Words by: Lindsay Tucker and Hannah Lott-Schwartz
Images by: Lindsay Tucker, Amanda Ryan-Albion and Jason Speakman
Newport Folk Festival :: 07.26.12 - 07.28.12 :: Fort Adams State Park ::
Full review below photo gallery!
Photos in this gallery by Lindsay Tucker, Amanda Ryan-Albion and Jason Speakman:
The 54-year-old Newport Folk Festival has
become a New England staple and a musical legend, one which Rolling Stone called “the
godfather of summer festivals” this year for its thoughtfully curated lineup packed with
rising Americana stars and genre veterans.
This year, for the first time in recent history, the festival expanded to a three-day
event and nearly sold out before even releasing the lineup - an impressive turnaround for
an event that just a few years ago was suffering from poor ticket sales and a struggling
economic climate. The festival creator, 87-year-old George Wein, can still be spotted
smiling and waving to concert goers as he’s toted around Fort Adams on his golf cart,
aptly named “the Wein Machine.”
[Photo by Amanda Ryan-Albion]
The festivities kicked off on Friday with Seattle band Hey Marseilles making their
Newport debut on the Harbor Stage. The orchestral folk group opened with “To Travels &
Trunks,” the title track from their 2008 release, beginning with powerful instrumentals
and crooning vocals from front man and guitarist Matt Bishop. It was a strong start to
Newport’s rainy first day. “I’d like to take credit for bringing [the weather] from
Seattle,” joked Bishop - whose voice channels the Decemberists' Colin Meloy mixed with
Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. The folk-rock sextet’s boyish energy,
particularly during fan-favorite “Rio,” had the crowd singing along wondering, who are
these lost-boys-esque newcomers?
Over on the Fort Stage, another band was making their Newport debut: Boston’s Kingsley
Flood opened with a trumpet-laden rollick before delving into the touching “Sun Gonna
Let Me Shine,” from their 2013 release, Battles, which dominated the set. The crowd
jumped in tune to “Strongman” before Naseem Khuri (vocals, rhythm guitar) and crew brought
down the energy with the slow strum and sway of “Sigh a While.” The six-piece band ended
on “I Don’t Wanna Go Home,” a bouncy track from 2012’s Colder Still, with the crowd
stomping along with violinist Jenée Morgan.
Later, Feist captivated the main stage with her sweet blend of folk-pop and snappy
rhythms, while devoted fans huddled with ponchos and umbrellas under the leaky gray sky.
Phosphorescent warmed the folks under the tent at the Quad Stage with “Song for
Zula” and the funky synth of “Ride On / Right On,” both from this year’s Muchacho.
The dual keyboardists proved entertainment at its finest, complete with Jerry Lee Lewis-
like antics and headbanging.
[Photo by Jason Speakman]
On the Quad Stage, a cleaned-up John McCauley of Deer Tick played a solo set and
regaled the audience with his banter on being part of the festival Board of Advisors, in
addition to a Hank Williams cover and guest appearance by Vanessa Carlton. McCauley also
called his mom up on stage to sing Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” much to the delight
of fans young and old. Old Crow Medicine Show closed out the Friday’s dreary first
day with Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” with the sun finally shining on the grounds as an
epic sunset descended upon Fort Adams and the Narragansett Bay.
Saturday started off slow with a hangover nursed slowly by the sun. And more beers.
Langhorne Slim kicked off the afternoon with the highest of energy when he charged
into the audience during his closing song, "Past Lives," from his latest album, 2012's
The Way We Move. Other highlights included Jim James’s ethereal jams and
moody rock ballads, mostly from his February release, Regions of Light and Sound of
God, and headliners the Avett Brothers brought their unrivaled energy and
showmanship with foot-stomping tracks from 2009’s I and Love and You and their most
recent 2012 release, The Carpenter.
Other notable moments included an unofficial Decemberists reunion, led by Colin Meloy,
plus Father John Misty’s assault on the crowd, complete with sociopolitical
commentary and theatrical dance moves. “I just got invited here because I’m white, and I
have a beard, and I have acoustic guitar on my album,” he bellowed, and then later, “It’s
been a little antagonistic so far, but you guys passed the test and it’s all smooches and
cinnamon buns from here on out.” He failed to keep his promise, however, heckling
onlookers for drinking white wine and declaring, “When I was a young boy I had a dream of
shitting all over a cultural institution like this; and here it is!”
[Photo by Lindsay Tucker]
Sunday saw Spirit Family Reunion light up the Quad Stage with their signature blend
of rootsy bluegrass stomp-rock, and country singer/songwriter Tift Merritt joined
Newport veteran Andrew Bird for a stripped-down performance. In addition to his
conversational afternoon set, 82-year-old Ramblin' Jack Elliot sang a Jimmie
Rodgers tune with Sunday night's closer, Beck, who delighted attendees during with
a folky rendition of his grunge-hip-hop anthem "Loser." But the piece de resistance was
the outrageously charming set from the band everybody loves to hate - most likely for
their sudden rise to fame strapped on the coattails of English pop sensation Mumford and
Sons - Brooklyn-based The Lumineers. With rambunctious tunes like “Flowers in your
Hair,” plus cult faves “Ho Hey” and “Submarines,” from their self-titled freshman release,
the Lumineers inspired childish glee and eventually set up shop amongst the crowd to
perform a few mid-set songs, finishing strong back up on the main stage with “Flapper
Girl” and “Morning Song.”