Thursday, August 2, 2012

Newport Folk Festival, 2012 - Sunday Review

The Olympics are blaring in the background; we admit, it's tough breaking away from all the young athletes giving their all. All the hard training, focus, skill... there are a great many talents that require an exceptional heft of dedication, not just performing music.
So we figure we'd showcase this exceptionally young banjoist (all photos © Julia Markowitz). The Mizzone trio (fiddle, banjo, guitar) could just as easily have named themselves The Middle School Bluegrass Bunch - instead, they went for Sleepy Man Banjo Boys. Better ring perhaps. Jonny, at 10, is the youngest of the soon-to-be high schoolers, and we just can't get over how this pic makes him looking lahk he chawin a pinch o tobaccy. It's pure, old-fashioned bluegrass the way Ole Miss remembers (despite the NJ tags), minus the brawling and spittoons, of course. C'mon, they're only kids!

And Sunday was the day of the banjo. Between R.J. Storm and Sara Watkins, you couldn't hardly swing a dead cat and not get some bluegrass on it. Thank god Trampled by Turtles followed up on the main stage.
Damn, another banjo band. Well, there's no way around it sometimes, and now we've learned to stick above the Mason-Dixon (with minimal police involvement). These guys are great, but a quick admission is necessary: we never sunk in to their records. They've got a new one out this year, Stars and Satellites, and having listened to one off of it, we're going to say that everything you need to know about the band is onstage. They have an absolutely insane live set - bluegrass tinged with a Jimi Hendrix rock-mentality (not a surprise given their pasts) - and they apparently need to keep above 60 notes-per-measure or Sandra Bullock's bus will explode. We might've reported on them last year at the Fest, and maybe it's not technically possible, but they seemed to blaze even hotter this past weekend - probably it was Ryan Young's domination on the fiddle solos (second from L) through the set. Our inner boyscout was surprised that thing wasn't a tinderbox in his hands: honestly now, your "woodsman" dad could start a forest fire with less effort. Check out this live set, especially the cover of "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You," and then go see them live. A lot of their tour seems to be selling out, though.

H+H: Head and the Heart. Here:
We downloaded their album a couple weeks before the Folk Fest, and yeah, it was worth every dime (definitely worth more than those two bucks). After the Turtles brightened up the stage ("I don't think it's going to rain," sayeth Turtle Dave S. - and lo...) Miss Thielen et al. took advantage of the sunshine to bring out their own. What started out to be a good performance - a bit too faithful to their debut - quickly became a "turn it to 11" kind of moment toward the end. Yeah. We felt a bit guilty about not huffing over to sample most of the acts, but really, The Head and the Heart's performance was one of a handful that made us feel much better about sitting more of them through.
Besides, not like we're real media coverage, anyway. The last few, leading up to the smashing "Rivers and Roads," oof.

Another random dudeguy here.
That's Conor Oberst. Some people love him, some hate, and if you have more than a couple Bright Eyes albums then we're guessing you're in at least the first camp. Good, we are too. It was misting as he started up, yet another toothless threat, and we quite (quite) enjoyed "Classic Cars" with Swedes First Aid Kit. We might've possibly appreciated Jim James returning the favor of a guest appearance (one of several), but we especially loved "Lua" with the Kit'ers. It's a gorgeous song, no way around it, and even though Bright Eyes might infuriate some of you, we especially you check out this set at least just for that one.

Well now, that's it for our Newport Folk Fest coverage this year! And, we do want to remind y'all that the stuff at Fort Adams these three days (no Wilco coverage on Fri, sorries!) was maybe half of it. Yeah, Jackson Browne did close up this day... moreso the rain did, though... but we heard some incredible things belted from him at the Newport Blues Cafe. Check out next year, and even if you can't get in (tics were sold out months ahead) keep your eyes on all those satellite concerts around the Folk Fest too: Oberst at Jane Pickens, Head and the Heart at Calvin Theatre in MA, Dawes... gee, next week. It's a veritable downpour of talent in the area, and with an uncountable number of years of dedication hopping from stage to stage, well... we'll make some sort of lazy comparison to training for the Olympics, but we'll spare you that. We haven't been at this all that long, so take this for what it's worth, but this year's lineup was the strongest we've known. Let it also be said "quality over quantity," and as far as other festivals go, Newport's digs deeper than we've seen to find new acts. Just check out the 20+ groups on each of Sat. and Sun.; that's quite a lot of glossing we had to do. Okay, last thing to be said: keep you up to date on next year's, and let the good times rock-and-roll.
-A Very Tired Mgmt.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Newport Folk Festival, 2012 - Saturday Review

It's that dreaded music moment: the morning after. Okay, so technically, yesterday was the morning after, and it's well into the afternoon right now, but that same dread carries over pretty fierce. Still, it was four stages of acts (one more than 2011), about five acts per stage over about six hours... that's getting folked pretty hard, we'd say.
We're still recuperating from a bludgeoning of music, so our mind's still foggy. We roughly recall one Julia Markowitz as photographer (height? weight? age? still too foggy to guess) so many thanks to her for strapping a camera around (yes, all photos copyright JM) and dragging us around by the ankle. The first thing we remember about that whirlwind of a day was this:
My Morning Jacket's headman Jim James, if you didn't know. He thrashed and thundered, cracking the skies open, and we could've used some jackets while he... wait, that should be the end of this post. Sorry, still clearing up, so let's get back on track.

These folks opened the main stage, and if you've kept up with us the past six months, you'd know we adore them (and their 2011 full-length) most immensely. Without further ado, MorganEve with that short 'do:

And this time, she's partnered with Dane Cook:
That was too mean, but he does kinda look it; apologies all around regardless. With Mr. Lamb of Brown Bird (minus the beard, oh well), the duo moved up in the world - or in the NFF, anyway - and showcased some fantastic tracks off of "Salt for Salt." Debuting a couple new tracks, presumably off of an album-in-progress, the crowd was slightly less enthused. We're not especially worried, as Brown Bird's song construction is, simply put, crazy: shifting tempos, searing tempos, choruses into bridges into instrumental jams into different bridges into transforming pickup trucks... well, you can't entirely fault them for not having caught up with their own songs yet. Those need some spit polish, but you can almost hear the spittle flick off David Lamb's lips during "Bilgewater," "Cast No Shadow" and their other more-practiced tracks. Yeah, they definitely got those ones down pretty good.

We're honestly not trying to spam you guys with pics, but we liked this one.
With all the good pics to choose from, it's tough to make decisions. John McCauley of Deer Tick fame. He's only been on the scene, so to speak, for four years? and still, he's got such a depth of material to dig from, between four albums (full-length... isn't that crazy?) and enough collaborations in random places that we actually lost count - that part's really crazy. Busy bee, yes. But it makes for a solid set, and even with a screeching opener (probably to scare away newcomers), it's quite divine listening to new stuff ("The Bump") between some old stand-bys ("Art Isn't Real," "Easy"). It also doesn't hurt to bring along a mischievous elf, too.
Whatever happens, don't let it get in the piano!! We're not entirely sure why Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez felt the need to incite a general riot, or how he got through strict Folk Fest security (empty guitar case?), but the audience went crazy. Again. You'd think they'd put a tracker on this guy after last year's mayhem.

Unfortunately, their set overlapped with Alabama Shakes. They say you only get one first impression.
Ours was of a middle-school teacher who liked that "seafoam" was a color. Well. Perhaps we were a bit unfair in showing a picture first; what we should've done was offered a quick stream of "Hold On" that day. There's probably one word to describe Brittany Howard's vocals, but we're not smart enough to cull it down, so here are two: pure soul. The honest wailing that sounds like heaven and comes from elsewhere. We're not sure NPR's mics could catch half the hit her voice gave the crowd - and us - but this girl's got pipes, and you've got to hear them live. Some things just don't transfer well any other way.

We'll try not to dawdle much more, so let's start wrapping it up. The gentlemen Dawes.
We could spend half the post talking about their performances here, but instead we're going to suggest you hunt down an NPR stream: "Fire Away," "How Far We've Come." Etc. etc. The weather had been glooming over most of the day, and we were positive it was going to hit while these guys were up. Fortunately, it relented even during
Iron and Wine. We're not attempting the cheap rain + iron kind of joke, we're on a tight schedule and weather's not great, but we will admit much enjoyment over "Long Black Veil." We could argue Iron and Wine vs The Band vs Johnny Cash vs Nathaniel Hawthorne (the classic writer... too obscure?) but the cows would come home, and someone else would have to put them away cause we'd spent too much time arguing with ourselves. We do much enjoy Sam Beam and suspect fellow I+W fans to enjoy the fresh re-arrangements of "Boy With a Coin" and "Lion's Mane" et al. We're still sticking with "The Creek Drank the Cradle," but this set was satisfying.

We almost forgot! No more pics, we promise but scroll up to that first one - yeah, the Jim James one. Now back here.

That set thundered. Those hardworking folks who bring acts to the Festival - especially NFF producer Jay Sweet - were just plain stoked to land My Morning Jacket this year. As if to celebrate the occasion, Mr. James donned a white tux (plus boutonniere - yeah, we had to look it up) and accented it with a black cape for the more blasting parts of their setlist. We were quite content to watch the weather swirl about, twisting into a space-out Pink Floyd jam-frenzy version of "Victory Dance." Miss Ala. Shakes herself took the stage - some of those rumbles from maybe above the PA system - and when fellow Monster-of-Folk Conor Oberst came aboard, there was no doubt it wouldn't hold off. It opened, and poured.
The tease.

(Now stick around for part II...)