Favorite Newport Collaborations of 2012

Charity Rose Thielen of The Head and the Heart joined Sara Watkins for her Sunday set on the Fort Stage – Photo by Richard Kluver/grass clippings

Any of us fest-goers who attended this year’s Newport Folk Fest would probably agree that his or her legs are tired from all the running around that the amazing lineup required (our fearless leader Garland Harwood and the equally fearless GC photog Richard Kluver took on the brunt of the running) … although, any lingering blisters are more than worth it. But after spending some QT backstage (read as: line-less iced coffee, local beer, and “chillaxin” folk artists galore), it became quickly apparent that us laymen weren’t the only ones enjoying ourselves on a massive scale. The Head and the Heart’s Josiah Johnson may have summed up the feel of this weekend for the artists themselves best when he likened the three-day event to a summer camp.

This “Camp Onawana” camaraderie feel was never so apparent as during what made up some of the best on-stage guest appearances a music-lover could ask for. Below are some of my favorite moments from the weekend’s cameo appearances.

Jackson Browne with Sara Watkins:
In my (humble) opinion, Sara Watkins’s set included two of the best cameos of the entire festival. Jackson Brown’s sit-in for her last couple of songs was undeniably incredible, but it was his guitar and vocal additions to “Take Up Your Spade” that gave me goosebumps. The song alone tends to produce a stinging in the eyes, but something about hearing Jackson Browne, a man who knows a thing or two about gratitude and laying ground, singing: “Give thanks for all that you’ve been given. Give thanks for all you can become. Give thanks for each moment and every crumb. Take up your spade, and break ground…” It was a magical moment.

Yim Yames with Conor Oberst:
Y.Y. – or J.J., if you prefer – joined his Nebraskan Monsters of Folk bandmate for a duet on oldie-but-goodie “At the Bottom of Everything.” Yames walked on stage with a closed magenta-hued umbrella for the number, in which his and Oberst’s friendship outside of the music was palpable.

Charity Rose (of The Head and the Heart) with Sara Watkins:
The female face of THATH volunteered her voice to fellow fiddle player Sara Watkins on the Everly Brothers song “Tenderly,” which is on Watkins’s latest album, Sun Midnight Sun. The song features Fiona Apple on the album itself, and it was a tossup as to who Watkins would choose to bring out for the song during her chilling NFF set. But the secret was revealed when Charity accidentally approached the mic during the beginning of Watkins’ set, to which Sara said, “Not yet for you, Charity … so, the secret is out.”

Ben Sollee with Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
It was the young meets old when cellist Ben Sollee joined the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band for “A Closer Walk With Thee” – a song played in remembrance of ‘Uncle’ Lionel Batiste, the notable New Orleans drummer who died this month. One of the incredible aspects of a festival like this is being able to see artists spanning generations on one stage, speaking the same language regardless of age or origin.

Conor Oberst with First Aid Kit:
I have a long … and tepid … love affair happening with Conor Oberst, but even this infatuated fan didn’t recognize him until his cameo on the Swedish duo’s “King of the World” Saturday afternnon was almost over. Oberst ran onto the stage almost three quarters of the way through the tune as fans looked on a little confused … but once that recognizably sharp-hitting voice was heard, we knew who it was. And then just like that, it was over. He was gone. And my love lives on.

Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) with Conor Oberst:
When I ran by the main Fort stage before Oberst’s own set on Sunday and saw Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith soundchecking on guitar, my initial thought was that something must have happened to Oberst, and a Dawes-esque replacement was in the works. Oh, the panic! Not at all what happened, friends. Rather, Goldsmith was Oberst’s resident right-hand man on guitar for the entire set, lending backing vocals as well. My heart over-floweth.