Newport Folk Fest | 08.04 | Rhode Island

Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images by: Chris Petersson

Newport Folk Festival :: 08.04.07 :: Newport, Rhode Island

Newport Folk Festival :: 08.04.07
While Billy Corgan was smashing it up at the Virgin Festival, and Pearl Jam was rocking out at Lollapalooza, artists like the Allman Brothers and the John Butler Trio were adding another chapter to the decades long history of Rhode Island's legendary Newport Folk Festival.

Gone are the days when the festival's ridged, folk-oriented lineup cultivated an environment that actually booed Dylan's first electric performance (7/25/65). In 2007, fiscal difficulties necessitated the festival be "presented" by Dunkin Donuts. However, as much as things have changed, plenty has stayed the same. Even with a lineup that has grown well outside the comfort zone of acoustic folk, the promoters have continued to book artists whose roots are progressive, and whose musical tales are worthy of being heard.

Roughly 15 years ago, the site of the festival was transplanted from a local baseball field to Fort Adams State Park, a site built as a naval facility in 1824. With the stone walls of the fort behind the stage, and the harbor to the audience's backs, the new location provided a beautiful environment that rivals any major American music festival.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals :: Newport :: 08.04
As the sun reached the high peak of the day, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals dished out their Bonnie Raitt-meets-Mick Jagger brand of neo-old-school rock 'n' roll. Unfortunately, due to a red eye flight to Newport from the West Coast, the group was exhausted and didn't seem to be packing the energy that earned them a main stage slot after last year's side stage performance. Regardless, from the moment they kicked into "Ah Mary" off their newly released, This Is Somewhere, Grace and Co. put on an authentic set of twanged-out rock tunes that had everyone in the crowd engaged.

Following Potter's set, the John Butler Trio had everyone wrapped around their finger in no time. The trio has played their fair share of festivals, so to assume that this was just another gig for them would be a fair assumption. However, when JamBase caught up with Butler prior to his performance, he commented, "I'm stoked to be here. It's such a legendary festival. I've wanted to play this one for the last, I don't know, however many years. It just feels good to be here." As for comments about Newport's arguably low-key lineup, Butler was quick to rebut, "It's not quantity, it's quality." Butler performed one of the more qualitative sets of the day. His unique brand of bluesy, folked-out rock gave everyone in the crowd something to chew on.

John Butler Trio :: Newport :: 08.04
While John Butler was mesmerizing the crowd with his 12-string guitar, Tom Morello introduced the crowd to his folk alias, The Nightwatchman (read JamBase's Tom Morello feature here). For those of you who may not have followed the project, the Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist has embraced a Joe Hill-meets-Joe Strummer persona that's abandoned his signature pickup-tweaking guitar tone for an acoustic guitar with the phrase "Whatever It Takes" sprawled across the body.

During the set, Morello made a point to mention that for him, playing Newport was pulling a "Dylan in reverse." He explained that Bob Dylan came to Newport to "go electric," where he came to Newport to leave the amp at home and "go acoustic." This statement spoke to the fact that even though the festival has strayed from its roots, the promoters are still conscious of offering their audience performances that push the boundaries of industry norms. And more than that, they're booking bands that offer a bit of the old and a taste of the new.

Tom Morello :: Newport Folk Fest :: 08.04
The Nightwatchman's set consisted of tunes primarily off of his sole studio album, One Man Revolution, but also featured interesting choices like a 12-bar-blues cover of Rage's "Guerilla Radio" and a set-closing cover of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." For a crowd of folks in "What Would Woody Do?" t-shirts, the set closer was a brilliant choice. Roughly one third of the crowd seemed to be Rage Against The Machine fans that would love anything Morello played. However, the majority of the audience consisted of middle-aged folkies, fans of the Newport tradition but not The Nightwatchman. By offering a set-closing tune that the majority could connect with Morello managed to perform one of the most talked about sets of the day.

Back on the main stage, following a set of southern grit by the North Mississippi Allstars, the Allman Brothers kicked off their headlining set with an energetic version of "Hot 'Lanta." They quickly took things into overdrive with "Trouble No More" followed by a crowd-pleasing "Midnight Rider." Many Newport regulars found it strange that the Allman's were booked to headline a festival which is primarily a folk outing. But such are the times. With events like Bonnaroo blowing genres wide open and mixing fans of all types, evolution in the festival world has to occur.

Haynes & Trucks - ABB :: Newport :: 08.04.07
After The Pixies headlined Newport in 2004 with an acoustic set, the fact that the Newport Folk Festival was in for a change seemed obvious. And on a weekend when thousands of concertgoers were flocking to Baltimore and Chicago for the Virgin Festival and Lollapalooza, the Allman Brothers seemed to be a good choice. They're clearly more of a jam-rock band than a folk act, however, as the Wanee Festival has proven, they have the draw of a headliner. More importantly, they can sell tickets to Umphreaks while offering the Joan Baez crowd something familiar.

Sure enough, every demographic in the audience seemed to appreciate the choice. While kids in tie-dye shirts air noodled to "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," the folkies were instantly turned on by the cover of The Band's "The Weight," featuring the North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson on guitar. As the sun began to set behind the stage, and boaters in the harbor began amassing on the banks of Fort Adams, the Allman's closed with an articulate take on "Revival." The tune demonstrated to everyone in attendance why folks are saying that Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are one of the best guitar duos on the road. More importantly, it ended the day's festivities on a note that couldn't have hit higher.

The Allman Brothers :: Newport :: 08.04.07
Things have clearly changed for the Newport Folk Festival. For those who fear change, the event's modern format could easily be considered an abomination. But, for the more open-minded concertgoer, the festival's current incarnation stands for everything right about the music they promote. Newport has managed to survive for almost 50 years of continuous shifts in musical fads while staying true to their core values. The lineup has changed drastically over the years, and the presence of corporate sponsorship is clearly something that long-time followers met with disdain. However, by standing the test of time, the festival's continual existence gives every up-and-coming festival a run for their money. Even with the changes made in recent years, festivals like Bonnaroo should consider themselves lucky to be in the game for a fraction of the run championed by the Newport Folk Festival.

JamBase | Rhode Island
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[Published on: 8/22/07]

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mickrod420 starstarstarstarstar Wed 8/22/2007 08:52PM
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folk music is good for the soul. these bands should be proud. way to rock. new jersey needs this type of fest. first post WHOO HOOO.

21mmer Wed 8/22/2007 10:31PM
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mmmmmmmmmm donuts
-homer simpson

Timbo starstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 05:29AM
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No love for AOD...they were great up there...handful of strangefolk tunes as well

Dnumde Thu 8/23/2007 05:33AM
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Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Luther Dickinson. Um DAMN work! That would have been amazing.

Warren is the man, every stage he graces is amazing! Rock on Warren!

andyga starstar Thu 8/23/2007 07:58AM
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Seriously tough review for GPTN and AOD fans. AOD was amazing, certainly worthy of at least a mention in the review (if not much more). Id disagree with the GPTN energy comment as well. They seemed to be brining it hard the entire set, along with the acoustic set in the Gibson guitar van.

Cheezefreek starstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 08:01AM
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wheres the post show review for the sunday show - Amos Lee, Alejandro Escovedo, Emmylou, Alison Krauss, Sierra Hull, Ralph Stanley......wheres that review?

gfon8593 starstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 08:44AM
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Yeah, great review of Saturday but what about Sunday! That was the day to catch. Check out my pictures and review.

toestothenose Thu 8/23/2007 08:52AM
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gfon8593 - nice blog

Luthur starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 09:02AM
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Guess what, fellas? Since you were there, why don't you write a review for Sunday. Jeez. The writers don't get paid to do this.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 09:30AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

Warren and Derek totally kill each other with those guitars.
I love watching them try to top each other!! total sickness!!

HOPEFULPHAN starstarstarstarstar Thu 8/23/2007 12:18PM
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gonna see ABB for the 1st time tuesday at the mn state fair. cant wait!

christophebaise Thu 8/23/2007 12:40PM
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I feel bad for the people who are used to coming out to this festival to hear folk music. Decent review but only one sentance for North Mississippi Allstars? They are one of the hottest bands on the scene today in my opinion.

tourfan Thu 8/23/2007 05:15PM
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Uuh! Yea, D&D has been sponsoring this weekend for several years now. Bumer? Maybe, but tis the world we're livin' in. Decent review, nice pics.

srippin1234 star Thu 8/23/2007 06:18PM
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There is no fest in comparison to Newport with it's rich history and musical achievements. I was there this year, I was backstage, this article focuses more on what the festival wasn't than what it're right Bruss, this wasn't Wanee festival but the Allman Brothers have been headlining shows as long as I can remember. There are no Sunday sets mentioned because the writer didn't feel it was important to stay, he told me this, which is absurd seeing how he was sent to cover the festival and skipped out on half of the acts. Amos Lee laid down an amazing set and even more importantly Emmylou Harris played an amazing acoustic set that wowed the crowed maybe even more so than the Allman's performance the day before, not to mention Allison Krauss and Union Station and the others playing side stages. I don't think Newport is changing I think it is keeping up with the times...Dylan said it himself in 65 "the times they are a changing" so basically what was true about Newport still holds true today. We're not talking about some new fest that's trying to find its niche, it's Newport, it was amazing and I'll go again every year because I know that it will truly be an amazing experience that I won't have to compare to anything else to make my time there worth while.

knightjosh Fri 8/24/2007 07:53AM
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no AOD review?

mflax555 starstar Sat 8/25/2007 08:45PM
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this review does not do saturday justice, i wasnt able to go/afford sunday so iwouldnt know, but nma, aod and the dirty dozen brass band deserve alot more than that, so should the allmans history. weak.