Day two of Newport Folk Festival was an absolute dream. The schedule had the two people I most wanted to see and then just got better from there. If you’ve paid any attention to me at all you know I adore Brandi Carlile and have an amazing love affair with Jason Isbell’s music. I was sorely disappointed when I realized that Brandi Carlile would be playing my favorite venue a few days before Newport on the day I was going to be in New York City. I was equally sad to realize that the only time Jason Isbell would be near Baltimore was as the opener for My Morning Jacket on the Sunday I would be at Newport. So you can imagine my delight on the respective days that Newport announced during their rolling line up announcements that they would both be playing the festival this year. They were amazing as expected, but there was so much more to love too.
I had heard some of The Suffers songs before and enjoyed them, but quite honestly hadn’t really paid much attention to them until this festival. They certainly made me sit up and take notice. They are an amazing soul band from Houston. Kam Franklin, their lead singer had the audience eating out of her hand. It’s a tall order to get a festival audience that engaged as the first act playing at 11 am. She did it with aplomb. I definitely look forward to being able to see more of them in the future. There doesn’t appear to be any video of their performance up, but enjoy this official music video instead.
Luluc is an Australian singer. I only saw a tiny bit of her set while killing time between some other sets. I know her album was Bob Boilen from NPR Music’s favorite of last year, but I just could not muster up that much love for her. What i saw was fine. She has a lovely voice, but her music just isn’t something I’m super excited about.
Traveller is a newly formed country super group composed of Robert Ellis, Jonny Fritz, and Cory Chisel. Apparently they had been hanging out and throwing around the idea of singing together. Jay Sweet, who books the festival said he would love to offer them a spot if they wanted it. At least according to what they said during their set everything was really brand new as they didn’t actually get their act together until a few weeks prior when they felt the festival breathing down their necks. They were quite enjoyable for something that had only recently come into existence at somewhat of the last minute. Enjoy some of their music and if you’re an NPR nerd be sure to read the delightful intro.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear were another act I was really looking forward to seeing. They are a mother son duo out of Kansas City. They play what I can only describe as porch sitting music. If you imagine people playing folk music on a porch that is what this is. They amazingly only recently started playing together and have been taking the indie and folk music scene by storm since last year. They were delightful.
As I already mentioned this set was one I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint at all. I had known Jason Isbell from his time with the Drive by Truckers, but hadn’t paid much attention to his solo career until I saw him two years ago at Newport where I first really heard songs off his album Southeastern. My love has been burning brightly ever since. This year I was looking forward to hearing the songs off Jason Isbell’s incredible new album played live and happily this set was full of them. It’s a testament to how amazing the album is that there were many people around me in the crowd singing all the words to the songs even though the album had only been out for a week at that point. I know I go on and on about it, but I just love his music so much. He is a slayer of words. The lyrics to his songs just kill me they’re so good. One of the most poignant moments of the whole festival for me was standing in a crowd of people as we all sang along to “Cover Me Up”. Such a beautiful moment. You can listen to the entire set thanks to NPR Music and you really should.
This year was the 50th anniversary of the year Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. It changed the face of folk music and the festival forever. As part of that the final headlining act on Sunday was a secret set they were calling Celebration of ’65. In addition to that they decided to throw in a couple of other surprises along the way with some unannounced acts listed on the schedule. I’m pretty sure Jay Sweet would make the entire festival a surprise if he thought he could get away with it. I buy my tickets every year the second they go on sale long before a single band is announced so I’d be okay with that other than the fact that the line up announcements every few days are the one thing that keeps me going during the worst months of winter.
At any rate the first unannounced band on the schedule was My Morning Jacket on Friday night who played their own set and then stayed on to play as Roger Waters’ backup band. I don’t care that much for My Morning Jacket so that surprise didn’t excite me too much. Saturday’s surprise however was an entirely different story. It started off with this introduction, “In 1969 his set was cut short due to the moon landing. Please welcome back to the stage to finish out that set Mr. James Taylor.” I love James Taylor so much. I was beyond excited that he was there. He only played 5 or 6 songs, but he started off with my favorite, “Sweet Baby James” so it didn’t matter what he played after that I was happy. He played one song off his new album but the rest were perennial favorites like “Fire and Rain” and “Carolina in My Mind”. It was a beyond delightful surprise.
I wanted to see Jose Gonzalez but was debating between him and Sufjan Stevens whose set was at the same time. Luckily for me the decision became easy a couple days before the festival when they announced Sufjan Stevens would be playing in Baltimore in November. I got tickets to that and then felt free to chose Jose Gonzalez without any regret. I still only got to see about half the set because it also overlapped with Brandi Carlile. The part I did get to see was lovely. His songs are just beautiful.
Words cannot express what an amazing performer Brandi Carlile is. I’ve seen her multiple times before, so I knew how great she is and could not wait to see her at Newport. She’s played Newport in the past, but in not in the years since I’ve been going. It was great to get a chance to see her there. She was wonderful as always. She said she wanted to try Newport once without drums and a backing band. She said she wasn’t sure she could get away with it, but I of course love when people try something different live so I totally thought she did. It was just her and the twins up on stage with their guitars and a piano. Their performance was fantastic and just continues to sell me on the desire to see them any time they are anywhere near where I am. It was the perfect end to my second day at Newport.