Newport is a festival for people who don’t really like full-on camping festivals. Everyone sits down, there are places specifically for shade, there are only two designated places to get drunk and the artists all begin on time. It is a family festival – a music fans festival. Sure, it doesn’t offer the same sort of experience that the larger events can, but unlike those, you can actually relax and listen to the music. And oh, what amazing music it is. Newport can easily boast the largest density of legends this summer, with modern folk and true visionaries mixing beautifully. So, after some careful contemplation, we are ready to hand out our Wild Honey Pie certified awards:
“Two voices have never mixed so well.” — Guy behind me in reference to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
Truer statements are rarely spoken. The beautiful interplay of Welch and Rawlings’ voices and guitars for one hour was starkly beautiful and absolutely mesmerizing.
“Heartbreak Hotel” and “You Know I’m No Good” as sung by Wanda Jackson
Wanda Jackson dedicated “Heartbreak Hotel” to her old flame, Mr. Elvis Presley and sang it with a ferocity and abandon I’m sure would have made him proud. She followed up that spectacular number (and story about being on tour with Elvis) with a song she sings on her latest album, dedicating it to the late Amy Winehouse.
Tegan and Sarah
I’m not the biggest Tegan and Sarah fan, but their stripped down acoustic set at Newport absolutely converted me. They sang beautifully together and changed their songs into something appropriate and spectacularly different for the folk festival crowd.
PS22 and Freelance Whales performing “Generator ^ 1st Floor” at the Kids Stage
Around the time when the kids all put their arms around each other and sang the line “We’re finding every day several ways that we could be friends” I almost lost it. It was the most innocently sweet thing I have seen in a good long while.
The Civil Wars
Though they sang beautifully and their performing/songwriting ability was undeniable, I couldn’t help but be a little distracted by the behavior of the duo. Both Joy Williams and John Paul White are married to other people, but I certainly wouldn’t have assumed so. I suppose the gentle ruse is all part of the performance, though. Their harmonies and sad lyrical folk simply wouldn’t be a powerful without a sense of longing buried beneath the surface.
Emmylou Harris singing the Townes Van Zandt classic “Poncho and Lefty”
You guys don’t need to hear all the sentimentality involved with this, but it was certainly a moment for me and also the perfect way for the Newport experience to come to a close.
While I can appreciate their recorded material, something about their live performance generated a much more powerful experience. Particularly after having watched the calm of Freelance Whales’ set, the guitars, vocals, and overall sounds of Delta Spirit was nothing less than explosive.
Justin Townes Earle singing “Been Burnin’ Bad Gasoline”
Holy balls does that lanky dude have an insane voice! He had his pedal steel and stand up bass player take a break while he belted, and I mean belted, this Lightin’ Hopkins song. Our lives were all better for having heard it.
Trampled by Turtles
Though they played the Fort stage all the way in the back, their crowd was absolutely rambunctious and worthy of the main stage.
Middle Brother // Dawes // The Head and the Heart
There was a Dawes set in the middle of the Middle Brother set sandwiched between a Deertick set. All the switching seemed to force the energy even higher and make the audience even happier. It was the loudest performance I saw all weekend and the one where the audience sang the loudest.
And then, of course, there was The Head and the Heart. With its waterfront views and New England charm, Newport was the ideal environment to see the Seattle five-pack. It’s only been a few months since I saw them at SXSW, but they’ve managed to grow as performers by leaps and bounds. That says a lot considering they were completely and utter brilliant in Austin.
Pete Seeger leading everyone in a sing-a-long!
The festival ended with a frail voiced Pete Seeger and pretty much everyone who played that day singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”
From The Wild Honey Pie, 8/8/2011: http://www.thewildhoneypie.com/newport-folk-festival-2011-awards/