Fifty-five years since it started, the Newport Folk Festival has expanded in more ways than one. As for 2011 when it had a special Friday night addition with Wilco, the Festival has become a three-day event. The music is more diverse as Jay Sweet, the Festival’s producer, and his management team try to appeal to younger audiences without compromising the folk foundations of the Festival. Moreover, the Festival has emerged as one of the best indie festivals in North America, providing an opportunity for young, emerging bands to perform on stage and in front of the world, as many of the shows are streamed online by NPR. The expanded festival has resulted in increased media coverage with Rolling Stone covering the festival for the first time (better late than never I guess). And next year’s event should be a significant one since it will mark 50 years since Dylan “controversially” went electric, and it only makes sense that he’ll be one of the star attractions next year.
But before I get ahead of myself, here’s a quick photo essay with highlights of the three days that my wife and I spent at NFF. We opted not to jump around stages, preferring instead to see whole sets because you never knew who would show up and what an artist would do. As a result, we only saw 17 out of the nearly 50 performers, but we have no regrets. By the way, more photos will be made available on our Facebook page later on Wednesday.
PHOX – As mesmerizing and enthralling as their debut album, which tells you just how talented this young band from Baraboo, Wisconsin is. The future is bright for the folk-pop band.
REIGNWOLF – Canadian Jordan Cook and his band, Reignwolf, literally blew people’s minds with their fiery 55-minute set of blues-rock. During the set, Cook performed in the crowd, at which time he demonstrated his masterful guitar skills by playing a few chords in homage of blues legends John Lee Hooker and Johnny Winter, who passed just two weeks ago. For many, he was the among the top-3 acts of the festival, including myself even though I had seen him before.
LAKE STREET DIVE – The Brooklyn-based wowed the crowd with their brand of pop music (a mix of indie and ’40s and ’50s pop) and energy, having people dancing all around. The biggest ovation, though, came when the great Mavis Staples joined the band for “Bad Self Portraits”.
HAMILTON LEITHAUSER – The former frontman of The Walkman played an acoustic set inside the intimate Museum, which was the perfect place for Leithauser to showcase his startling voice.
RYAN ADAMS – Every time I’ve seen Ryan Adams, he was always a touch cranky. On this day, though, he was jovial, engaging, and funny. It made for a great set, as Adams played a lot of classic hits – including from his Whiskeytown days – and had the crowd singing along. No one yelled for “Summer of ’69” if you’re wondering.
THE HADEN TRIPLETS – Despite just two hours of sleep, The Haden Triplets (who informed the crowd they were indeed triplets) played a passionate set compromising of their own material and classic folk songs. They were emotional at times, as they dedicated their set to their late father.
JOHN REILLY & FRIENDS – While there were a few Dewey Cox references, John Reilly played along with the crowd and was engaging and humourous. Along with his bandmates, Becky Stark and Tom Brosseau, the band played old folk tunes to the delight of the crowd. Someone had to play some folk music.
J RODDY WALSTON & THE BUSINESS – Our friends have promoted him for a long, long time, and he didn’t disappoint. Playing old school rock ‘n roll that would make Jerry Lee Lewis proud, the 40-minute set wasn’t nearly long enough. We want more J Roddy & The Business (and apparently Jack White, too, as he stayed for a good 15-20 minutes watching the performance and left the band a Polaroid photo that he took).
SHAKEY GRAVES – The Austin musician played a stellar gig of folk tunes and some roaring folk-rock that had the people inside the Harbor Stage on their feet. A great musician and entertainer, he was named one of NPR’s artists you should know and this performance only cemented that honor. This was my second time seeing Alejandro Rose-Garcia, and, like Reignwolf, this set was simply fantastic.
LUCIUS – Despite some delays setting up, the five-piece, orchestral pop band from Brooklyn played a stirring set that was highlighted once again by the presence of Mavis Staples. The surprise appearance by the R&B, soul legend took not only the audience by surprise but also members of the band, as Peter, the guitarist, informed me the next day. Only Jess, Holly, and Mavis were in on the surprise.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS – It’s unfortunate Kurt Vile & The Violators’ set overlapped with Jack White’s headlining gig, but the people who stayed right to the end were treated to some great indie and 80s revivalist rock that Vile has perfected over the years. An underrated guitar player and songwriter, Vile played a tremendous set that included tracks from last year’s outstanding album, Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze.
JACK WHITE – One of the preeminent guitarists, songwriters, and producers today, Jack White and his band played a ferocious, 90-minute set. He closed his set off by inviting The Milk Carton Kids, Shovels and Rope, John Reilly & Friends, Benjamin Booker, and others on stage to sing “Goodnight Irene” in dedication of the late, great Pete Seeger. White choked up during the final chorus, evidence of the mark Seeger left on him and that one act left a lasting memory on the audience.
AGES AND AGES – With their choral pop, the Portland-based band had the crowd at the Fort Stage in a festive mood, quite the accomplishment for performing at 11:30 in the morning. The cheery numbers were perfect for a grey day and the perfect wake call.
THAO AND THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN – Just as the San Francisco-based band took the stage, the rain started coming down. However, it didn’t drown Thao and The Get Down Stay Down’s nor the audience’s spirits. Instead, a dance party broke out in the rain as the band went through singles on their fine 2013 album, We the Common.
HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF – Making their second consecutive appearance at NFF, the New Orleans-based band demonstrated why they were invited back (and hopefully they’ll be back again next year). In addition to playing new songs from their new album, Small Town Heroes, frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra along with Deslondes’ frontman Sam Doores played a remarkable, moving rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer”. This performance was one of the highlights of the three-day festival.
TRAMPLED BY TURTLES – The Duluth, Minnesota collective never disappoint, and their set at NFF wasn’t any different. They played crowd-pleasing numbers like “Wait So Long” and even changed their set list to play “Codeine” at the request of some fans. Unlike some of the Americana that is being performed today, Trampled by Turtles have not deviated much from the folk-inspired Americana they were playing over a decade ago.
RODRIGO Y GABRIELA – I was mesmerized the first time I saw them three years ago, and in this more intimate setting they were simply captivating. The Flamenco-style guitarists from Mexico had the packed Quad Stage standing on their feet, clapping, dancing, and jumping while adoring their masterful guitar plucking and rhythms. It was a great way to end NFF (yes, Mavis Staples did play that night, and we caught a couple of songs but left early to make the long trek home).
As mentioned previously, check our Facebook page (click here) later today for more photos.
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