Newport Folk Festival | 08.02 – 08.03 | RI
Newport Folk Festival :: 08.02.08 – 08.03.08 :: Fort Adams State Park :: Newport, RI
Acts like Stephen Marley & Damian Marley and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro aren’t exactly playing folk music, but artists like Kate Taylor (sister of James), Gillian Welch, Richie Havens and a solo acoustic set by Jim James of My Morning Jacket offered up a modern, 21st Century application of the art form.
Saturday :: 08.03.08
Following Havens’ performance, Trey Anastasio dished out a set chocked full of his former band’s material that’s sure to add to the rumors of a reunion tour in the making. Alone onstage with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, Trey started things off with “Brian and Robert,” followed by “Farmhouse” and continued moving through more and more Phish staples like “Bouncing Around the Room,” “Waste,” “Wilson” and an encore performance of “Chalkdust Torture.” The general take on the setlist was that Trey understood full well that nobody was interested in hearing “Shine” or “Mister Completely,” and given the enthusiasm he exhibited onstage, it’s pretty fair to say he was just as eager to dish out the older stuff as his fans were to be hearing it.
While Big Red was getting nostalgic on the main dubbed the Fort Stage, Steve Earle and spouse Allison Moorer were getting busy at the second largest performance space, the tented Harbor Stage. During this set, torrential rains broke out, which wound up complicating set times and logistics for the rest of the day. Following a set that featured everything from bluegrass licks to an onstage DJ, Earle commented to JamBase that he liked playing Newport Folk. “The tradition itself is great, and it’s really a dead end out here, so I just like to watch the looks on the rich people’s faces when the hippie bus comes to town,” said Earle.
Joe Russo, drummer of American Babies, in addition to the Benevento/Russo Duo, commented, “I would rather be playing here than a lot of other festivals. For American Babies, this is exactly where we need to be. We’re not a jam band.”
As the rain kept coming down, the audience in front of the Fort Stage was significantly diminished, and as a result, the majority of the attendees found themselves trying to pack in under one of the two smaller tents. She & Him, a neo-folk act consisting of modern day troubadour M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel, played to an enthusiastic crowd at the Harbor Stage while Martha’s Vineyard native Willy Mason played to an overcapacity crowd on the Waterside Stage.
Following his set, James commented to JamBase, “[It] was a good time. It’s weird because it was a tent in the rain, but it feels like every time I play it rains, so I’m used to it by now.” As far as the contrast between his solo performance and a My Morning Jacket set, he said, “It is [different] but it isn’t. It’s a different thing, but it’s kind of the same. I like it always. It’s our thing, because we’re all about variety.”
With James’ set in the past, the only acts left for the day were Cat Power and a headline performance by The Black Crowes on the Fort Stage. Plenty of people had left early due to the weather, and as a result, the crowd in front of the Fort Stage was a fraction of the crowd Trey saw earlier in the day. Regardless, the Crowes kicked things off in a way that paid tribute to the festival and its history. Rather than diving head first into their brand of “freak ‘n’ roll,” the Robinson Brothers came out on their own, each wielding an acoustic guitar to start things off with Bob Dylan’s “Girl From North Country” followed by “He Was A Friend of Mine,” a folk staple played by everyone from Willie Nelson to The Byrds.
Following their acoustic mini-set, the rest of the group joined them to tear through a chunk of new material off their recent release, Warpaint, such as “Whoa Mule,” and “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution.” Their set peaked with the ever-popular “Jealous Again,” before they wrapped things up with a version of “Thorn In My Pride” that featured an extended guitar solo and some serious blues harp work by Chris Robinson.
Continue reading for Sunday coverage…
Sunday :: 08.02.08
Although Sunday had fewer scheduling conflicts, it was still filled with quality talent from across the board. Following an introduction by WERS‘ John Parsons, Calexico performed a stellar set on the Fort Stage that was highlighted by a cover of Dylan’s “Goin’ To Acapulco.” The band performed the tune in I’m Not There, the abstract, pseudo-biopic based on Bob Dylan, with Jim James on lead vocals. Fortunately, James chose to stick around for the last day of the festival, and took the stage alongside Calexico for the cover. James later commented to JamBase, “[We] did it because it was in the movie. It was a relatively last minute thing.”
While Gillian Welch followed Calexico on the Fort Stage before a crowd of Buffet fans decked out with lawn chairs and an apparent lack of sun tan lotion, Jake Shimabukuro drove people wild on the Waterside Stage with a set of tunes that redefined the ukulele for anyone who was there. Shimabukuro’s technically proficient style sounds more like high register flamenco guitar than a ukulele, but you’d better believe the man does what he does with four strings and a tiny, hollow piece of wood. He performed a percussion piece that utilized string scratching in various forms, while he simultaneously slapped his palm on the body of the instrument to get a bit of a bass drum effect. Shimabukuro later played a handful of original pieces, but the highlight of his set was an instrumental take on The Beatles’ “My Life” with a teaser of Deep Purple‘s “Smoke On The Water.” Following his set, Shimabukuro told JamBase that he had a great time. “The audience was very supportive and it was an all around great time. What I loved about it was that the audience really played a big part in the performance,” he said. “It’s really about the energy, and the performance was only going to be as good as they wanted it to be. If you’ve never been here, you should make a point to experience it, because it’s a very historic festival. Lots of amazing artists have played here, and if you’re a fan of music, it is something that you just have to experience.”
Although the festival was met with some rough weather and a good deal of artists who strayed far from the event’s traditional values, to say the 2008 Newport Folk Festival was anything short of a success would be a gross understatement. Since the debut of Bonnaroo, the festival market has gradually become over-saturated, and older events like Newport Folk have been put in the tight spot of staying true to their roots while keeping their heads above water. Many artists on the bill would have disgusted the ticket holders who once booed Bob Dylan for playing an electric guitar, but in 2008 the bill was masterfully formulated to mix in ticket-selling headliners and folk-friendly singer-songwriters, as well as a couple of acts that could be considered either/or. The event itself is held at Fort Adams State Park, and with an 1800’s era naval fort behind the stage and the Newport Harbor behind the audience, this event has one of the most beautiful locations of any music festival in the United States. Shimabukuro said it: “If you’ve never been here, you should make a point to experience it.”
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