the sky opened up and it POURED. The rain caused chaos, and I sat in my car in park for nearly two hours before moving at all. I luckily had my computer with me, so I caught up on some blogging. I was so cold from the rain that I grabbed my friend’s Colby College sweatshirt (Colby is Bowdoin’s nemesis) from the backseat and put in on to warm up. I was so excited when I finally made it to my hotel room to meet up with my friend Bartlett’s friend Monica, who I hadn’t met yet except for a couple of minutes earlier in the day, but was up for splitting a hotel room with me for the night in between shows. I have lots to say about day two, but probably in far fewer words. Coming soon.