Newport Folk is one of the festivals I most look forward to every summer. The waterfront location is just breathtaking. I took about a hundred photos of boats, seagulls and sunsets, and of course probably twice that of all the bands and musicians. (I'll let the professional photographers share their pics with you instead of my camera phone pics).
This year the festival began a day early on Friday, and my personal highlights from that first day included a highly entertaining set from The Milk Carton Kids. I think the consensus on this duo is that they're a combination of The Everly Brothers and The Smothers Brothers: beautiful harmonies with extremely witty banter. I also really enjoyed Phosphorescent. I stood mesmerized in the rain while I watched this band run through a very emotional version of "Song for Zula" and then I joyously jumped up and down during their rockin' version of "Ride On / Right On."
As for Saturday, anyone who has ever talked to me about music for 30 seconds or more will not be surprised to learn that my favorite set was performed by Jim James. I continue to be amazed by his outstanding musicianship. In my opinion, his voice is sublime and he is one heck of a performer as well. Watching him rock out on his Flying V guitar, doing the Chubby Checker Twist, and jumping on the drum kit while singing his heart out — I just don't understand how anyone could not love him. Another band that I am big fan of, The Avett Brothers, played that day as well. Scott Avett rocks a banjo like nobody's business, and I was really impressed at the speed and matching rhymes the Brothers spit out in their lyrics. I think there are certain folk fans who might have been turned off by that portion of their show, but I thought it was really cool. At the end of their set, they closed with "I and Love and You" — a tune that unified thousands of people in song. It was really beautiful to watch people hugging each other and singing along.
The last day of the festival was the first time I was able sit down under a tent and watch some good old folk music provided by Michael Hurley, who was backed up by Black Prairie. Hurley's voice was in great form and his lyrics displayed thoughtfulness and whimsy. He threw the Black Prairie folks for a loop when he at one point said, "Okay, I wanna do an old song, that I don't think any of these guys on stage with me know. But just follow along, okay?" The band did a great job of stepping up to the challenge and they sounded amazing. At one point someone said, "It's so hard being on stage with Michael Hurley because I wanna clap after each song." Another fave of mine from that day was Spirit Family Reunion. I knew I'd love their set since I'd seen them the year before and was blown away. I had the exact same reaction this time and happily joined in on the hootenanny under the tent at the Quad Stage. Another favorite from that stage was Andrew Bird, who was joined by Tift Merritt. It was an-old timey set, and the band huddled around 2 mics and sang smart and funny songs that kept all eyes on stage.
The grand finale of the festival was a perfect set by Mr. Beck Hansen which included a folk tune from the '90s ("Loser"). Beck was joined on stage by Andrew Bird, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, guitarist Smokey Hormel, Chris Funk of The Decemberists and Black Prairie, and Annalisa Tornfelt (also of Black Prairie). His setlist spanned his diverse discography with songs from Mutations to Sea Change. Beck also played a few songs from his latest album, Song Reader, which was a real treat because it was an album that he did not actually record; he only released the sheet music for it in order to encourage others to play the songs themselves. He also closed with "Where It's At," which got the entire crowd amped up and moving. Beck is probably one of my all-time favorite musicians, so having him close out the festival was just perfect for me.
I also got a chance to put a face to many WFUV listeners at the festival and to talk with them, which was so much fun. It was also an absolute pleasure to work with the NPR Music team as well as Folk Alley and MVY Radio, along with my own fantastic colleagues at WFUV on the live broadcast. I am crossing my fingers, hoping that I can do this job for the rest of my life. I feel so lucky and so happy to be surrounded by such great people: friends, co-workers, like-minded music fans and such great music.
If you missed any of our coverage, you can always check out archived sets here.