Love and Laughs Power The Waves On Day One Of The Newport Folk Festival REVIEW+PHOTOS: Newport Folk Fest 2016 [Day 1: 7/22/16]
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The Newport Folk Festival is a folk-oriented music festival located in Newport, Rhode Island. Now in its 57th year, Blurred Culture was able to send our contributor, Cortney Armitage, to take in the sights and sounds of this year’s, long-running music festival. We told her to snap some snazzy pics, but most importantly to take the time to enjoy the music of those acts that she really connected with and to have fun, be adventurous and make some lasting memories.
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There I was sitting in stand-still traffic and I didn’t mind. I paid the four dollar toll to go over the Claiborne Pell Bridge (commonly known as the Newport Bridge), happily, as if I was actually being given a gift. I was going to the Newport Folk Festival, nothing could bring me down. Not even the traffic. Not even the twenty dollar charge for parking that wasn’t listed on the website and the nearly half mile hike to the actual entrance from my parking spot in the 90 plus degree heat. It was The Newport Folk Festival.
As someone who was born in Rhode Island, but attending the festival for the first time, I had a swell of pride grow in my chest. The very first Newport Folk Festival started on July 11, 1959 at Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island. It became the launching ground for some the most legendary performers of Americana. Heard of Joan Baez? Well she performed in 1959. Then in 1963, Baez introduced a barely heard of artist at the time named Bob Dylan to the world.
And that’s what’s truly exciting to me about this festival: musicians giving an assist to other artists just for the sake of creating and sharing good music. These days, Newport Folk Festival is really “Folk” in name only, a guideline really, as Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters might have agreed. This year’s line up of the festival was unreal, almost unfair to anyone that’s a fan of music, and here are my stand outs.
Because of the traffic (I’d only given myself an hour and a half to get there on time, silly me…), I missed some of the artists playing earlier sets in the day, but after fighting through traffic and working my way through both security and the crowd, I was able to run into the photo pit and catch The Staves. They were the perfect first band for my ears and even in spite of the fact that they battled though some technical sound issues, (technical issues which seemed to be prevalent through out the entire festival), the band’s harmonies were pure and lush, sounding as if they were pushing the waves and gently powering sails over the water. If that weren’t enough, they were epically charming. Their onstage banter was excellent which was both humorous and meaningful. Being a folk festival there was no shying away from political banter:
“There is some dodgy stuff for sure going on in the states and if you’re gonna learn anything from the whole Brexit debacle is that every vote counts. So don’t fucking vote for Trump. Every single vote matters. The shit has hit the fan, as they say at home, don’t let it hit your fan, cause it’s really hot as well.”
Following The Staves at the Fort Stage were the larger than life St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Musicians … take a cue from this band. THAT is how you put on a show. Somewhere between the golden-throated-can-do-no-wrong-vocals, killer tight band, dynamic James-Brown-Esq showmanship, there was still time for sparkly shoes. Women audience members were caught talking about how sexy Paul Janeway is, and on cue the band launched into a “sexy” song. The band decided to give the Newport Folk audience a sneak peak at some tracks off the new album (which was scheduled for release the following day).
When the audience started to cheer wildly to the announcement, Janeway humbly warned the audience, “Wait! Please don’t clap, you might not like it.” It’s that kind of honesty that makes the ticks and the dance moves even more appealing and true. Closing with “Try A Little Tenderness”, Janeway dropped the mic and we knew he just gave us everything he had and left it on the stage.
Matthew Logan Vasquez is the kind of rocker that music desperately needs right now. He is unabashedly honest, he wears his heart on his sleeve … and he plays his guitar with it. He is a wild and unflinching rebel. He loves for all his reasons and in his swirling tornado of music, it is impossible not to get caught up in all of it. He was joined by Parkington Sisters, as he put it, “for local representation”. They sang “Suspicious Minds”, and after leaping from the drums and wearing a Swarovski studded jacket that his wife made him with his initials “MLV” dazzling on its back, the comparisons to Elvis are almost too easy, and unfair, to make. Vasquez has that Elvis-like charisma, but it is totally his own essence. In the sweltering heat, he wore the jacket proudly as if to spite the weather screaming, “My wife made me this jacket!”
The insanely talented, self deprecating Radical Face a.k.a Ben Cooper, came out asking to be introduced as the “fat-guy-from-Florida-who-sings-depressing-songs”. We all couldn’t help but laugh at the title and the reluctance of the introducer to invoke such a title. During the long hot day, filled with some pretty difficult challenge, Radical Face’s set truly brought a smile to my face and lighted the weight from the shoulders.
Juxtaposing the sadness of his music and his personal humor, Radical Face gets you as the listener to do what any worthy musicians worth his or her salt should make you do. Feel. I was lucky enough to meet up with Ben Cooper for some portraits. He was as real as they come and anyone wearing a tee shirt with the word “helvetica” typed in a different font is a quiet rebel in my book. My tee shirt reads “I love Ben Cooper”.
It is now time to talk about the jokingly self-dubbed “Sister Wives” group, Case/Lang/Veirs (Neko Case/k.d lang/Laura Veirs). I’d been a fan of k. d. lang for as long as I can remember and to see her in this incarnation was simply inspired. How could so much female talent be on one stage at the same time? Someone right before the set asked if they were going to be good and the collective response was, “Duh. Of course they were going to be good.”
The band brought chills to my spine as tears welled up in my eyes as k. d. took the lead for a cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Her voice was recording level perfection as it scooped down and then came back up even more powerful in the chorus. The “Sister Wives” truly shared the stage together. Lang could have easily overpowered the others with her powerful vocals and magnetic personality, but each player brought an equal weight to the music that was both powerful and magical. A truly a cohesive unit, they were having fun making music and it was infectious.
“Tell them about the thing.” – Case
“They already know about the thing.” – Lang
“I don’t know about the thing.” – Viers
“Tell them…” – Case
“Ok ok ok…alright… It’s like preaching to the choir around here but, I quickly did some wood shedding on the banjo because I knew that we would be playing the Newport Folk Festival. So I quickly learned a few chords and I was practicing, and low and behold, ladies and gentlemen, the banjo, is in fact, a chick magnet.” – Lang
Closing the day at Fort Adams were the amazing, Flight of the Conchords. Wit won the day as Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie made sure everyone left with their cheeks hurting from smiling. The dry humor covering topics of photo ops, the “big orchestras” out of New Zealand consisting of one person, and the “insane” and “unpredictable” rockstar antics of Jermaine, like eating a banana before going out on stage were delivered with the dry humor and perfect timing that they are known for. It was hard enough to keep the camera in focus as they went on between songs but when singing duets, like “Father and Son” about a father and son who had a step father between them that was cooler than the biological father, it was as if I was being set up to fail as a photographer. How could you not laugh as Jermaine used the end of his guitar to gently swipe chimes, to add the extra effect of musical cheese. As the sun set on Fort Adams, just the looks exchanged between Clement and McKenzie could have baited the sun to stay in the sky for a few hours longer. No one would have blamed the sun for wanting to stay in the sky just to catch the laughs coming to it across the waves.