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Newport Folk Festival 2010: Day 1

August 2, 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010: 10:15pm

The gates open. The line is divided into people with coolers and without coolers. Everyone has their chairs and blanket pulled tight next to them. And so it begins.

We get in and we make camp over by the Fort Stage. 4 chairs, 4 blankets. With hundreds of people still coming in through the gate, everyone is expecting the music to start at 11:30pm with Nneka, Sarah Jarosz and Liz Longley. That is, unless, you had a suspicion that What Cheer? Brigade would pop up somewhere.

A few of us were walking over to the vendors when we heard drumming in the distance. We thought it was someone’s sound check but as we grew closer, we heard horns. We didn’t know how magical it would be. I know that sounds stupid, but that is absolutely the word I would use. What Cheer? Brigade was easily a crowd favorite that weekend because they were the crowd. The people who weren’t sitting at stages or amongst the vendors were more than likely with the Brigade. This photo was taken from the first set that they did.  They asked the crowd to follow them to another location and we all did. But halfway there, we realized that they totally brainwashed us with their awesomeness into following them around! If they told us to follow them into the water, we more than likely would have.  So, we continued on to look at the vendors and then returned to the Fort Stage to await the arrival of Nneka.

Saturday was a day of artists that I didn’t know a lot about. But some part of that is really nice, you know? That’s the case with Nneka. Just watching her perform and listening to her speak without really knowing her as an artist was peaceful.  She was calm and collected through her performance; she seemed like one of those wise older people who had seen it all.  Except with a huge voice and a funky backing band.  Her political talks and poetry between her songs made her whole being and meaning come full circle. It was almost like you needed those pep talks in and out of songs to know who Nneka is. The music itself was really great too. Her bass player had this breakdown with the drums in where he played bass and pretty much scatted at the same time. Unfortunately, her set was over after six songs. But those six songs set the stage for a spectacular lineup and a fantastic day.

After Nneka, we headed on over to the Harbor Stage to check out Blitzen Trapper. Another band that I don’t know a lot about, the 6-member band from Portland, OR took the stage where there was at least one synthesizer set up. Any band playing a folk festival with a synthesizer made me a little uneasy. But they tore up that stage and the crowd loved it. They all were entertaining musicians and, from what we stayed for, they had a really solid set. I believe we missed the last two or three songs of there set as we made the trek back over to the Fort Stage for Brandi Carlile.

Probably my favorite artist of Saturday, Brandi Carlile started out her set with her cello player playing an incredible looped introduction. She then walked out to a crowd that, as soon as she picked up her guitar, got incredibly quiet.  Echoing Fleet Foxes from 2009, she said, “That’s the quietest I’ve ever heard a festival crowd get in my life.” But by the end of her set, nobody was quiet. Let me tell you, Newport never skimps on female vocalists. Boy, can she wail. The very gracious singer cranked out some of her new and old songs, as well as three covers (which is one of the things Newport is known for). The Beatles “I’ve Just Seen a Face” was the fifth song played. Then when she played Johnny Cash’s  “Folsom Prison Blues,” she asked everyone to get up on their feet. I’m pretty sure this was the icebreaker of the day because I saw very few people in their seats.  It was almost impossible to be stuck sitting with all the energy her performance gave off.  She ended her set with a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” which was beautiful and haunting at the same time.  After Brandi Carlile, we headed over to the Quad Stage for Horse Feathers.

I remember reading a review of how boring Horse Feathers’ album Thistled Spring is. Well, if it’s anything like their live performance, and I’m sure it can’t be much different, then that reviewer must have been deaf. Horse Feathers was great. I’m a sucker for strings and banjo, and Justin Ringle’s voice is so distinctly wonderful. Plus, any band who’s violinist whips out a handsaw to play is A-OK in my book.  Horse Feathers was a great way to relax in the mid-afternoon before hopping back in the crowd for Andrew Bird at the Fort Stage.

Andrew Bird is an incredible musician. He is one cool guy. He acts cool, he plays cool and he is just fantastic. I can’t say much else except it was a pleasure to have seen him in one of his only performances this summer.  The same goes for John Prine.  He’s a great artist and a folk legend. A wonderful songwriter and a great voice of folk music. Another tradition of the festival is really cool collaborations, and both Bird and Prine had some during their sets.  Andrew Bird teamed up with Calexico for two songs.  And then Jim James joined John Prine on stage to perform “All The Best.” What a fantastic way to end the first day of the Newport Folk Festival.  You better check out what Sunday brought! Plus, a special interview with The David Wax Museum!


-Kyle Kuchta

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