Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mic Check: Newport Folk Festival 2011, Day 1

Fair warning: This post is quite long. It's completely necessary.

So. Newport Folk Festival. We meet again. We've been three times in the last four years (The husband, having grown up in Rhode Island, has also been several times when he was younger), and every year just keeps getting better and better. We have always brought the kid(s) along, and it has always worked out just fine.

This year may have been a bit different.

Two toddlers. Insane heat. The inability to sit through an entire set. Hmm...

Bridge to Newport! Wheeee!

So we arrived pretty early on Saturday, maybe around 9? The gates didn't open until 10:30, so there was a lot of standing around. It started to get hot pretty early, and by the time we got inside the festival, everyone was already sweaty and on the brink of cranky. 

Will Call trailer. For people without printers.

We headed straight back to the Fort stage to set up our home base, and there was already a bunch of music going on.

What Cheer? Brigade

The girl's favorite group from last year, by far. She would bring them up out of nowhere for months afterward, like “Mom? Remember that crazy pop-up band from the folk fest-e-bal? That band was crazy!” We were so excited to be able to see them again this year, and they did not disappoint. They traveled around the grounds, playing randomly between sets, so you never knew when you would bump into them. We caught them three times this year, and it was always awesome. They have an incredible energy, and they just make you feel happy. We love What?Cheer!

In other words, KEEP WALKING.

Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside


This was one of the only musical acts that I had not heard any music from prior to the festival. And really, I don't even know how we ended up starting the day with them, but I am so thankful that we did (Last year we randomly started Sunday in the back of the Fort with David Wax, and, um, hello...that was pretty much the highlight of the weekend. It's the mystery of the Festival Juju that puts you right where you need to be.).

So they're doing their sound check, and we're sitting on the grass inside of the tent, and I see Sallie and I'm like, SHE IS SO CUTE I LOVE HER DRESS AND HER GLASSES AND OMG I HOPE THEY ARE GOOD.

And then they start playing and I hear her voice and I'm just like HOW IS THIS CREATURE REAL. Her voice. Her voice has this edge and this spirit and I love her. They're a mix of country and rock and this bit of twang that makes them just different enough that you know you are hearing something special.

After the first few songs, the amps and mics went out, but they kept playing, for reals acoustic! This is where the true spirit of the festival and its patrons came out – YOU COULD HAVE HEARD A PIN DROP. There had to have been at least 300 or more of us there, and you could hear every note and every word without amplification. Amazing. I mean. Just so very good.

The power eventually came back, and they continued to rock it on out. We abandoned our seats as the kids were ready to move on, and everyone needed some lunch.

Highlights: “Cage”
                 A sassy and completely acoustic cover of “Jolene”, which ended in a fit of giggles

Del's is necessary for recharging. NECESSARY.

The Felice Brothers

Another returning band from last year, and actually, I believe this is the third folk fest that The Felice Brothers have played. Graduated now to the “big” stage, we listened to them rock the Fort while we ate peanut butter sandwiches and replenished our water supply. These guys are just so good, and it's hard to hate on any band that incorporates an accordion. We didn't get to hear that much of them this year, because it was back to the Harbor stage for the next act. Or, rather, the Alex and Ani stage. But you know what I mean.


The husband's “I CANNOT MISS THIS BAND” band for the weekend, and they did not disappoint. What are there, like 30 people in this band? (No, but really, I believe there were 11.) Insanity. They hail from Portland, OR (You know, the hip Portland), and there were plenty of people that came to the festival JUST TO SEE THEM. SERIOUSLY. Two older gentlemen from Texas were on our shuttle bus from the parking lot. They had never been to the festival before. THEY CAME FOR TYPHOON. AWESOME.

It should be obvious that they have a full sound, what with the fact that they take up the entire stage with their membership. They just all looked so excited and happy to be playing, and their music had this infectious quality that made you need to sway back and forth.

We stood with our jaws completely slack in the shade for a while (finding shade was key, as by now it was about 90 degrees and I wanted to die) and then headed back to the Quad for one of my “I CANNOT MISS THIS BAND” bands.

Highlights: “Kitchen Tile”
                “The Honest Truth”

Freelance Whales
It's Andy Dwyer! No, j/k, it's Kevin Read. But he totally looks like Andy Dwyer.

You guys? I had previously seen the Freelance Whales twice before this day. Once, in a crowded, tiny room with maybe 100 other people in New Haven, CT last December. It blew my mind. The other time, at Rhode Island's own The Met on Mother's Day. It was their last night of their big tour supporting The Foals. I remember enjoying it, though the husband thought they were meh.

You guys. I'm kind of obsessed with them.

Hi Judah. How's it going Judah. Just gonna stand here and stare at you for a bit.

Weathervanes. Easily my favorite album of 2010, and easily in my Top 10 Albums of All Days. So. Basically, I love them.

Which makes this all the more difficult to write.

I was so disappointed.

Here you have a band that incorporates this really interesting combination of instruments: a banjo, a glockenspiel, a freaking harmonium OKAY, and yet, they're up there at sound check plugging in their electric guitars and their synthesizer like it's just another rock show?



Listen up, whoever is horribly mismanaging this amazingly talented band: YOU BLEW IT. You were at the Newport Folk Festival and you played it like you were at Bonnaroo. I just don't understand.

They maybe had the right idea at heart with the choice to do a rather mellow set list, but it just came off as strange and wrong. It made me sad because they were my big pick to play this year, and I was so excited that they were asked, and then it was like, But it won't be how you envisioned it, with them all sitting on metal folding chairs and Judah singing with his eyes closed and everyone stomping their feet and without amps and just pretty and melancholy and lovely. IT WILL BE THE OPPOSITE OF ALL OF THAT.

I want so badly to just say, “Hey! They've been touring non-stop for the last year and a half playing the same 12 songs! Give them a break!” But no. This is Newport, people. Get yo shit in order. The vocals were just not good (by not good, not only do I mean not in tune, but also, sometimes NOT SUNG AT ALL), the band was not tight, and everyone seemed to be lost in their own thing and not really listening to each other. I spent most of the set lying in the grass next to Food Network's Ellie Krieger while the boy slept on my chest. TRUE STORY.

Told ya.

My disgust in myself for having to write all of that is only further compounded by the fact that my Greatest Number One Folk Fest Moment Of All Times is coming up in just a few more paragraphs, and it involves a one Judah Dadone, Lead Singer of The Freelance Whales and Number Three on my List of Most Desirables.


Highlight: “Location”

Please listen to this version of "Hannah", and then listen to my screams of bewilderment. WHY WOULDN'T YOU PLAY LIKE THIS I MEAN GODDAMN. I LOVE YOU GUYS LIKE YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW. JUDAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!

Gogol Bordello

The husband and the girl abandoned me halfway through the Whales to get fresh water, and they actually caught a fair bit of this set. The husband loved them – they are overwhelming with their intense energy. I caught the end of their set while heading back to our home base (our tent that we set up at the edge of the water at the Fort stage), and they were definitely a great time. I wish I could have heard more!

Earl Scruggs

Tiny and adorable George Wein came out and introducted Earl Scruggs, who we listened to while we ate some snacks and reapplied sunscreen (Did I mention that it was over 90 degrees? Unpleasant might be a word to use here.). He was accompanied by a whole slew of other musicians, including his son. Gonna be honest – I'm not terribly familiar with Earl Scruggs or his work, but you know, he's 87. He was strumming along, and the few times that you could really pick out his banjo playing were lovely.

I wanted to jump into this water.

Time to get ye olde familia back to the Quad for some important business.

Tegan and Sara
Crowds for T&S!

WE HEART TEGAN AND SARA. Another group that we had seen twice prior to Newport. They are always amazing. And this acoustic set was absolutely no exception.

I was particularly smug about the fact that they were playing, as they were my other top pick to play in 2011, to which my husband was like, “Whaaaaaaaat? Nooooooooo.” To which I was like, “Acoustic tho? Yesssssssss.”


What can you even say about these two? I don't even know. They are just incredible songwriters (I find myself particularly drawn to Tegan's stuff, but I love them both the same), and I could listen to them sing for days. I probably have listened to them sing for days. Welp.

They did Newport right. They're a rockish, popish duo that usually plays with a full band. They are loud and powerful and make you want to dance. When they play acoustic, they are just beyond amazing. They take all of their rock and they turn it into biting and beautiful soul.

The husband was dying. He loves them, and he was loving everything they were playing.

I was distracted. I heard the familiar echos of glockenspiel coming from Paste's makeshift recording studio in the busted up old fort. I needed to wander.

Highlights: “Where Does the Good Go”
                “The Con”

In Which I Die 1,000 Times

I got over to the Paste recording area just as the Freelance Whales were finishing up playing “Ghosting." There were a bunch of other people standing around, but I got up to the fence and took a few pictures. Doris came out and said hello to everyone, and she was so cute.

Oh hai Doris you are cute okay bye.

And then Judah came out.

And then he was talking to people.

And then he was talking to me.

And then everyone else left.

And then he was still talking to me.

And we talked.

We talked, you guys.

For, like, 20 minutes.


We talked about the festival, and who I was looking forward to hearing, and how he was bummed that he wouldn't be able to see anyone else play because they had to get back to the city. We talked about the new album and how he was excited to get recording. We talked about the other times that I had seen them play.


He is the most approachable person ever, and so very lovely to talk with. I was mostly a complete dork, teetering on the edge of heat stroke and babbling endlessly.

This would be pretty much all that I would talk about for the rest of the weekend.


Highlight: That time that Judah talked to me.

The Devil Makes Three

After Tegan and Sara wrapped up, we ran to the Alex and Ani stage for The Devil Makes Three, whom I had become somewhat enamored with prior to Folk Fest. Um. They were amazing.

They're a trio of two guitars and one standing bass, but even acoustic they sound like a full band. They have such power! They came out on top as the girl's favorite band of the weekend. She loved dancing crazily while they played, and just this week they came up on my ipod while we were in the car, and she yelled from the back, “Hey! We saw these guys!”

I wish we could have seen their full set, but hopefully they will tour around the east coast again someday and we'll be able to soak up some more of their feverish joy.

Highlight: “Help Yourself”

The Decemberists

Ok. Maybe I was for reals suffering from heat stroke at this point, because I have no idea what we did for the 35 minutes between The Devil Makes Three and The Decemberists. I suspect that this was when we took the girl to the bathroom, and maybe walked for a while as a hint of breeze rolled in.

That awkward moment when your long lens refuses to focus any more.

As The Decemberists started playing, we packed up all of our crap and made our way back to the car, because we were all going to the Backstage BBQ Benefit after the show. We only heard the first two or three songs, and at this point in the day I wasn't even really listening. Does it matter, though? It was The Decemberists, so everything they were playing pretty much sounded like one long drawn-out song.

I'm not a hipster, tho. 

The Backstage BBQ

There were several times during the day that I silently mused, “We should not have brought the kids this year.” This was one of the points in the weekend where I may have thought this out loud. While it may seem so cool to other people that we brought our kids to such a fun festival, there are times when you just want to have a beer and listen to the music, rather than argue about what they do or do not want to eat, or have to go in search of a bathroom, or have to chase them because they have decided that it's a good time to run around.

Also, I have come to realize that somewhere along the path of my life, I have developed an intense social anxiety that basically results in me shutting down completely when surrounded by strangers. Which was perhaps not so helpful in this situation, what with 2 exhausted toddlers who did not even want to eat brownies, and one exhausted husband who just wanted to get me some food.


Beyond the fact that we were a collective trainwreck at this point, the BBQ was beyond incredible. Pretty much everyone was there, jumping up on the tiny stage and playing a couple of songs. David Wax Museum, The Low Anthem, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Sallie Ford, John McCauley, The Felice Brothers, Pokey LaFarge...EVERYONE YOU GUYS.

My favorite part of all was when Sallie Ford and John McCauley (of Deer Tick and Middle Brother, if you don't know by now) sang a cover of John Prine's “In Spite of Ourselves.” I mean. CAN YOU BOTH BE MY FRIENDS I MEAN PLEASE TO ENJOY:

We stayed for a couple more songs in John's set, but the boy was passed out and the girl was not far behind. On the way out, we got to meet The Ice Cream Man. He is so awesome! He gave the girl a bomb pop and expressed his jealousy over the boy, who was sleeping on my back in our ergo. It was a long hike in the dark from there, and we convinced a shuttle bus driver to bring us back to the parking lot.

OF COURSE we left before things got out of control. And by out of control, I mean once-in-a-lifetime-amazing. Yes, he's wearing a bear suit. Check it:

Let this be a lesson: What you don't know about hipster parents is that they are just like regular parents, only they have a much harder time dealing with the fact that they are regular parents.

Until tomorrow, when I share day 2. I promise I'm almost completely not bitter about missing Middle Brother.

Almost completely.

/eye twitch


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