Friday, July 31, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Sunday feat. The Philosopher

We wonder why you stop by. Really.

We've got a couple theories. One is that you use our website the way we (try to) use a music website: to hunt down good music, dodge the stuff that doesn't get there. Save a buck or two. Make new discoveries. This works fine and well for things like CD reviews; we like to pick those apart for you. Go save that dollar.

Concerts, festivals: stuff like that is different. It's already happened. That theory, why you'd like to read up on a festival that's already happened, is a bit more complicated: shared experiences (if you went), relive those memories; something more technical, scientific (if you didn't go), involving the brain's mirror neurons, a vicarious kind of enjoyment. In either case, what kind of action can you take at this point? Other than waiting a few hundred years for time travel to become efficient and commonplace, and send yourself back to an expired music fest based on our recommendation?

(And no, time travel in any form still does not exist. Not even on the SyFy channel, bleh.)

We "Think" this is Rodin. Give us a moment.
We don't get why you'd want read up on a festival that passed, on our having a great time and tons of fun. We really don't. "Shoulda gone last weekend" is the most we can do with a post - or three (or four) - of this kind.

And here we are still.

We want to cut to the chase first with this post. What did we get out of Newport? What do we get out of Newport - something tangible, something that maybe you can take, too? What we like most about the Folk Fest - when we're not feeling curmudgeonly, alas - is when a new act catches us by surprise. The Oh Hellos, Hozier last year, especially (gosh! how he's blown up!). We have a bunch of favorite acts that we know we have to catch, but this kind of festival is a great place to get introduced to new music. And we'd like to think this blog is kind of like that, too.

This is what we're going to do after this post: hunt down some CDs. Try to check into NE concerts, too. Perhaps we'll even get some coverage for the blog, let you know how they pan out for us. We're definitely into checking out these albums:

-Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
-The Suffers (definitely)
-Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell. We thought the "all covers" thing wasn't going to get us, but it did.
-and The Ballroom Thieves, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (Sunday spoiler!)

These are the new albums we'll be hunting out, and check the previous posts for stuff we've already covered, and hopefully given a thumbs-up to.

We're breaking a bit of form, throwing away that old acoustic for a new electric, trying to give you something useful from this kind of blog post. Something that's not "this is the best band ever to have banded" kind of stuff. You know us, we're particular, we're critical, this is what we do. If their performances were any indication of their albums, we'd have you check out those six bands.

In fact, let's make that easier for you to sample them:

-Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
-The Suffers
-Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell
-Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
-The Ballroom Thieves
-and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

Bam, links to their Soundclouds. Because we think you might like to check them out.

This is our post-Newport takeaway. This is really all that we have to offer here. We're honestly not much about "this act was so cool, wish you were there" stuff, that kind of rub-your-face-in-it coverage. What we're about, our philosophy is that this tiny tiny tiny blog is here to serve you, our readers, first and foremost, and hopefully we've done that here. We try to put our money where our mouth is. That's the only way this kind of thing works.

So go out, check out our "Albums of the Year" and "Recommended" links below the banner. If you like those artists, go see them live, have them sign something for you. Get the heck off this blog, because, let's face it, if you're putting time into sitting on your bum over here, you're not living a life worth living. Blog Philosophy, 101. Go out and make memories. We're only a signpost that might not even be all that useful to you. Feel free to graffiti that post over, we don't mind, no offense taken. Just make it sound cool, to paraphrase Wayne Coyne.

And go dance, too. Hopefully with a pretty girl (or hot guy). See you on the floor tomorrow for the last part of Newport,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Saturday feat. The Traveler

It lay at our feet, dead. Decomposing. The Grinch of All Festival Curmudgeondry. Flies buzzed; vultures circled. We moved on.

Desert sands shifted beneath our boots. The sun beat an oppressive cadence on our shoulders. It was hot; it was hot. Through the dust, we could make out a distant oasis. It came closer, crept closer. There were drums, there were horns; there was a woman on stage, shouting; congas pounding. A crowd of some sort of worshipers. We stopped by to see the commotion (these photos (c) Ravings as well).

The Suffers' strangely armed guard and their lead conjurer

"Who are we," she demanded.
"The Suffers," the crowd replied.
She rewarded their fidelity with a siren-song: mixes of soul, Latin and jazz poured from forceful lips.

We pondered on their Sharon-Jones sentiments. Big band, big energy, lead siren to bring you in. But with the curmudgeon in us gone, we knew we had to keep moving, knew that we couldn't stay all day. Acts to photo. Alas.

One half of Luluc
Wanderlust inspired. Luluc was next, guy/gal acoustic duo. Quiet, solemn, they seemed a good choice to keep cool on a blistering hot day. But you know us, we're picky. Particular. We started the day off strong, and wanted an act to burn away the heat. Not some place to lie down and cool off.

Country-style Traveller took the back stage next. Their opener, "Get Me Out of the South," was just what we were looking for: a hot, pounding one in the sun. But then the cooled off, and our attention wandered, wandered to an artist whose album we absolutely, certainly should have covered...

And artist whose hippo we still have. Cosmic hippo, to clarify. (Though he came minus cosmic hippo, and with the wifey).

Bela Feck. Abigail Washburn. Banjo to banjo.
They were unconscionably late to the stage, causing all kinds of ulcers of anticipation for something we'd held off listening to since the release of their duet album late last year. A calm, sophisticated bluegrass duo (sophisticated, even with a bit of clog dancing), dense, the kind of stuff that tends not to play well in a big festival. But: Bela Fleck. And Mrs. Washburn, too. It was a fantastic change of scene. We were stunned that they decided to sign CDs and albums (and even our shirt!) by the merchandise tent. After the set, Abigail was sweet as peach cobbler; we think Mr. Fleck was a bit out of his element there. No banjo in the hand, perhaps.

The Mama Bear (and Tom Hudson) and Madisen Ward
We heard a bit about this mom and son duo from one of the other photographers. "His voice, his voice..." Seeing him live, Madisen Ward shakes a bit of vibrato the old country way: dance the jaw into the mic. Like a hungry barracuda. And yes, the voice, the voice. Folksy and soulful; we were all about vocals. We only caught a couple, a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" being one of them, but even in two songs Madisen and The Mama Bear were one of our highlights of the day. That's saying a lot, considering...

Considering some of the rumors floating around. "Next set is going to be such-and-such." "I heard it was hmm-hmm." "I don't have this verified, but it might be..."

Whatever. We heard a few different things on Saturday. It turns out it was The Optimal Solution.

Which, in all cases, is James-Freaking-Taylor.

James Taylor. Whom we'd pay to have as our biological uncle.
It was a short, short set. We cried, we laughed; we waved goodbye from behind the security guards escorting us away. We're willing to bet NPR streamed his set and has it up somewhere, but just be warned there were some audio blips/bloops/explosions, really, during that set. Some imperfections with the sound, we'll say.

And Mr. Taylor?

Pretty much looked like this. Despite the 100+ Decibel shrieks, he looked pretty much like someone was passing him a tea cake and he was politely declining. Whatever. When you calmly croon about Fire and Rain, losing 5% of your hearing is probably not that big a deal to you. His set closed with "You've Got a Friend." Our life was complete.

Sufjan Stevens is an old, old man. But he can still get down and funky.

Jungle Boogie, c.o. Michigan.
Okay, so he's not that much older than us. Probably. There was a general consensus that Mr. Stevens' set was the one to hit (other than James-Freaking-Taylor) because, let's face it, Illinois. And perhaps a little bit of his latest album, which maybe we like a little bit. Just a smidge. We enjoyed this set. We enjoyed it despite:

-Sufjan forgetting some of his lyrics
-His deep voice. Like, almost Morgan Freeman deep. Making some of his own vocals hard to hit
-Sufjan dancing to "All of Me" like a white guy

Not everyone's perfect. Sufjan is a brilliant writer, probably the most earnest, heartfelt ones of his/our generation. We can't say his performance at the Newport Folk Fest this past weekend was flawless, but we still can appreciate it for not being as such. For being honest. He was good, certainly not a let-down, and if we had any other set to be at, we wouldn't have changed our minds. And we're not going to pay NASA ticket rates to see him perform live, either. Though we're sure it's worth it. (We took 100 pictures of Stevens and Taylor each.)

We know some of y'all like The Decemberists. We haven't really kept up with their albums since 2009's "The Hazards of Love," and as a closer to the 'Fest, they were spot-on.

Colin Meloy, avec la beard.
It was a very good set from them. They knew their crowd, they rocked it out, they played a song about oatmeal. "Quaker Oat Blues," we think it was (okay, we just made that name up).

(But really, it was about oatmeal.)

This would be another great set to catch streamed, but - and no offense to these Portlandiers - we were still in shock by James-Freaking-Taylor. So much so that that's where these travelin' shoes are going to stop.

You'll come back for Friday, right? The Philosopher?

Y'all comin', right?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Friday feat. The Curmudgeon

Welcome back. We've missed you. This is eighth year of our Newport coverage, including our really fantastic article in the Newport Mercury in '08, and it's safe to say, the festival's been on an upward trend for us. It's also safe to say that we, at Ravings, are familiar with how exhausting and draining these kinds of festivals can be on us. It is safe to say, we are rather curmudgeonly.

We rain on all parades. (c) Dr. Seuss, and illus. by Chuck Jones, we think.
Here is what it boils down to: it's hard to enjoy a three-day, four-stage music-gasm knowing that we're still kinda working (and occasionally sleeping) for the 72-hour stretch. This year, we decided to Grinch our attitude and stay as often in one place as possible.


But think about it, isn't that what you'd do, too? Catch the acts you want to see, not have to hop around to EVERY act to catch up on photos and maybe a song or two ? (There were 18 acts on Friday alone, and that's not even counting the fourth stage). Maybe we should call it an experiment in being the average, sensible music-goer; "How the Other Half Listens"; but really, it's just our being lazy and Grinch-y and stubborn.

And still it was awesome.

The thing about being a curmudgeon, or really, about covering this festival for far more years than we've deserved, is this: habit. We want to break it a bit this year. We feel that we've earned it (not really) and that this particular year earned it - the 50th anniversary of Dylan's "plugging in." Breaking habit is something a curmudgeon does not often (or ever) do, but check out that first pic there. A break in routine already. You see, this time around, we've been thinking other things, thinking bigger thoughts; life, the universe, and everything. Those parts that relate to music and music blogging, anyway.

Here it is, habit biting our bum, the first act to open the Newport Folk Fest (all photos (c) Ravings):
Haunt the House haunts (and opens) the house at Alex and Ani Stage.
This time was a first for us: a real camera. Auto-focus, zoom lens, the whole 8.5 yards (we're still a bit stingy, yes). This gent on the left and his crew was floating about all three days (should we mention Haunt the House's music? They have an accordion. *cue accordion jokes*), and certainly had a great time of it. They probably had a better time than a grumpy old (though not that old) Mad Music Man. Or probably complained less about the good time they had. Yes, we can have a good time and still complain, because: talent. We're just not sure what kind of talent that is.

Though it's certainly not a marketable talent. Not even a parlor trick kind of talent. Not talent like this:

Joe Pug + guitarist Greg Tuohey.
This was our first act for us. Mr. Pug (who is our spirit animal, should you need to know) is one of those annoying acts who has "wit" and "congeniality" and "talent." Nuts to that. "This next song," to paraphrase/misquote Mr. Pug, "is pretty dark. You probably don't want to be eating your frozen yogurt during it, or at least eat the half without sprinkles." Lead into one of our many favorites, "The Great Despiser."

We brought an old band tee with us, that - yes - was signed already and washed out. Greg, in the background up there, was "kind" and "considerate" and "sweaty" and brought it around to the band to sign. Even got MorganEve Swain a la Brown Bird to sign it (who made a guest appearance on stage!). He is a really nice guy. But here's what we're going to do with the tee.
-Wrap it up
-Give it to a Who in Whoville
-Steal it on Christmas day

Yes, we're an evil one indeed.

This picture:
Leon Bridges, part dance, part sing.
...and this picture:

Music goers, all dance... not so much sing.
We think this sums it. Cool retro sound, 7-piece band.

The curmudgeonly part of us came out later in the day. We knew there would be a lot of great acts to cover, all kinds of new discoveries, but we went with an old standby.

John Convertino, aka the pulse of Calexico.
Followed by another old standby (see right).

Sam Beam, aka Iron and Wine. (minus Ben Bridwell)
And followed by My Morning Jacket (another old standby, bear below). We were not adventurous, no.

But the Calexico set was probably the best set of theirs we've caught these past few years. Perhaps the third time we've seen them? - and they caught the crowd right on the Quad / back stage. "Roka" was probably our favorite of theirs, just spine-tingling.

We don't have a lot to say about Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell, other than listening to the two of them do folk classics together is like tasting like a thick, smoky honey. We don't know if that sounds appetizing to y'all, but it does to us. We're going to hunt down their new album at some point.

And My Morning Jacket. Still good. Still rocking. The new album sounds awesome live.

Here is Jim James' bear. One of them. This one is called Ephesius.
(Okay, now we're just making sh#$ up.)

Jim James' "Rosebud." Perhaps.
We've got a lot more cool stuff to say, other cool pics, but we've wasted a lot of time on Grinches and sourpusses and bears, oh my! - and we still have to get to IT. You know. You've heard of the guy, the guy your old curly-haired soccer-playing college friend keeps bugging you to go see even though you went to one of his Phish concerts and couldn't breathe for the life of you.

This guy. Him. Maybe you've heard of Pink Floyd or something.

Roger Waters, aka Jim James' spirit animal.
And then the rains came. Blast. That's why the left side of (above) is all blurry.

Heart palpitations. Goose flesh. Nervous shaking. Waters was phenomenal. And then he started playing, too. "Wish You Were Here" was so anticipated, so enjoyed, that everywhere in the crowd people took out their iPhones to photograph the old man. Despite the rain. And occasional lightning. That's $500 for a photo, right there, but you can't explain these things to people. Not when you're being serenaded with "Wish You Were Here." Money just doesn't factor in. That's stubborn.

We did it. We caught all, and only all we really wanted to see on Friday. We're sure there were superb performances by acts we've never heard of, or at least never listened to, and we're going to say this: Bah humbug. Sometimes you just got to be stubborn. Sometimes you just want it your way (TM). Sometimes you just got to stick to your guns (not permitted on festival grounds, by the way).

But that's the fun of these things. Do what you want, go at your own pace. There's no wrong way to skin a cat; there's more than one way to eat a Reese's. Something like that.

Waters spoke, and thus died the Grinch.* We know you're probably shopping around NPR and various other sites for far, far better coverage than we're giving here, but thanks for stopping by anyway. At least we don't ramble on too much, right? Go catch us Wednesday for Part II, The Traveler (and Friday for Part III, "the good part"),


*cue face-melting scene from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, by the way

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's... coming

Sallie Ford (+SOS, -electricity) at Newport, 2011
In a few more weekends, the sheet (music) will hit the fan. It's that time (of the season) for probably our favorite festival. Probably? Almost certainly. Almost certainly? We can do better than that.
It's about time for the Newport Folk Festival.

It took us a little while to do another writeup on it. Why? Lack of inspiration, laziness, lack of direction. Working on a book (or two). But last night, we realized why we had to come back; speaking to a friend, whom we'd met at last year's, there really is something different about this "little" fest. A fellow music reviewer herself, she had a somewhat hilarious nightmare about not getting tickets - why the fuss? you might ask - because it is something special. It isn't rowdy or pushy or drunk, stoned; out of control. It's kind of another home, we think. "Last year," she recalled, "I went with people I didn't even know and NFF was still amazing... It's much more family friendly than any of the other fests I've been to."

And there's something to that. There's something to the fact that we get to recognize a friendly face at the ticket booth (Ms. C.M., riding another stressful season, haha!). We get big acts (BIG acts this year) and small acts; remember these guys and gals? We get a packed, big ole historical fort crammed to the parapets with musicians - some of whom hand-selected the smaller acts to come aboard - all of whom are bustling with energy and focus and drive. And da- darned well fun, too. It's the only place  you'll get to see, hopefully, Roger Waters jam along with Sufjan Stevens (yes, our dreams of the NFF kinda reach a bit high). It's the only place you'll get to see Mr. Shakey Graves hopping about between acts, a gentleman and a music scholar. It is a kind of family, really, much for the musicians, much for the media, but also for the music fans who, year after year, pitch a blanket, reminisce about a few years ago, before the dance pit; reminisce to some of the same fans, to some newcomers as well, about how Jim James kept wearing some weird hankerchief, haha; the Avett Brothers, well, they were drowned out by the pier, no electricity, but man, what a jam!; and Cat Power, man! you should've seen her! I think fell in love...

We know the tickets are sold out. But - we do highly advise to check out the Newport Folk Fest's after shows (and before shows) as that's as good a place as any to get a heady brew of your favorite musicians, whom are almost always attacked on stage by fellow guest musicians. It's totally unbeknownst to us who will show where (RI's ole Deer Tick McCauley tends to show quite a bit) but we know the ensuing battles are generally worthy of your time.

So, if you've got tickets, congrats! Hopefully we (and our unfortunately nightmared friend) shall see you there! And if not, don't fret, sometimes miracles happen. Especially at the after-party shows. We'll keep y'all up to date a bit, and hope you enjoyed your 4ths,