Yesterday, the Newport Folk Festival, our perennial favorite event of the summer, announced that Sufjan Stevens will perform at this year’s Festival in late July. Since seeing Stevens perform at The Beacon Theater in Manhattan a couple weeks back, his was one of the three faces that I’ve been hoping would pop up on that lineup the most. I figured this would be something that Newport Producer Jay Sweet would go after, but I wondered if Stevens would jump on board because he’s got such a good thing going on his own.
For me, Steven’s latest release, Carrie & Lowell – a deeply reflective and personal picture of an artist mourning the loss of his mother that left him at a young age – has been the most significant album released this year. It’s not that the album has one or two songs that are my favorites, it’s just that no other album has made me contemplate myself and my relationships quite like this one. The level of vulnerability that Stevens has in this project and his ability to take the listener into his pain, his mourning and even his faith to make sense of it all is pretty hard to match. You can’t read his February interview with Pitchfork or listen to “The Only Thing” and not recognize that his authenticity is strikingly different than the comfortable depth found in loads of albums released each week – the latter being a vibe in line with our non-committal culture.
I don’t mean to glorify Stevens or zing any artists that don’t get as personal as he does, but when a songwriter gets this vulnerable, their shows are all the more memorable. Newport claims to be all about presenting the most authentic acts of our time and it would be hard for me to say they did that this year if Stevens wasn’t on the bill. I’m excited about most of the lineup so far this year and will undoubtedly be running from stage to stage to try to catch them all, but this addition takes the taco in my view and I know a lot of people will disagree with me on that. The truth is that Stevens’ show at the Beacon was like an artful memorial service for his mom and it stuck with me for days. That’s the kind of encounter I crave. I guess I wouldn’t have a bluegrass blog if I was into songs that make you feel great.
All that to say, welcome to the party, Sufjan, and come find us at the Fort if you’ve got a nice tattoo.