Maggie Rogers at The Anthem

On Tuesday night I made the trek down to DC to see Maggie Rogers at The Anthem. I didn’t actually set out to see Maggie Rogers 4 times in the span of a year’s time, but that’s what happened. I first saw her last November opening for Mumford & Sons at which point I started kicking myself for not having bought tickets to see her at the 9:30 Club in March. I refused to pay the scalpers the almost 10x the face value that they were selling the tickets for, so I missed that show. But a few days later when her show for the Anthem in October went on sale I snapped them up. Then she wound up playing at the Newport Folk Festival this year, and as you know my husband bought me tickets to see her at The Greek Theatre in LA. I would totally see her again too.

Having just seen her a few weeks ago I knew I was going to pretty much get the same exact set, but I was 100% okay with that because Maggie is such a great performer and so fun to watch. Plus I adore the music obviously. She did play one new song that she’s written but hasn’t recorded yet. That was a nice treat. I saw her say something about performing it for the first time last week at one of her Radio City Music Hall shows, so I was hoping we would get it too, and we did. Other than that it was pretty much exactly the same down to the stage banter for the most part, which she doesn’t have a lot of. Just swap out DC for LA and the names of the opening acts. (I really liked Now, Now who opened for her in LA. I did not so much care for Empress Of who opened for her at this show.)

I did learn one dirty little secret though. At the LA show as she was introducing the band she was pretty much saying that they were pretty much either all from LA or in the process of moving to LA. Maybe they are in the process of moving to LA. I don’t know. It seems like a reasonable place for a band to make their home base. But then when she was introducing them at this show LA was mentioned in relation to nary a band member. Then she said let me tell you a secret, I often like to introduce one of the band members as from the city we’re playing in even though they’re not actually from there, but this is my hometown (not really, but I guess Salisbury, Maryland is close enough) so I’m not doing that tonight. So now I know I was probably lied to in LA.

Despite the music being the same in some respects the show felt completely new to me. Mostly it had a lot to do with the lighting. I know they didn’t redo the lighting design in the last couple of weeks, but somehow it seemed entirely new to me. It could be because the obnoxiously drunk girls in front of me at The Greek kept me distracted from the show or just plain blocked my view. It could be because with the time change Maggie didn’t even take the stage until well after I’m normally in bed, so I was half asleep. It could be the difference between how they looked in an indoor versus outdoor venue, or it could be that I was sitting above them in the balcony this time. Maybe a combination of all of the above.

Seeing her this time was a much better experience than at The Greek mostly because of the stupid drunk girls in front of me at that show. I had no one in front of me at the Anthem and there were no annoying people anywhere around me. It’s a concert miracle since usually I attract the worst people at concerts. This show did finally make me figure out the only way I ever want to see shows at the Anthem again.

The Anthem is a fairly new venue. It opened 2 years ago this week in fact. It’s a mid-size venue holding about 6,000 people, which based on the number of shows that sell out there was sorely needed. The 9:30 Club where most of these people would have played previously is about a quarter of the size. So obviously it’s great to have a venue that can hold more people and give more opportunity to go to the show, but logistically it’s just a nightmare if you’re doing a general admission standing room show.

The one thing that I will never be able to get around is the location. The 9:30 Club is on the outskirts of the city and much easier to get to from Baltimore. Plus they have their own parking lot. The Anthem is built at this trendy new development called The Wharf with lots of shops and restaurants along the Anacostia River in southwest DC. It’s a freaking pain the butt to get to with DC traffic and there is nowhere to park. I know DC has fairly decent public transit compared to a lot of places, but there isn’t a Metro stop particularly near there (not that it would help me anyway), and the parking is severely lacking. I don’t understand how they built this and thought we don’t need that much parking. There is a lot there, but it’s not very big and I would never count on finding a spot there. If you’re trying to use Spothero to get a parking spot the closest non-valet place to park is 3/4 of a mile away. I’m definitely not trying to wait on a valet to fetch my car after a 6000 person show lets out, so I hoofed it from a ways away.  Catching an Uber/Lyft near there after the show is also a nightmare as I did that last time I was down there and was staying over with a friend who lives in DC. It’s just a terrible place to get to no matter how you’re trying to do it.

I know a lot of people who really like the Anthem as a venue. I don’t love it. I mean it’s not a terrible place to see a show. When I was there to see Brandi Carlile and it was a seated show with only about 2,500 people it was great. I don’t like crowds so the 6,000 person standing room thing is an issue for me not only because being surrounded by that many people in a crowd with no designated space makes me twitchy. Plus I’m short so I’m never going to be able to see over that many people. Also they do not have enough security to deal with getting that many people into the venue. I don’t know what they can do to make it better given the limited number of doors into the venue, but the lines to get in are insane.

I figured out the secret to avoiding all of this at this show though. They have box seats in the balconies that you can buy tickets to. The only drawback is you have to pick them up at will call, so if you can’t make the show for some reason you have no way to sell them and recoup your money. I get that they’re trying to prevent scalping these tickets, but for someone who only ever resells tickets at face value, it’s a little annoying for me. Stupid scalpers ruining everything. I have certainly changed my mind at the last minute about going to show in DC that I bought tickets for and resold them on several occasions. I guess this forces me to not back out unless I really have to rather than just I decided it’s too much of a pain to drive down to DC on a school night.

Anyway, I bought one of those box seat tickets this time even though it makes the already stupid expensive Anthem tickets even more expensive, and I will never go back. First it gets you into the venue through the VIP security line instead of you having to stand in the insanely long general admission line. Second you actually get a seat. I’m old and tired and I like to be able to sit down at concerts if I want to. Third, being in the balcony particularly in the first row like I was meant no one was in front of me and I could actually see the show. If I was on the floor I would have been lucky to get a glimpse of Maggie here and there. If I can’t get one of those tickets the next time I want to see someone playing at the Anthem unless it’s one of their rare fully seated shows, I don’t think I’ll go. Aside from the location and the parking issues having the box seat ticket solved all of the other things I hate about this venue.

It turned out to be well worth the trip down to DC on a Tuesday night even though I promise you I did a lot of whining about going, especially since I was going solo, before I left that night. I was like whose dumb idea was it to buy a ticket to this show? It was mine, and I’m glad I had it.

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Jade Bird at the 9:30 Club

This past Saturday I went down to DC to see Jade Bird at the 9:30 Club. I’m always saying that I wish concerts started and thus ended earlier because I am old and tired. This concert was finally just that, but of course the timing of an early concert worked out all wrong for me. Saturday was also the date of my friends’ annual Oktoberfest party. I hadn’t seen most of the people going to the party in about 6 months or longer, so I really wanted to go. Unfortunately their house is 45 minutes in the opposite direction of DC from my house, so it was kind of insane for me to go up there first and then drive down to DC for the concert, but that’s what I did.

The 9:30 Club was having some late night DJ festival or something over the weekend, so Jade Bird’s concert wound up being an early show, which normally I would have been all for except that it meant I got to spend even less time at the party. With trying to get everything over with in time to turn the venue over it seemed like all the routine concert timings got turned on their head as well. Normally for club venues like the 9:30 Club doors will open an hour before the opening band goes on. These days most opening bands will play for about 45 minutes, then there’s a 30 minute set change break, and then the headliner will play for about 90 minutes.

None of that held true for this concert, so I felt like I was barely there. I timed leaving the party to get down there right around when the opener should have gone on according to normal concert timing. That did not work out in this case. I got down there right around 7 and by the time I got in the venue, I was there just in time to hear Flyte play their final song. They must have started at 6:30. I don’t really know them, so I wasn’t super upset that I missed their set.

Flyte was just two guys with guitars, so it took them no time at all to do the set change, so after only 15 minutes Jade Bird went on at 7:30. She only wound up playing for an hour and 10 minutes, which was a bit disappointing. I wish she had played 3 or 4 more songs. I’m guessing with the late show happening she might have been only contracted for an hour and 15 minutes rather than the normal hour and half. Who knows. With missing the opening act and her set being so short it felt like the concert barely even happened.

Even though the set was short, Jade Bird was great. Unlike when I saw her open for Jason Isbell over the summer when it was just her and her guitar up on the stage, this time she had a whole band with her. She played some with them and did a few songs solo as well. She switched between the guitar and the piano too. She only has one album and one EP out, so she doesn’t have a ton of music to fill a set with. She played a couple of new songs, which I really liked. She also did a few cover. She did Blondie’s “Call Me” and what she called a cover of a cover with Gillian Welch’s version of Radiohead’s “Black Star”. She’s got a really powerful voice. I feel like there’s not too many female singers with a more rock edge these days. Granted there’s not many male rock bands these days either, but I appreciate her range from more indie rock to songs with a little bit more edge to them.

Even though it felt it was way too short, I enjoyed the concert. It also makes me wonder why we can’t use this timing for all concerts. I could be home in bed by 9:30 instead of that being the time the headliner usually starts. It would be great. Let’s start a movement!

Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre

As I have written about here before I have a concert venue bucket list. My husband likes to gift me travel for birthdays and Christmas and now that I’ve been done with my 50 states for a number of years now he’s moved on to buying me tickets for shows at the venues I want to go to. We went to Nashville a couple of years ago and knocked a few off of the list.

This year for my birthday he got me tickets to go see Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. I am amused that the gift managed to be both an early birthday present and a belated birthday present because the tickets went on a sale a few weeks before my birthday so he told me about it to make sure it would work with my schedule before he bought tickets (or really handed me a credit card and told me to buy the tickets so I could pick out my seats). Then since the show wasn’t until 3 months after my birthday it was also a belated birthday present.

The Greek Theatre was on my bucket list because it’s a historic outdoor venue located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that opened back in 1930. The land for the park was donated to the city by wealthy land owner Griffith J. Griffith (yes that’s really his name and not a nickname). He also donated money to have The Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory built, a fact I did not learn until after we went the Observatory. The venue is built into the side of a canyon in the park so the acoustics are great and you’re surrounded by trees. Although sitting in the venue you can’t actually see much of the nature that surrounds you. The seats slope down a hill to the stage with the Greek facade behind it, which is where the name comes from. You can’t see over the facade to anything outside and you’re basically just looking into the side of a hill with a few trees that you can see around the side of the seats if you turn around. I’ve been to prettier venues, but it was a great place to see a show.

Unlike a lot of outdoor venues where you have pavilion seats and a lawn that sort of separates the audience, this is just one large theatre of seats sloping down a hills, so you get the full vibe of the audience together, which was great for a show like Maggie Rogers who definitely had people on their feet bopping along with her. It also only seats just under 6,000 people, so it’s a fairly intimate venue.

As per usual I managed to wind up by the most obnoxious people. I have no idea what happened to all the people sitting in the row in front of us. It was a sold out show, so I would have expected every seat to be full. The half of the row in front of us was never full. There were some people there for the opening band Now, Now that disappeared, which I thought odd. I mean liked Now, Now, but why wouldn’t you stay for Maggie Rogers too even if you came for Now, Now. There was no one in the two seats in front of us for the opening act. Two girls eventually showed up soon after Maggie started, but then they only stayed for about 4 songs and left. I have no idea what their deal was given there is nowhere in this venue to really go and hang out other than your seats. The real problem was the two other girls in the row who got super drunk and were way obnoxious as a result. Since all the other people in the row disappeared they basically moved in front of us and were super distracting. They were paying no attention to the show and drunkenly hanging all over each other such that they were blocking my view because there was no way to see between them and I couldn’t see around them without getting the space of the person sitting next to me. I was happy they miraculously somehow chilled out and just stood there for “Back in My Body”, which is probably my favorite Maggie Rogers’ song unless “Light On” is, and they left right before she ended her set with that, so at least they didn’t ruin my two favorite songs.

Maggie was great as always. She is such a good performer and is super energetic and dancing around the stage. She reminds me of Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine in that way. She pretty much played every single song she’s ever released at this point. I kind of like going to concerts when artists only have so many songs to play so you’re guaranteed to hear your favorites. It’s always a bummer when artists get a few albums under their belts and that one song you love is something they for whatever reason never add to their live rotation.

I appreciate that three years into the crazy whirlwind that her career has been that she still seems completely overwhelmed and thankful about everything she is experiencing. I’m pretty sure she was crying when she came back out for her encore. For the encore she came out without her band and sang “Alaska” with just an acoustic guitar. It’s like going back to the beginning since that was the song that started it all for her and rocketed her into the public consciousness with the viral video of Pharrell Williams’ reaction to her playing that song during a class at The Berklee School of Music where he was sitting in as a guest teacher.

It was an excellent show, and I’m happy I finally got to see a show at the famous Greek Theatre. It will probably be my one and only because I don’t ever feel compelled to return to Los Angeles again. I’ll write more about the rest of our trip in a future post.

 

Brandi Carlile with Mavis Staples at the Mann Center

Friday night I dragged my husband up to Philly to see Brandi Carlile with Mavis Staples at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. He’s a good guy and indulges my whims to travel places to see concerts even though it’s not his thing. If you’ve been around this blog at all you know how much I love Brandi Carlile and that I’ve seen her many, many times in concert. Having already seen her in Baltimore this summer I probably would have skipped this one until I found out that Mavis Staples was opening. That tipped the scales and made me decide I had to go. The show being on a Friday made it totally doable.

This was my first time at the Mann Center. It’s a really pretty venue. It’s in the middle of a park and has a gorgeous view of downtown Philly.

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Had we been in different seats I probably would have been a lot happier with it. I usually have great seats at Brandi shows because I buy them through the fan club presale, but in this case I didn’t decide to go until well after tickets had gone on sale so I missed out on anything close in the orchestra level of the pavilion. In my experience usually sitting in the front row of the balcony is better than sitting in the back of the orchestra. Not so in this case. My husband called it the poor man’s Filene Center (the outdoor pavilion at Wolf Trap). They do share a lot of design elements and the Mann Center was built about 10 years after the Filene Center so I do wonder if they share the same DNA. Anyway, like at the Filene Center the upper level has box seats at the front, an aisle, and then the balcony seats. At the Filene Center though the balcony is raised up enough such that people walking in the aisle are essentially below where you’re sitting so they don’t block your view. Not so at the Mann Center. If you’re sitting the front of the balcony you just get a steady stream of people walking through the aisle in front of you (though it did taper off a lot during Brandi’s set). Also the part of the balcony we were in really should have been marked as obstructed view seats anyway. That end of the venue had the ADA seating on the aisle behind the boxes. At best you had railings and empty chairs from the little ADA alcoves in your view if no one was sitting there and if anyone was actually sitting in them there was no way to see at all.

I would have been marginally less annoyed if anyone sitting in that area throughout the night actually needed ADA seating. At both Merriweather and Wolf Trap if I’m sitting in the pavilion I’m used to having to show my ticket like 80 times on my way to my seat. I remarked on the fact that we didn’t have to show our ticket at all to get to our seat. Now I understand the problem with that because it was just madness. Some people who decided they didn’t like their actual seats or possibly even people from the lawn (it was kind of rainy thanks to Dorian so not a great lawn night) came in and sat down. As they obviously didn’t have anyone who needed ADA seating with them the usher did stop and ask, but then let them stay and told them they’d just have to move if anyone came for those seats. Then apparently some people from the lawn paid to upgrade to get into the pavilion and out of the rain and the usher just put them in those seats. Those people left early. Meanwhile back in the balcony people were just moving all over the place trying to be able to see anything. The girls who wound up sitting next to us for awhile moved down to the ADA seating when it opened up, which annoyed me the most of everything because they knew they were going to be blocking everyone’s view. Once they got down there they realized there were some open seats in the box below and went down there and left me to see about 3/4 of a song as unobstructed as it was ever going to get before 3 random guys appeared from nowhere and sat there. I’m really annoyed with the venue for not indicating that the view was obstructed when I bought the tickets because I never would have bought them and also for not enforcing where people were sitting and letting people who didn’t need ADA accommodations sit in those seats.

It was like the worst show to have terrible seats for too because it was so amazing. I finally realized at some point last week that I was going to see this show on the same day that The Highwomen, the new country super group Brandi Carlile is a part of along with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, were releasing their album. I figured there was going to be some fun around that, but this was beyond anything I could possibly have imagined.

First up of course was Mavis Staples. She just an amazing legend. She turned 80 this year and has been doing this since was a kid as part of her family’s band The Staple Singers. Now she’s pretty much the only one left, and she’s still out there doing her thing. She put out a new album this year and is still touring. She’s joy personified and I just love her.

Brandi’s set was amazing and full of so many surprises. The setlist was largely the same as when I saw her at Merriweather earlier in the summer aside from the songs she sang as collaborations with all her surprise guests. I knew she and Mavis would sing at least one song together, which they did a cover of Mavis’ father, Pops Staples’s, song “Friendship”. What I was not expecting was Lukas Nelson joining them on the guitar. He apparently was playing the BB&T Pavilion the following night and got into town in time to come over and join Brandi for a few songs. It was obviously unclear whether he was going to make it in time because Brandi welcomed Mavis to the stage and then a stangehand walked over to her and obviously told her that Lukas Nelson was indeed in the house.

Country music legend Tanya Tucker was also there. Brandi produced her newest album and has been doing a lot of promotion of it with Tanya. So of course Tanya came out and sang “Delta Dawn”. Her dog even came out on the stage at one point.

That was not nearly the end of the surprises though. Fellow Highwoman Amanda Shires flew in from Nashville for the night to help celebrate the release of The Highwomen’s album. She joined in for about half of Brandi’s set playing the fiddle. When she’s not off doing stuff for her own career she plays in her husband Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit. I’m always disappointed when I see him in concert and she’s not there. I told my husband now I have to be disappointed every time she’s not backing Brandi on the fiddle too. They finally sang some Highwomen songs as the first two songs of the encore. In between there was yet another surprise with Tan France from Queer Eye coming out on the stage and talking about how much he loves Brandi. They invited everyone back out on the stage to sing The Highwomen’s first single “Redesigning Women”, complete with cardboard cutouts of Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby the two Highwomen that weren’t there. Then Brandi sang “If She Ever Leaves Me”, which is one of the Highwomen songs that she sings. I had pretty much already figured she was going to sing at least that one. I wasn’t sure about any of the other songs that are sung by the other Highwomen or as collaborations, but “Redesigning Women” makes sense because that song can be a singalong with just about anyone.

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It was a magical show, and I’m so happy I went up for it. I would have been so disappointed to have decided not to go and then heard about all of the amazing things that I missed out on later. I can’t wait to see Brandi again in January at the Ryman where I’m sure so much more magic will happen.

J.S. Ondara at the 8×10

I finally saw J.S. Ondara at the 8×10 Club last night. The show was originally scheduled for May, but got rescheduled because as he told us last night he got invited to tour with Neil Young for a few dates. I had been very confused when I bought the ticket because I was able to buy it off of his artist website, but the show never appeared on the 8×10’s website. I felt like I had a ticket to some mystery show. I was planning on just showing up to see if there was in fact a show, but finally the day before the 8×10 finally sent out an email saying it had been rescheduled with the new date.

It turns out the date was just a couple of days after the Newport Folk Festival where J.S. Ondara was also playing. At Newport Dawes came out and sang about 5 of his songs with him, so I was joking about inevitably being disappointed last night when he didn’t bring Dawes with him to join him for half his set.

He didn’t need Dawes. He was amazing all on his own. It’s kind of funny because it almost seemed like he was two different performers. At Newport he really didn’t say much of anything. He just sat up on stage and played his songs. He certainly had the audience rapt with his music and drew a very large crowd to the smallest stage at the festival. As one review of the set I saw said people were so quiet you could hear banjos tuning at another stage.

That was not so last night. He talked a lot between all of his songs. He’s a great storyteller and very funny. He had the audience laughing all night. I suppose part of the difference is wanting to fit as much music as possible into a short festival set vs. needing to fill the 90 minutes he was probably contracted to play at the 8×10 when he only has one album full of songs. Some artists tend to fill that time with cover songs. He filled it with stories. Although he did do a Nirvana cover as one of his encore songs. It sounded so different I didn’t even realize what it was until the lyrics in the chorus finally tipped me off.

I wish the audience had been as great as the Newport audience though. I was surprised that the club was only about 1/2 full. I really would have expected that he’s gotten enough press at this point that he would have sold out the show, but I guess not. There was one super drunk woman right in front of the stage, who could barely stand up. I was like it’s Tuesday night and you’re in your 50’s. Why are you so drunk? She was loudly “singing” along to all the songs, which was super obnoxious given how quiet J.S. Ondara’s music is to start and how few people were there. I was not right next to her and she was often drowning him out.

Aside from a few obnoxious people in the crowd, the show as great. If you’re unfamiliar with J.S. Ondara he is from Kenya. He moved to America 6 years ago to follow his dream of becoming a folk singer. He was telling us last night that he loved Bob Dylan and didn’t really know enough about America to know where to move when he decided to come here and since Bob Dylan was from Minnesota he chose to move there, which given the weather was a big mistake. His first full length album appropriately titled Tales of America is all about his observations of America and Americans in the time that he’s lived here. It’s definitely in my top 5 albums of 2019. It was great to hear him play all the songs from it last night and to hear him tell stories about writing them. I look forward to seeing him again in the future some day.

2019 Newport Folk Festival

This year celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival and what a celebration it was! Jay Sweet, the current producer of the festival, says every year how he’s worried that he can never live up to what he’s done the year before. Every year I have gone has been better than the last, so I’ve never doubted that he could, but this year I think he might be right because I don’t see how he could possibly top this year’s festival. I’m going to let him try and it will always be great, but man this year just blew me away.

I always try to think of a way to frame these posts about Newport that aren’t just a list of all the artists I saw. This year I’m going to write using the theme “Only at Newport” and write about the things that happened that probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else, which is what makes this festival so special. Buckle in because it’s going to be a long one. (I won’t embed any photos or videos here because I didn’t take any because I believe in putting my phone away and being present for the experience, but there are tons of other people’s stuff up on YouTube if you want to find any of the performances I’m talking about).

Before I get to the music itself let’s talk about the people. Newport manages to briefly restore my faith in humanity every year. Usually with large crowds of people you expect everyone to be rude and out for themselves, but that is never my experience at the Newport Folk Festival. I had someone taller than me kneel down for an entire set so I could see over them. I had someone chase me down to hand me back the paper fan I dropped and made sure my backpack was zipped up tight before I moved on. Every time I accidentally bumped someone or they bumped me I felt like we were in one of those stereotypical skits about Canadians about who can apologize more profusely. It was nothing big, but just a lot of small kindnesses that I don’t normally see in crowds full of strangers. Everyone talks about the people at the festival being their folk family and it feels so true. I see the same people year after year. I don’t know them but every year I’m happy to see them set up their blankets in our same spot. The artists also seem to feel that way about the festival. They don’t just drop in, do their set and leave. They hang around. They sit in with each other. They hang out in the audience like the rest of us to see people play. I saw Anais Mitchell more than once. At one point when she was right next to me I wanted to stop and tell her how excited I am to see Hadestown in October, but I didn’t because I’ve heard artists say one of the things they love about Newport is that they can hang out and people don’t bother them. Also as an aside. the number of people I saw reading print books between sets made me extremely happy.

The musical collaborations and the way it honors the past while looking to the future are really what make this festival something special. There were some real once in a lifetime moments at this festival. The artists too always seem to know how special it is to play this festival. I watched multiple artists tear up during their sets this year from people who were playing the festival for the first time talking about how they’ve been fans in the audience and are now standing on the stage to veteran artists like Rhiannon Giddens being overwhelmed and literally sobbing her way through the song “Mama’s Cryin’ Long”.

Newport is also special because it actually makes a place for women artists. There are tons of memes about how male centric other music festivals are showing if you erase the names of the male artists from their lineups there’s almost no names left on the posters. Not so with Newport. On Friday I spent the entire day listening to nothing but female artists excepting the set put together by the Cook brothers, but they had plenty of women out to sing with them so I think it counts. I started off the festival listening to Yola, who although I don’t have the numbers, I suspect deserves the Jim James award, which is the unofficial Newport award for the artist who sits in on the most sets over the weekend. She seemed to be everywhere, and I was here for it. I ended the day with the live debut of The Highwomen, the new country supergroup composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. It seriously was like all my favorite people on stage together with Jason Isbell backing them on the guitar, and being at the festival allowing them to pull in other women like Yola and Sheryl Crow who sing on the album with them but who obviously won’t be there at all potential future shows they might perform. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. It just made me even more excited for that album. Also, I know whatever tour dates they do as a group are going to be very limited and this set just made sure that I’m going to pretty much go anywhere and pay anything to see one of them.

Saturday featured a set called “Songs for Beginners”, which was a set full of different artists covering Graham Nash’s album of that name. As M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger said this is pretty much the most Newport thing ever. What other festival would put something like this on? I’m pretty sure this is what Jay Sweet managed to pull together to replace an artist that pulled out at the last minute as I watched this set time go from unannounced to this. But that’s the kind of festival this is that he could get various configurations of artists playing the festival to collaborate together and cover this album as a set. Speaking of cover sets, that’s practically what Dawes’ set was. They were playing their first album “North Hills” and almost just acted like the backing band for other people to come out and sing their songs including of course aforementioned Yola singing “When You Call My Name” and Jason Isbell singing “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor”. If you know anything about me you know I love Jason Isbell and Dawes and this was absolutely amazing. I also got to see Dawes support J.S. Ondara for a bunch of songs during his set.

I absolutely hated to leave the Dawes set early, but there was no way I was going to miss out on the mystery set curated by Brandi Carlile titled The Collaboration (with the female symbol all over it). My Newport rule is if there’s a set with no actual artists’ names on it, be there. This absolutely was the highlight of the festival for me. It was the first all female headlining act in the 60 years of Newport. It featured an amazing lineup of women including all of the Highwomen, Judy Collins, Yola, Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, Amy Ray, Maggie Rogers, Lucy Dacus, Rachel Price, Jade Bird and so many more I know I’m totally forgetting. They all sang various songs for the first half of the set, and then the big surprise (which by that point in the night really wasn’t that much of a surprise as rumors had been flying all day) was Dolly Parton! I never thought I would see Dolly Parton live and to see her in this amazing venue sharing the stage with so many amazing women was more than I could ever hope for. She sang “Just Because I am a Woman”, “Eagle When She Flies” and “Jolene” with all of the Highwomen, did a duet of “I Will Always Love You” with Brandi Carlile, and finished off the set with “9 to 5” with pretty much every female artist at Newport. There really are no words.

Sunday didn’t feature anything nearly as monumental as that, but there were lots of smaller moments that were just as special. That’s why I have never actually believed that the festival can’t possibly live up to what happened the year before because I don’t ever need things to be bigger to be better. It’s the small, special, only at Newport moments that make each year better than the last.

During the set changes at the main stage they have artists do short acoustic sets in the Late July Family Tent, which they don’t announce until right before they happen. Devon Gilfillian blew me away during the short part of his set I saw on Saturday, so when they announced he was playing the family tent I booked it over there to see more of him. I’m so glad I did because it was the best. He handed out all kinds of musical instruments to the kids for them to shake and be his percussion and then got down off the little stage and danced around in the crowd with them. I love falling in love with new artists at Newport and Devon Gilfillian definitely has a new fan.

Speaking of finding new artists at Newport and artists being like family, one of the great things is watching artists come back over and over again and getting to see them grow. I remember seeing Hozier play the small Harbor stage shortly after his first album came out and thinking I do like his music, but he’s not much of a performer yet. Now he’s been back to the festival multiple times and was a commanding presence on this year’s main stage. It was one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend. As soon as he released the song “Nina Cried Power” featuring Mavis Staples I told my husband this is happening at Newport. Since Newport releases their lineup one artist at a time over like 5 months I kept waiting for them to add Hozier to it. He was one of the last people announced and though Mavis didn’t have her own set at the actual festival I knew she was doing one of the after shows and she’s often there whether she’s on the official bill or not. Aside from the Highwomen knowing this song had to happen was the thing I was most looking forward to going into the festival this year. Listening to them sing that song together live was everything I dreamed it would be. Hozier also invited Brandi Carlile out to sing her song “The Joke”, which they dueted together. Also amazing.

I also love that Newport doesn’t have any real headliners. Whenever I tell people I’m going to the Newport Folk Festival each year they always ask me who’s headlining and I have to try and explain that I don’t know. In recent years the final Sunday set has become some sort of collaboration around a theme, and it is my favorite thing ever. It’s usually mostly various groupings of artists who have been at the festival over the course of the weekend, but there are always some surprises. It astounds me how every year there are artists who seemingly show up to sing one song during the entire festival during the closing set.

This year’s final set was a singalong in honor of what would have been Pete Seeger’s 100th birthday. They passed out song books for everyone to sing a long with this year. It was wonderful. When looking through the book to see what we would be singing upon seeing “Rainbow Connection” was one of the songs my husband said Kermit better be here. Well guess what? Kermit the Frog was totally there and sang it with Jim James. He even did the Kermit flail. I mean. I also cracked up a little when they were introducing the main band for the set saying who they were and what band they’re a part of, but when they announced Janet Weiss they announced her as drummer for hire, since she just quit Sleater Kinney. We also got to hear Judy Collins sing Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, which Stephen Stills wrote for her. Dancing and singing along with the crowd to the doo, doo, doo, doo breakdown at the end of this song was incredible. How is this real life? My absolute favorite part of the set was singing “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” with Mavis Staples, Hozier, and Our Native Daughters (Rhiannon Giddens, Amythist Kyah, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell), on vocals (their voices together are fire, seriously go look this one up), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on brass, Jason Isbell on guitar, and Phil Cook on harmonica. We closed out the festival singing “Goodnight, Irene”. The set was a magical way to end the festival and something I hope becomes a tradition. I’m already counting down the days until next year.

 

Tedeschi Trucks Band at Wolf Trap

This past Wednesday I went to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band at Wolf Trap with Shovels & Rope and Blackberry Smoke opening. Since it was on a Wednesday night and staring at 7, I bought us tickets inside the pavilion since we wouldn’t be able to get there early to get decent lawn seats. It turned out to be somewhat of a good idea since it was all thunderstormy until right when we got there. Though it never rained after we were actually in our seats, so we would have been fine on the lawn I guess. The problem with sitting inside for this particular show is that I screwed up my back again and then slant of the seats was killing my back the entire time. I would have been much happier lying on a blanket on the lawn.

I’ve seen Shovels & Rope open for other bands several times. I don’t super love their music. I don’t generally sit down and listen to it, but they are fascinating to watch perform since they both play so many instruments.

I had never heard of Blackberry Smoke before I went to this concert, but they wound up being my favorite act of the night. They play that sort of Southern guitar rock that I have a very big soft spot in my heart for. I really enjoyed their music and it was perfect listening for sitting outside on a summer night. They also played a cover of “You Get Lucky”, which is one of my favorite Tom Petty songs. I gathered from the program that they put this song out on an EP and Amanda Shires plays on the recorded version with them, which means they’re running with other artists I love. It makes me wonder how I’ve missed hearing about them in their 20 year career. Now I know.

I sadly didn’t love the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s set. I do love their music, but apparently only when it’s limited in their studio albums. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that they would be a complete and total jam band live because it makes total sense, but it didn’t and they are. I do not care for jam bands. I grow very bored by songs that go on for 15 or 20 minutes with long instrumental jams. There was a whole lot of that at this concert. I was also curious about the fact that they didn’t play their current single “Hard Case”. I wasn’t super disappointed by it, but I thought it was odd. They did start off with my favorite song “Anyhow”, so I could have been happy to leave after the first song. My husband who really didn’t enjoy the concert said we should have if that was the case. I still adore Susan Tedeschi’s voice, but I’ll stick to listening to it in album form from now on.