Saturday was definitely the highlight of the Newport Folk Festival both due to the weather and the music. It was a sunny day, with fairly low humidity, a nice breeze, and temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s. Pretty perfect if you ask me.
The first thing I did on Saturday morning was check out what was going on in the Sennheiser-Paste Ruins and Sound Lounge. Basically inside some of the ruins of the fort there’s a little area where bands would go in and play short sets. The area was sponsored by Paste Magazine and Sennheiser headphones. You could grab a pair to borrow and listen better to the music, though I didn’t and could hear just fine. Saturday morning I saw Frank Turner do an acoustic set in there, which was fantastic. I would have loved to see some of the other bands play in there, but there’s only so much time and I wanted to catch as many people as possible.
Unlike Friday I did not stay put in front of the main stage. Paul and I set up shop there and I left him there all day as he doesn’t care that much about music and was only at the festival to humor me. He was happy to sit there and mess around on his tablet and phone listening to whoever was on the main stage while I was running around between stages seeing as much music as I possibly could. I didn’t see much of him on Saturday. Though when I returned at one point I found him taking a nap like this.
One of the really nice things about the Newport Folk Festival is that it is fairly compact so it’s easy to run between stages and catch as much music as you can, whereas it was almost impossible to see overlapping sets at Firefly because it took too long to walk between the various stages.
And before we get into the music one more thing I love about Newport is how family friendly it is and that there are people there of all ages ranging from the tiniest of babies to people who are old enough to have been there at the first festival 54 years ago. I love seeing all the little kids dancing around and the babies in their giant protective headphones. So adorable. Newport is helping to bring the next generation up with some great music and I love it.
First up on the main stage on Saturday was Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. They performed a series of videos that they posted on YouTube called “The Van Sessions” in which they covered songs while playing in a van. For some reason the 17th video in the series, a cover of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That” went viral.
I was only really familiar with that series of videos and didn’t really know of their actual music, but I quite enjoyed it.
After their set was over I ran around to the Quad stage to catch the last half of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s set. The New Orleans based band had the crowd up and moving. Though most of their music isn’t something I would sit and listen to they were a lot of fun live. You can listen to their set from NPR Music.
I stuck around the Quad stage for The Lone Bellow. I managed to sneak up close to the side of the stage and be under the tent in the shade, so it was perfect.
The Lone Bellow was by far the best set I saw during the entire festival. I had seen them twice before saw I knew they put on a good show, but this was even better than I had seen before. I had been planning on leaving their set early to see Frank Turner’s full set since I had seen them live before and aside from the short set of his I saw earlier in the morning had never seen him live. After I saw what was happening though there was no way I was leaving The Lone Bellow early. They had the huge crowd totally into it. People were up and dancing and clapping. They sang one song that they said was a waltz and had people waltzing in the aisles. They are hugely high energy dancing around the stage, telling stories, and having tons of fun while they’re playing. They even finished out the set with “Teach Me to Know” and Zach Williams their lead singer decided to go down into the crowd and finish off there. The rest of the band followed, but you could tell it totally wasn’t planned which made it even more special. I knew there was no way any other band was going to play a more perfect set during the festival and I was right.
After The Lone Bellow finished I hot-footed it back over to the main stage for Frank Turner. I had heard that he was great live as well and was really looking forward to seeing him. He did not disappoint either. He had the crowd participating as well and was quite amusing. I wish I had been able to see his whole set live. At least I can go back and watch what I missed thanks to NPR Music.
Once Frank Turner was done I went back over to the Quad stage to see the last half of Shovels & Rope. I saw them earlier in the week pretty much standing right up against the stage, so this set where I was standing at the back of a large crowd wasn’t nearly as good for me, but I’m sure for the people who were much closer in and who were there for the whole thing it was great. You can listen to their set via NPR Music.
After Shovels & Rope I saw maybe the first 3 or 4 songs of Father John Misty’s set. The small portion of the set I saw was just plain odd and from tweets that I saw about it, it seems to have only gotten weirder after I left. I like a lot of his music, but I can’t say that he’s someone I’m very interested in as a person. Father John Misty is the persona of Joshua Tillman. He puts out a very hippy/cult leader kind of vibe. I found all his commentary kind of off-putting because at least to me it sounded like he was saying folk music had sold out and was bashing the festival in which case I wanted to be like no one forced you to come here and play. He was entertaining, but in an uncomfortable way. Aside from some microphones being thrown about I’m not sure what else happened after I left, but it sounds like the whole thing was very strange.
I left Father John Misty early because I wanted to see Jason Isbell on the Harbor stage. Isbell is a former member of the Drive-by-Truckers. I enjoy some, but not all of their music. He left the band a number of years ago and has been flying solo since. I actually much prefer his solo work. He did play a mix of songs from his solo career and songs he wrote when he was with The Drive-By-Truckers. He made a joke about people wandering up to the stage and wondering who this white dude covering Drive-By-Truckers’ songs was. There wasn’t anything particularly special about his set, just some really great music that I’m glad I got to hear live.
Next up I saw most of Colin Meloy’s set. He is the lead singer of The Decemberists, but also has a solo career. He was playing solo at the festival, but some of the other members of The Decemberists are part of a band called Black Prairie who were playing the festival on Sunday and were already there so they popped up on stage and played a couple of Decemberists songs which the crowd went wild for. You can see his set here.
I left Colin Meloy a little bit early to get back to the main stage in time to see Saturday’s headliner, The Avett Brothers. They of course were fantastic, full of energy. The crowd was singing and dancing along the whole time. I would expect nothing less. You can watch their set courtesy of NPR Music.
Stay tuned for the final day of my Newport Folk Festival coverage, and if you missed it check out my recap of Day 1.