Newport Revival Weekend

Thanks to COVID-19 the 2020 Newport Folk Festival was canceled. Anyone who knows me or who has been reading this blog for any length of time should know that Newport is my favorite weekend of every year. It is a completely soul restoring event that has been sorely needed in the last few years and ironically was unable to happen this year for some of the reasons that it was needed more than ever.

In lieu of an in-person festival, this year they put together a series of online events to celebrate the history of the festival and use it as a fundraiser for the Newport Festivals Foundation, which supports music education and this year has extended their work to support artists who are out of work due to COVID-19.

They dug into their 60 year archive and put together a radio festival that mimicked the actual festival as much as it could. It ran for the same hours that the festival happens every year. It included broadcasts of some complete sets from previous years as well as themed compilation sets full of songs from the full history of the festival. That mirrors what the actual festival does as there are always compilation sets full of a number of artists who will come out and sing together around a common theme whether it be a tribute set to an artist like the Grandma’s Hands Band set, which was a tribute to the music of Bill Withers that they replayed as part of this or something like civil rights songs. They even had a surprise set on the setlist for the weekend. Jay Sweet who organizes the festival has long said that he would love to not even let people know who is playing until they show up to the festival that day, so he always sprinkles in some sets over the weekend that are listed just as a surprise set. The surprise set for this was a Joni Mitchell set from the early years of the festival.

It was actually really great to listen to festival for the most part. I spent a lot of time texting back and forth with a friend who is also part of the Newport Folk Family. It was nice to relive some of the things from the festival that I really loved. I could picture being at the festival and seeing them. There were also a couple of sets that I was happy to get to hear because I missed parts of them the first time around because there are three stages and you can never be everywhere at once. It was cool to listen to some of the music from long before my time as well. There were a couple of things like the set from Jack White that I skipped the first time around and this made me know that I made the right decision about. I’m also not sorry that I skipped out on the Beck set because it was raining and I don’t care that much about Beck, though I will say that now having listened to it he definitely gets the festival and did not get up and do a “Beck set”. He really made it a set for Newport. I always love when artists realize the importance of where they are playing and don’t just get up and do what they do everywhere.

In addition to the radio festival they did special after hours events as well just as there are during the actual festival. I never go to those because I am done with crowds by the time the festival proper is over for the day. On Friday night you could pay for an airing of one of the three concerts they did for Mavis Staples’ 80th birthday last year. I had really wanted to go to one of them, but they were in New York, Nashville, and L.A. and based on timing I just couldn’t make it happen. So one of the few good things about this pandemic has been able to see some things like this that were just hidden away in a vault somewhere and which probably would never have seen the public light of day otherwise. It was wonderful and I’m really glad I got to experience it even in this limited way. As I’ve said many times before Mavis Staples is a national treasure and it was so delightful to see so many artists I love celebrate her.

Saturday night was another paid show. This one involved an actual concert at Fort Adams where the festival is held every year. Deer Tick who are a local Rhode Island band who have a huge connection to the festival did an in-person socially distanced (for the band, no audience) concert that they recorded with special guests who appeared from their respective homes. As many online concerts as I’ve watched since this all began it was really nice to see an actual band performing together rather than connected in their little boxes via Zoom or whatever even if I still had to watch it through a screen.

Sunday night there was a free film called Our Voices Together. Looking back now they never said it was going to be a documentary about the festival, but that is somehow what I got in my head it was going to be and is sort of what I wish it had been. I was looking forward to seeing footage of previous festivals and hearing people talk about the history of the festival. There was a little bit of that, but mostly it was favorite Newport artists playing songs either alone or in the little Zoom box style with their bands that I was just saying feels a little soulless compared to people actually playing together. I mean I love all the music and the artists that were in the film, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting or necessarily hoping for. I will say that the cover they did of “What the World Needs Now is Love” featuring a metric ton of artists from festivals past was amazing and I wish they would at least make that one song available to rewatch again since the entire film is only available for 24 hours from it’s premiere.

I’m really glad they pulled all this together. I definitely ran through the gamut of emotions listening and watching everything all weekend. Sunday I did hit an emotional low point of sadness thinking about there not being an actual festival this year. There were a lot of tears, but there were also lots of moments of joy. I sincerely hope we can get our act together so that there will actually be a Newport Folk Festival in 2021 because it cannot come soon enough.

TV Diary: Meh Edition

In my previous TV Diary post I promised I would have another post talking about recent shows I watched that I didn’t really care for. Some of these shows are decidedly not great while others were just not for me.

Stargirl

I debated whether I should put this show in this post or in the previous one, but since the other post had a lot more entries already I decided to write about it here. Stargirl is yet another CW superhero show. This is by far the hokiest of all the superhero shows I’ve ever watched. It centers around a teenage girl who discovers that her new step-dad is a former superhero and suspects that her own long missing father was superhero Starman, who was killed when she was a small kid. His former staff seems to want her to be it’s new master and now she’s training with her step-dad and some other outcast kids she recruited. It’s okay. I don’t love it. I find that I’m more interested in the non-superhero parts of the show, but there aren’t enough of those to sustain my interest. I’ve still been watching it while my husband has it on, but I’m not sure once we ever get more television back that I will keep watching.

Hollywood

I barely payed attention to this Netflix show created by Ryan Murphy about old Hollywood. I wasn’t really intersted in the story at all and I found it highly unrealistic that so many women and minorities were in positions of power in Hollywood. That’s not even true today.

Perry Mason

I never read any Perry Mason books nor watched the original series, so other than knowing Perry Mason was a lawyer I didn’t really know much about him. I gather that this show creates an entirely new backstory for Perry Mason and at least thus far is pretty much connected to the original properties in name only. In this version Perry Mason is a private detective. It’s a show that I can see some people enjoying, but I just don’t care about it. I’ve been in the room when my husband is on it, but I really couldn’t tell you what’s going on at this point.

You’ll Be Gone in the Dark

This is a documentary series on HBO based on the book of the same name by Michelle McNamara about her research into the Golden State Killer that eventually led to his arrest, unfortunately after her untimely passing. I’m not really big into true crime stuff. I didn’t read the book either. I can see this show appealing to people who did read the book or who are into true crime shows. This is just one that is not for me.

Outer Banks

I would say that this show is not for anyone, but Netflix just renewed it for a second season this week so I guess it is for some people. I thought this show was so bad that I didn’t even finish it. When I realized we were only halfway through I pulled the plug. There was no way I wanted to watch another five episodes of this show. It’s some sort of teen murder mystery thing set in the Outer Banks with the addition of the divide between people based on the working class people who live there and the second home summer people. I thought it had potential as a nice soapy, teen drama, but I did not find it interesting or engaging at all.

New Music Friday: Sleep at Night by The Chicks

The Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks (ask me how many times I had to remove Dixie from this post due to habit) released Gaslighter, their first album since 2006 today. I hadn’t really cared that much for the first single they released off of it, the title track “Gaslighter”, but I really do like the full album. In fact I think “Gaslighter” is my least favorite song on the album.

It appeals to me musically. Lyrically I’m agnostic. It doesn’t really speak to me at all. It’s mostly from what I’ve read and can tell by listening to it a sort of catharsis for Natalie Maines writing about her very messy divorce from Adrian Pasdar. I don’t care that much about celebrity relationships, so I’m uninterested in whether all the things she sings about actually happened or not. I do really like the sound of most of the songs though, and since I’m rarely paying that much attention to lyrics these days I’m happy to just have some new songs that bring back the sound of The Chicks.

I’m sharing “Sleep at Night” because I think it’s one of my favorites from the album. The album was produced by Jack Antonoff, so it definitely has a little bit more of a pop vibe. There are still a lot of typical country elements here though. This song is perhaps one of the poppiest, but there is still the very recognizable banjo in the mix.

New Music Friday: Light by Michael Kiwanuka

“Light” the song is actually a song off of Michael Kiwanuka’s album Kiwanuksa, which camr out last fall. Last week he released a new animated video for it highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll just let him share what he had to say about the song.

“The way so much of the world has been designed has often caused me and so many other Black people psychological damage,” Kiwanuka says. “We so often hear that we are lesser than because we are Black. We are a label, a token, a statistic, and we can be dehumanized. I’ve spoken about it in my music but I wanted to declare in words that I’m so proud to be Black. We are so beautiful and have such a wonderful history of strength, overcoming, talent, innovation, creativity, invention and love.”

Also go check out this NPR list of A Century of Black Music Against State Violence.

TV Diary Quarantine Edition

Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever is a cute rom-com teen show. Devi is high school girl who everyone thinks faked paralysis after she had hysterical paralysis following the death of her father. She is trying to move on with her life without really confronting her feelings about her father by chasing a crush she has on a popular boy at school and fighting with her nemesis and competition for top of the class. I really loved this show and it’s about much more than the teen romance stuff. It’s about family and friendship and culture and the show does not let Devi off for being a selfish jerk for significant portions of the show.

Newsradio

I never watched Newsradio when it was on in the 90s though I had a cultural consciousness of it to some degree. I definitely got wrong how some of the storylines play out. In my head the show had more a narrative arc like Friends did, but it really does put the situational in sit com as the stories mostly reset every episode. I assumed that the show spent seasons leading up to the relationship between Dave and Lisa, but it turns out they got together literally in the first episode of the show and for the most part anything related to their relationship occurred within the confines of single episodes rather than across seasons. I definitely didn’t like it as much as I like some other 90s sitcoms, but it was a fine distraction. I did not however like Jon Lovitz as the replacement for Phil Hartman after his tragic death.

Quiz

Quiz was a three episode mini-series about the scandal that rocked the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in which a husband and wife were prosecuted for cheating to win the million dollars. I was surprised that I had no recollection that it happened until watching the show and realizing that the news broke on September 11, 2001 so there were a few things I was paying a bit more attention to. I thought it was a great miniseries that felt just about the right length and I may have enjoyed the beginning episode that went into the development of the show itself more than I cared about the whole cheating part of it.

Looking for Alaska

I read the book Looking for Alaska and remember liking it well enough so I was interested in watching the show, especially since it was created by Josh Schwartz who has a history of using great music in shows. Ultimately though I think I am way over shows, books, movies, etc. about pretentious unrealistic teens at boarding school (or camp or college). It’s been awhile since I’ve consumed anything with that bent that I haven’t been annoyed by. I just didn’t care about these characters or any of the charades they were getting up to.

High Fidelity

I definitely watched the movie High Fidelity around the time that it originally came out, but I never rewatched it and didn’t have many memories of it. You would think that it would be a movie that I adored, but it never really was. It might have been the Jack Black of it all. It’s been so long I couldn’t tell you. I think I also read the Nicholas Hornsby book at some point, but again like two decades later I can’t really say how faithful this tv version is to either of the previous properties. The show does gender flip the lead with Zoe Kravitz playing Rob, John Cusack’s character from the movie. She is wonderful in the part. I loved, loved, loved this show. It basically combined all my favorite things. It’s got fantastic music. There are great romance stories and friendships. Plus it was really funny. I laughed out loud almost every episode and I rarely laugh out loud while watching tv. I cannot wait for more episodes of this show.

Sweet Magnolia

I gather Sweet Magnolia is based on a book or possibly series of books, but I’ve never read them. It follows three woman in a small town outside Charleston. One is a recently divorced mother of three whose husband cheated on her and got another woman pregnant. One is a chef, and the other is a lawyer. Lifelong friends they decide to go into business together and start a spa. It’s basically Hallmark Channel level of quality. It’s not really very good, but the level of fluff was about the speed I was looking for in the height of the COVID crisis.

America to Me

I had wanted to watch this docuseries following kids, teachers, and administrators at a diverse high school in suburban Chicago when it first aired on Starz, but I don’t have Starz and it never moved to any other streaming platform. In the recent rush by companies to make content they have related to race available for free, Starz made this available for free for a weekend. I jumped at the chance to finally watch it and since I have no plans these days watched all 10 episodes in two days. It’s so, so good. It really perfectly encapsulates so many issues with race and racism that our country faces. It should really be required watching. I wish Starz would make it available more widely since not too many people subscribe to Starz and who are like me and even if they’re interested are not wanting to pay to buy it episode by episode.

Love, Victor

I never read the book that it was based on, but I liked the movie Love, Simon so I was looking forward to this show. Love, Victor is spinoff of the movie with the title character texting with Simon as he has heard tale of Simon’s own coming out love story as he himself is trying to figure out is sexuality under less ideal circumstances than Simon had. This show was originally slated to be a Disney+ show before they punted it to Hulu. It definitely has a vibe of being aimed more towards the pre-teen set as a result. I didn’t connect with this show as much as I did the movie. I didn’t care about the drama surrounding Victor’s parents’ marriage. Even though based on the opening lines this was supposed to be the story of someone who was less supported in the coming out process to address some of the criticisms lobbed at Love, Simon ultimately it kind of felt the same way. I think I’d rather watch a show about Mia, the girl that Victor dates for much of the first season.

TV Diary

Twenties

Twenties is the newest show created by Lena Waithe on BET. She doesn’t actually star in this particular show though, which I didn’t realize before watching it. It follows a group of black women navigating their twenties in Hollywood. It’s very stylized with lots of nods to old Hollywood. The characters were great. I liked the relationships and found it quite amusing. I really enjoyed the show and very much look forward to new episodes at some future date whenever TV can actually go back into production.

I Am Not Okay with This

I Am Not Okay with This is a short series on Netflix. It shares the same DNA with The End of the F***ing World, as they are both based on graphic novels by the same author and produced by the same creators. I didn’t care for this nearly as much as The End of the F***ing World. It just seemed like a poor imitation to me. I think the only reason I even finished it was because it was really short both in episode length and count and it came out at a time that there was a lull in other television.

The Sinner

It’s obviously no secret that I am tv lover and watch way too much of it, so I have no idea how this USA show got to three seasons without me even knowing it existed. The only reason I even heard about it in season three was because Matt Bomer starred in it, and I love me some Matt Bomer. As best as I can tell the seasons sort of stand alone with separate storylines connected by Bill Pullman as the detective investigating whatever happens that season. Matt Bomer’s character is very messed up in this show and winds up pulling Bill Pullman’s character down with him. It was an okay show, but I didn’t like it enough to bother going back and watching the first two seasons and I won’t be watching any future seasons either.

Feel Good

Feel Good is a Netflix show following comic Mae who is recently sober and her girlfriend George who is still hiding their relationship from her family and friends. I liked this show while I was actually watching the episodes, but for some reason it just kept falling out of my head when I wasn’t watching it. I kept having to remind myself what it was every time I saw it in my Netflix list and it’s not something I’ve thought a whole lot about since I finished it, but if there’s another season I would watch it.

Unorthodox

I did not read the book this very limited Netflix series is based on. When we started watching the show I didn’t realize it was only 4 episodes and then felt like I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I looked it up and it turns out the show is only very loosely based on the story. Pretty much in concept only with an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn fleeing her marriage. That’s pretty much where the stories diverge completely. It’s worth watching though.

The Baker and Beauty

Daniel Garcia helps run his family’s Cuban bakery. After publicly turning down his girlfriend’s proposal in a video that goes viral he winds up running into supermodel Noa Hamilton and getting drawn into her orbit and throwing all their lives into disarray. This was some mindless summer entertainment that was perfect for keeping my mind off of COVID-19. It’s based off an Israeli show. I don’t know if the title is literal translation of the Israeli title, but it bugs me that the show is not called Beauty and the Baker like it should be. I did also hear someone say it should have been called Beauty and the Yeast, but that’s probably taking it a bit too far.

Messiah

Messiah is a Netflix show about a mysterious man who appears first in the Middle East and then the United States. Some people say he’s a new messiah and others believe he is a con man. The show ends on what could be considered a cliffhanger, but could also serve as a satisfying although somewhat ambiguous ending since Netflix cancelled the show after one season.

Cybill

If you don’t recall the show Cybil it was a sitcom from back in the 90s starring Cybill Shepherd and was the first acting role that Christine Baranski had as more than a guest star. Cybill is a C-list actress doing guest star roles, commercials, and bad movies. Baranski plays Maryann her best friend, a rich divorcee who spends much of her time plotting revenge against her cheating ex-husband. It’s a goofy show and something I only saw a few episodes of when it originally aired because the humor was too adult for me at the time and I didn’t really get it. Now as an adult I get it, and it was kind of a mindless fun show to watch on Amazon Prime.

New Music Friday: Seeds by Rissi Palmer

Rissi Palmer is a Black female country artist. In 2007 she was the first Black woman to make it onto the country charts since 1987 with her song “Country Girl”. Here newest album Revival that came out last October extends beyond her country roots combining them with gospel, R&B, and jazz in a collection of songs mostly about race and racism, though the very personal song “You Were Here” talks about her miscarriage.

The whole album is great, but I’m going to share the song “Seeds” here. It’s a fantastic protest song and one of the songs that most has a country feel to it.

New Music Friday: Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton

At the beginning of this year I said I wanted to highlight country songs by female artists in my New Music Friday posts because the Nashville country machine does not support women even though there are many fantastic female country singers out there. With the advent of COVID-19 I drifted away from that a little bit to talk about some songs I was feeling in that moment, and then I just stopped writing these posts all together because I just didn’t have the mental energy to do it.

Well, I’m back at least for now and am getting back to my original mission while also trying to promote some black, female country artists which are rare in a music genre that like many others pretty much appropriated the roots of the music from black people and then locked them out of it. Take a look at all the work Rhiannon Giddens has done examining the history of country music and its roots in black music.

Because mainstream country music has the issues it does regarding both women and people of color, I had not heard of Mickey Guyton before last week. She had already written the song “Black Like Me” for a forthcoming project, but in the midst of everything that has been happening recently with the black lives matter movement she quietly dropped it on black out Tuesday.

It’s a very simple song about being proud to be black, but also point out that it makes her life difficult in ways that white people don’t experience. It’s a great song and perfect for this moment. Go take a listen.

New Music Friday: We’ll Make It Through by Ray LaMontagne

A few weeks ago Ray LaMontagne released a new song called “We’ll Make It Through”. He just posted it online with no other information so it’s unclear if it’s something he wrote specifically for this moment or something he wrote previously that seems to fit it perfectly and thus he decided to put out into the world.

It’s a beautiful little ballad with a message of hope. The plaintive harmonica evokes a nostalgic feel as does the accompanying video to remind us that we as a people have made it through tough times before and even though this time seems particularly challenging and is for sure the most challenging thing most people alive have experienced in their lifetimes, life will go on in some form and we will in fact make it through in some way. I like that it feels hopeful and sad at the same time because even though we as a species will make it through not every individual person will and our lives are all going to be forever changed no matter what. It’s not a rah rah we’re all in this together kind of song that often gets churned out during trying times that I often find cloying. It’s the kind of song that makes me feel like yeah this is hard, but in some way we will be all right on the other side of the darkness eventually.

New Music Friday: Dreamsicle by Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell’s newest album, Reunions, was released today. By now you should know what a huge fan of Jason Isbell I am. I’ve been looking forward to this album ever since he played “Overseas” from it during a couple of concerts I saw him at last summer. Given that was the song he was playing out on the road I was shocked that it was never one of the singles from album released before the album was out. I kept waiting for it because I loved it so much, and I had to wait all the way until today. I still adore that song and I think the opening line “Used to be a ghost town but even the ghosts got out” is such a brilliant lyric. Jason Isbell is hands down one of, if not the best lyricist currently working today.

As much as I love “Overseas”, after he released “Dreamsicle” as the final single before the album release I was pretty sure that was the song I was going to write about here today. I waited to listen to the whole album this morning to make sure there wasn’t anything that stood out to me more. The whole album is great, and I can’t wait to really dig into it and listen more closely to the lyrics instead of having it on while I’m working, but “Dreamsicle” is still the song I want highlight even though you should do yourself a favor and go listen to the whole album.

Again this is just such a brilliantly written song. Jason Isbell can evoke a mood and a scene in a song like no one else I can think of. This song is a perfect encapsulation of that. The chorus and the melody evoke this sweet nostalgia of summer nights sitting outside and eating Dreamsicles as a kid, but if you dig into the lyrics of the verses it paints an entirely different picture of a broken family. I just love it so much. It’s perfect. Who knows how much more new music we’ll even get in the latter half of this year, but even if its an avalanche I suspect this is going to be my favorite song of 2020 and everything else is going to have to work really hard to unseat it from that place in my heart.