Newport Folk Festival 2014: Day One

This past weekend was one of my favorite annual events, The Newport Folk Festival. It combines my two favorite things in the world music and water. You have a lovely view of the water from the festival grounds at Fort Adams, and since we take the ferry over I get to ride on a boat every day. I just wish it would stop combining with water in the form of rain, as it once again rained on this year. I have written about the festival over the past several years, so I am not going to rehash everything here about all the reasons why it is the best music festival in the world. You can go back and read my old posts if you want to read all my thoughts on that. The one thing I will emphasize this year, which I’m not sure if I’ve done before is that this festival more than any other I’m aware of is a musician’s festival. They love being there, and there is collaboration between artists at this festival like no other I’ve experienced. Artists, if their schedule allows, will come and hang out for multiple days. They don’t just come in play their set and leave. It means you get a lot of artists popping in to sing or play in each other’s sets as you will see when I go into specifics on the sets that I saw. They’ll also stop in play short acoustic sets in some of the small tents around the festival. Artists I’m aware of that were there for more than one day include Norah Jones, Nickel Creek, Hozier, Lucius, and Mavis Staples. There might be more that I just didn’t personally see. Dawes, who have played at the festival for a number of years now were only able to be there Sunday because of other tour commitments. Their lead singer even said during their set that they were only able to be there one day this year, they don’t like that, and they won’t let it happen again. The Newport Folk Festival has a heart like no other music festival and I just love it.

A few other thoughts about this year’s festival as a whole. The ferry lines were much more organized this year, so that it was much less confusing trying to figure out where you were supposed to get in line and which line was going to Jamestown and which was going to Newport. Of course I say that because it seemed more logical to me, but maybe not to everyone since one couple did wind up on our boat back to Jamestown when they meant to go to Newport. The other thing that was one of the best organization things I’ve ever seen at a concert/festival may be something they’ve been doing for years, but this is the first year we’ve experienced it. Usually the ferry we take over the morning gets us to the festival right after the gates have opened. On Saturday we took a slightly earlier ferry over, so we got there about 30 minutes before the gates opened. Instead of waiting until the gates opened to scan everyone’s tickets and do bag checks they basically had a little holding pen area set up. You walked through and got your ticket scanned and your bag checked and then they gave you a wristband that indicated you were all set to go in, so that was soon as the gates opened everyone could just walk right through showing their wristband to the staff. It was the most genius thing, and something so simple. As I said this might not be a new thing, but it was new to me and I highly applaud it.

Now on to the music. I’ll be doling these posts out over the next couple of days, so as not to create one ridiculously long post. So here’s the great music I got to experience on day one of the festival.


Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer

I was not familiar with Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer before going to the Newport Folk Festival. They’re very  much what you would think of when I say the words folk music. I honestly can’t say that this set had much of an impact on me. I spent most of it getting and then eating my lunch, so while I could hear the music I wasn’t paying super close attention. NPR Music recorded their set, which you can take a listen to if you want.


Phox played a delightful set. I was not that familiar with them before the festival. I only really knew the song “Slow Motion”, but I had seen enough good things written about them to know that I should be checking them out. They mostly just stuck to straight out playing their music. Monica Martin, the lead singer joked that she was sorry she wasn’t funnier, but it was too early in the day for her to be drinking that much. I imagine a show later in the evening and in a dark club might contain a little something more. It was enjoyable as it was too.

Noah Gundersen

I really enjoyed what I saw of Noah Gundersen. I didn’t stay for his whole set because I wanted to make it over to see Jenny Lewis, but the 3/4 of it that I saw was great. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Adams, and since he mentioned being super excited to see Ryan Adams later in the day I’m guessing Ryan is definitely one of his influences. His sister Abigail played the violin and his brother Jonathan played the drums. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on him in the future. It doesn’t look like anyone has put up anything from his actual set at Newport, so enjoy this sanctioned recording from a performance at KEXP.

Jenny Lewis

I was super excited to see Jenny Lewis at Newport Folk Festival. I always enjoyed her as part of Rilo Kiley as well as her solo stuff. NPR Music had a first listen of her new album up on their site right before the festival, and I loved it so I was looking forward to hearing her play some of it live. If you know anything about my feelings on live music, you know that what I really value in a performance is interaction with the audience or feeling like I’m getting a little something more than I would just listening to a recording. I can’t say Jenny Lewis really did much of that, but it didn’t really matter because she has such an electric presence on stage. She was dancing around and just all over the place in this super flowy jacket. She reminded me a lot of Florence Welch the times I’ve seen Florence + the Machine live. She sang a few Rilo Kiley songs in addition to her solo stuff, so that was a nice bonus. I did cut out of her set early because in my hardest decision of the festival in deciding who to cut short I decided to head over for the full Lake Street Dive set. I did listen to the rest of Jenny Lewis’ set on NPR Music’s recording of it, and you can too.

Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing this year. I imagined that they would be great to see live, and I was not wrong. They were great fun, and their soulful, but upbeat sound just demands to be danced to. The highlight of their set, and one of the best moments of the entire festival was Mavis Staples coming out to sing their hit “Bad Self Portraits” with them. I can not think of a more perfect song for Mavis Staples to collaborate on. It was made for her. It was such an amazing and unexpected moment. It is things like this that make the Newport Folk Festival beyond compare.

Band of Horses

I saw probably about the last half of the Band of Horses set. I don’t know what it is about me and Band of Horses, but even though I know many of their songs and they seem like a band I should really like I’m sort of ambivalent about them. As such I really don’t have much to say about what I did see. They seemed fine, and I’m sure people who are big fans were very happy with what they saw. You can check out NPR Music’s recording of their set and tell me that I’m nuts for not loving them as I should.

Ryan Adams

For awhile I thought I wasn’t going to be able to go to Newport on Friday because of a work conflict, and Ryan Adams was the act I was most devastated to think that I was going to miss. Luckily, things worked out so that I was able to go on Friday and thus enjoy Ryan Adams’ set. I saw him play in Baltimore a few years ago when he was touring his album Ashes and Fire. I loved that show. I still really liked this performance, but not quite as much mostly due to the songs he chose to play. Ryan Adams has a ridiculously huge catalog of music to pull from, and unfortunately he pulled from a lot of stuff that isn’t my favorite. I did like the new stuff that he played, so I’m looking forward to that album coming out in September. I was sad that there was zero harmonica, as I’m a sucker for his harmonica songs. I also enjoy his joking around on stage. This time I pretended to be Michael McDonald hanging out on a yacht and singing about eating lobster rolls. It was great, especially since I happen to like Michael McDonald and the music that gets classified as yacht rock. It was a great way to end the first day of the festival, and I’m really happy I didn’t miss it. If you did, NPR once again has a recording you can listen to.

Stay tuned for my coverage of day 2 tomorrow.

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