If you ever wanted to know what gets talked about in a post-Newport Folk Fest car ride back to Brooklyn, this is the post for you. This year’s acts had us excited even after the music had ended. To that end, we thought we should crown some of the most notable moments and acts with superlative designates in our own subjective, crafted categories.
Reignwolf: I would have asked him if he was dehydrated after his set, but let’s just say I couldn’t hear much once the buzz of the speaker I was standing in front of wore off.
Best Impromptu On-Stage Jam:
Ryan Adams / “Let It Be”: Yes, you read that correctly. When the crowd cheered after Adams switched from an electric to an acoustic guitar near the beginning of his set, he joked, “You don’t even know what this is going to be! What if this was like the worst version ever of ‘Let It Be’ or something?” The band then proceeded to play what was undoubtedly the worst version ever of ‘Let It Be’ or something. The fact that it was the worst also makes it our pick for ‘the best’ impromptu jam.
Most Attentive Audience:
Wille Watson: This gcb-made category is a bit of a toss-up, because to be honest NFFers are a pretty attentive bunch. But from my vantage point, it was the massive crowd in attendance at Watson’s early-morning set that really took the cake. His listeners covered a huge swath of Folk Fest land spanning way beyond the Harbor stage tent’s borders, and it seemed as if you could have heard a pin being dropped on the grass.
Most Political Set:
Pokey LaFarge: He may look like he’s an act right out of the 1930s, but he doesn’t act like it. Wait, no, just kidding. He does. LaFarge channeled the likes of late greats Guthrie and Seeger in his set, leading into one particular tune by saying, “Let’s do a song about health care, because we all know it shouldn’t be $116 a month, it should be absolutely free.” For a moment, it felt like we were being transported back in time to a day in age where music truly was the vehicle for social change and accountability.
Best Summer Hair:
Rachel Price, Lake Street Dive: She may have been channeling a little bit of last year’s winner for this crossover category, The Lone Bellow’s Kanene Pipkin. Or maybe Brooklyn just has something special in the water (other than toxins from the Gowanus Canal).
Runner-up: Valerie June - Truth be told, she might could have taken the crown for this superlative if we weren’t fairly certain her hair looks the same all year round.
Mavis Staples and Lucius: One of the most special parts about NFF is getting the opportunity to see old meet new. A legend in her own right, who celebrated her 75th birthday over the weekend, Staples truly was the queen of the fest, sitting in with a number of bands before the Sunday night finale set. One of the most interesting sit-ins, however, was her collab with Lucius – the Brooklyn duo whose aesthetic is as mod as their unique blend of harmonies.
Watch them sing ‘Go Home’ below (and yes, NPR’s Bob Boilen is video-bombing all over the place):
Most Buzzed About:
Shakey Graves / Hozier (TIE): We couldn’t find a way to determine the top-slot taker between these two amazing acts who seemed to be physically everywhere throughout the festival all weekend, as well as on the lips of the majority of festival goers and press junkies.
Mavis Staples’ birthday celebration set in Newport, which culminated Sunday and included appearances by legendary Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, indie pop group Lucius and loads of others, was just as unforgettable as everyone expected. It was a phenomenal event that any music fan would remember. However, for me, some of the most remarkable moments of the day on Sunday came outside of that set.
The excitement around lesser known folk songwriter performances from the likes of Leif Vollebekk and Gregrory Alan Isakov amid a host of big distracting acts is what makes this Festival so great. In listening to the albums of each of these guys before the festival, I didn’t really get what set them apart from the massive singer-songwriter pool until I saw them live. Each had great backing bands and a huge stage presence that kept crowds lingering despite lots of competition on other stages. Also of note was the performance by Irish soulful bluesman Hozier, who has exploded in the last few months without a full-length album to his name. Hozier had the full Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir join him for “Work Song,” which was absolutely stunning and a top performance of the entire festival (So, so quality YouTube vid of that performance here. Note that an unamplified practice session of the song was recorded at the Festival that we’ll hopefully see soon.).
Hurray for the Riff Raff and The Deslondes, two soulful New Orleans roots bands, also performed on Sunday. HFTRR (a.k.a. Alynda Lee Segarra) made her Newport debut last year and returned this year with a much higher status following the success of Small Town Heroes, her latest album. Her friends, The Deslondes, have joined HFTRR and Spirit Family Reunion on tour and called their Newport debut a “dream come true.” The band still has yet to release their first album, but their set of country-soul cowboy songs were much buzzed about and noted as something different. Nashville Americana artist Caitlin Rose also made a shining Newport debut, effortlessly belting out songs from her 2013 album, The Stand-In, and maintaining a crowd even as the rain began to fall.
Ed Helms and The Bluegrass Situation hosted their first Newport stage on Sunday, a move the Situation has made at numerous festivals this summer as they plan a festival of their own in October. The stage featured short sets from festival first timers Shakey Graves, who was joined by guests Chris Funk and Langhorne Slim, Mandolin Orange with guests of Helms’ own Lonesome Trio, and Aoife O’Donovan and Willie Watson, who were each joined by Sara Watkins.
Rain occurred throughout the day, but just as Jeff Tweedy wrapped up his set with “California Stars” the sky cleared and the sun came out. It was a pretty amazing moment that won loads of cheers from the crowd gearing up for Mavis’ historic set.
A few photos from the day below shot by grass clippings photographer Vi Luong. More to come.
Jack White’s highly anticipated Newport debut dominated the chatter of Day 2 at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival and drew the largest festival audience that I’ve seen. His twelve-song set featured material spanning his work under various banners, including The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and his latest solo album, Lazaretto. White walked around the festival much of the day on Saturday and noted on stage that it was nice to walk around unbothered. He closed the night with a tearful cover of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” including guests like John C. Reilly, Pokey Lafarge and others. Yes, he cried up there.
The first part of Saturday featured much gentler sets and the ones I was more excited to see. Willie Watson kicked off the day playing songs from his latest album, Folk Singer Vol. 1, including the old folk tune “Mexican Cowboy” – one of my favorites. Aoife O’Donovan made her Newport debut performing a number of songs off of her 2013 album, Fossils, but her set was a stripped down duet with Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert – a vibe that I favor over a full band. John C. Reilly’s set featured a number of great traditional tunes and hilarious banter.
A quiet folk morning exploded into day with The Oh Hello’s lively performance, which featured 10+ band members and brought an enormous Quad Stage audience on their feet for the full set – something you wouldn’t expect for a band that’s touring on their 2012 album. Shovels & Rope and Nickel Creek each showed up with great performances on the main stage. Austin’s Shakey Graves and NOLA’s Benjamin Booker, two artists who had tremendous momentum coming out of SXSW, each found favor in Newport with Graves’ crowd on the Harbor Stage making the pathways nearly impassible.
A few photos of the day below from grass clippings photographers Richard Kluver & Vi Luong. More to come.
Opening Day at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival was loaded with great moments, but there is no question about the most memorable one of the day. On a perfect Friday afternoon on the Quad inside Fort Adams, Lake Street Dive was performing the kind of soulful set that has helped the band sell out show after show all year when they called up Mavis Staples to join them for their hit song, “Bad Self Portraits.” (30 sec clip here).
The crowd, which was already on their feet, roared as Staples, who celebrated her 75th birthday earlier this month and will perform on Sunday at the Festival, sang the entire first verse and then belted out multiple choruses with LSD lead vocalist Rachael Price. I can’t think of a more soulful performance in my lifetime than that paring.
Large crowds gathered for high profile sets from Band of Horses, reggae genius Jimmy Cliff and indie soul groups PHOX and Jenny Lewis. Purer folkers like Jefferson Hammer & Anais Mitchell, Mandolin Orange and Noah Gunderson entranced folk fans with quieter sets while Reignwolf rocked so hard that his set felt a bit out of place (for me at least…but it made for nice photos). Ryan Adams closed out the day making a strong Newport debut as the sun set on the harbor and a sold out crowd of festivarians.
Check out a few shots of the day below from our own Vi Luong. More to come.
Last year I caught up with Mustered Courage in their hometown of Melbourne while on the grass clippings global tour. The quartet, which is Australia’s most popular true bluegrass band, is made up of one Texan and three Aussies and is currently on tour in the U.S. NYC can catch them at Hill Country on Monday, July 28th. See the full tour schedule here.
This week the band released Powerlines (Amazon & Spotify) a strong thirteen-track album that features great solos and a mostly old time sound. Of note is “Rosa,” a song that features with Aussie country star Kasey Chambers. Check out two other great tracks off the new record below.
Last night’s grass clippings garden session with Mipso was all that we had hoped for and more. Thanks to all of you who turned out and tuned in. Thanks to Mipso and the good folks at Concert Window for kicking off a series that we are now all the more excited about.
Here are a few photos from the night, including that time that Banjo rushed the stage and a pick of everyone piled in my studio during the rain delay.
Photos below by Jon Klar, Travis Emmett, Becky Straw and Joseph Terrell.
While we’re heading to Newport this weekend, I have to give a shout out to Rockygrass for an amazing lineup – one of the most exciting of the summer. This epic list includes Alison Krauss, Darol Anger, Della Mae, Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs, Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, Noam Pikelny & Stuart Duncan and more. It’s a lineup is loaded with great pairings.
Of note, the ladies of Uncle Earl (Rayna Gellert, Abigail Washburn, KC Groves, Kristin Andreassen), who I first encountered at Telluride in 2005 (that’s pre-grass clippings), will play their first show together in six years. This week, I caught up with Andreassen (Guitar, Fiddle, Harmonica, Clogging and Vocals) to get the backstory.
“We got together at Abby’s place in Nashville last week to practice, and it was amazing how it all came back. It’s been six whole years since this crew has played together, but it doesn’t feel like it could possibly have been that long. We’ve each had our own experiences in the time we’ve been apart (marriages, new records and tours, and even a baby) but I think our group sound is just stronger for what we each bring back to the band now.As some of your readers probably know, the Planet Bluegrass headquarters in Lyons was devastated by floods last fall. We got the band together at the urging of Rockygrass Festival Director Craig Ferguson, who wanted to do something a little special for this flood recovery year at the festival. Lyons was always Uncle Earl’s official home town (even though only KC lived here year round). This place always meant a lot to us, and we were very honored to be asked to play, so we rose to the challenge and that’s turned out to be a very fun thing. “
Uncle Earle plays Rockygrass at 5:30 PM MT on Saturday. Stream the festival via KGNU here. Check out this video of the band playing “The Girl I Left Behind Me” with Washburn’s mother-in-low (a.k.a. mother of Bela Fleck) and son Juno Washburn Fleck.
Also note that Andreassen is currently running a Pledge Music campaign for her forthcoming album, Gondolier. Sample tracks, pre-order the album and check out the video backstory here. Andreassen is a a force in our little Brooklyn bluegrass community and we’re pumped about this album.