Photos | Review | Newport Folk Festival | Rhode Island

Words and Images by: Lindsay Tucker

Newport Folk Festival :: 07.28.12 - 07.29.12 :: Fort Adams State Park :: Newport, RI

Full review below photo gallery!

Jim James by Lindsay Tucker

Though skies looked ominous, nothing seemed to worry the sold-out crowd at Newport Folk Festival on Saturday. And in what seemed like an intense stroke of luck (or sheer magic), the rain held out for a full day of music. When it came time for the headlining set, a thick fog rolled in from the harbor, and the skies opened up, letting out a drizzle. Moments after My Morning Jacket frontman, Jim James, pulled Alabama ShakesBrittany Howard onstage for a powerful rendition of MMJ’s “Makes No Difference,” (a tribute to the late Levon Helm) thunder and lightening shook the skies, flooding the grounds and sending onlookers scrambling in every direction. The set was cut short, but not before stellar tracks like “Victory Dance,” “Dondante,” and “It Beats for You,” and a heartfelt thank you from James, who proclaimed, “Thanks so much for sticking by us in the rain. It’s an absolute honor to be playing on this holy ground.”

Gratitude seemed to be the sentiment of the weekend amongst the 50-plus acts (including Jackson Browne, Deer Tick, Conor Oberst, Sharon Van Etten, and Iron & Wine), all grateful to be part of the now-legendary event. Van Etten, a Brooklyn-based newcomer expressed disbelief at being invited, encouraging the audience--overflowing out from the quad-stage tent--to wail in astonishment with along with her. But as soon as her set began, it was clear she was exactly where she belonged. Her sometimes raspy, mostly soothing vocals danced over the folk-influenced guitar sounds with just a hint of sorrow.

Deer Tick by Lindsay Tucker

Newport vets Deer Tick also lit up the quad stage on Saturday, playing a raucous mix of rock and roll and rockabilly with punk influences, lead by frontman John McCauley. The set also included a cameo by McCauley’s Middle Brother bandmate and Delta Spirit lead singer, Matt Vasquez for songs off 2011’s Divine Providence, such as “Clownin Around” and “The Bump.” Vasquez bounced around on keyboard and belted out lyrics as the crowd echoed back. Compared with the more traditional acts in attendance, the Deer Tick set seemed harder, full of distortion and raw energy. As their performance came to a close, McCauley called out, “Considering this is a folk festival, we figured we’d play a rock song,” launching into a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline.” No one was in their seats.

Jackson Browne by Lindsay Tucker

On Sunday afternoon, 5-piece returning act Trampled By Turtles graduated to the main stage in a big way with ass-kicking bluegrass, and Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires took the entire festival by surprise with screamin’ soul and unparalleled funk moves. He delivered songs from his only studio album No Time for Dreaming, and busted out a much talked about outfit change (featuring a gold velvet jacket) for his cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”

Other notables from Sunday’s lineup, including Icelandic Of Monsters and Men, Joe Fletcher, and Punch Brothers (lead by Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek) rocked the smaller stages, and by the time Jackson Browne was gearing up to close out the main stage no one really knew what to expect. As it began to rain once more he wooed us with thoughtful, focused tunes like “A Child in the Hills” and “Call it a Loan” and other deep tracks from his lengthy career. The weekend came to a close much like it started, blissful in the rain as we sang along to Browne’s Woody Guthrie homage, “You Know the Night.”

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[Published on: 8/16/12]

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