If you thought the Saturday line-up was solid, you were definitely in for a packed day on Sunday. We figured out a plan to maximize our time and, despite the traffic, managed to catch the first bands of the day.
We caught the last song of The Deep Dark Woods, a band that has a country-rooted blues vibe. I’ll definitely be checking out more of them.
Sara Watkins played to her strengths and invited Jackson Browne out for the last song, one of many appearances he would make around the festival that day. I found out later that Sara and Chris Thile played some Nickel Creek tunes in the Kids’ Tent, and I’m kicking myself for missing it!
Stopped by to listen to Joel Rafael pay tribute to the roots of the folk festival. He has a great, weather-worn voice and he said his dream was coming true by being able to play at Newport, a recurring theme among artists all weekend.
We moved on to catch Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons. Walking through the tunnel into the fort, I could hear already hear them and immediately became a fan. Fletcher’s gravel-laden voice had a slight twang with a bluesy twist, which is quite possibly my favorite combo. He has a solo EP coming out in September, and I won’t be missing them when they play a gig at Rockwood later this month.
We tore ourselves away in order to hear the end of Trampled by Turtles’ set, and for good reason: they brought out Honeyhoney for a song, then brought out Ben Sollee and Brown Bird. Perfection.
Jonathan Wilson was up next on the Harbor Stage, and we spotted Jackson Browne again hanging by the stage and eventually up for a guest spot. Jonathan reminded me a lot of Jackson Browne, but he also had a distinct sound that highlighted his warm voice.
New Multitudes wasn’t really hitting the spot for us, so we ran back to the main stage in time for the best introduction you’ll ever hear for a musician. I saw Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires at GoogaMooga, and I was really looking forward to seeing him again. He brought the house down and even changed costumes mid-set. The Screaming Eagle of Soul does not disappoint.
Headed straight to the Quad Stage for Gary Clark Jr. — the artist I was most excited to see in the festival. We got there just in time and he launched into an incredible set of originals and covers of Muddy Waters and B.B. King. I can’t think of a single blues guitarist who can match what he’s doing right now, and I’m excited for what’s to come. He’s incredibly talented and he drew a number of other artists to the side of the stage. The crowd finally got up and danced — he said “Do what y’all want, man” to an audience member urging everyone to participate —and we stayed for the entire set, the first of the festival for us.
Racing over to the Harbor Stage, we saw hordes of people clambering up to share the stage with Tom Morello, rabble rouser extraordinaire, to sing “Worldwide Rebel Song.” We sang along from the back and cracked up as Tom invited the officers who were clearing the stage to sing along with him.
Made it back to the Fort Stage for The Head and the Heart and realized we had been hanging out for half an hour with the lead singer just a few hours earlier. Only at this festival! They finished their set with “Rivers and Roads,” and Charity killed it on vocals. We both agree that she should be utilized more on the next album.
At the Quad Stage again (thankfully everything was close enough to allow the back and forth), we listened to a few of Of Monsters and Men’s most popular songs before watching most of tUnE-yArDs’ set. Merrill Garbus is such a weird, wonderful artist. She even said “The greatest freedom ever is being a performer, because people think you’re cool when really you’re a huge dork. It’s really freeing for me!” She brought most of the crowd to their feet and got even more moving. Got us moving so much that we missed Conor Oberst completely.
Then came Punch Brothers. I’ve been a fan of Nickel Creek and Chris Thile’s solo work for a long time and have always liked Punch Brothers’ recordings, but hadn’t caught them live. Two songs in and we knew we weren’t going anywhere. Thile’s stage presence coupled with the group’s incredible musical skills got the crowd on their feet, and they played everything from their newest songs (“This Girl,” “Patchwork Girlfriend” dedicated to festival love) to my favorite, “Rye Whiskey.”
We cheered for an encore, but the festival had pretty strict deadlines. So Chris Thile came to the side of the stage and played three songs unplugged for us. Then he was joined by guitarist Chris Eldridge and bass player Paul Kowert for even more!
We ended with Jackson Browne back at the Fort Stage, and even with the returning rain, you couldn’t beat the supportive vibe on and off the stage. A number of artists joined him on stage — Sara and Sean Watkins, Dawes, Jonathan Wilson — for “The Late Show” and “Take It Easy.” Closing the festival and adding in Tom Morello was “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” a great choice. The sun finally came out, the reverb faded away, and a rainbow marked the end of a beautiful weekend that will not soon be forgotten. In fact, I’m already looking forward to returning next year.
I’m not sure where to begin, because this was one of the most incredible weekends of music I’ve ever experienced. My friend Christina (my partner-in-crime at Bonnaroo and The Head and the Heart) and I got there early on Saturday and packed our schedule with band after band after brilliant band.
The first band we heard was Apache Relay on the Harbor Stage. We were floored — they sounded amazing and really set the tone for the day.
We moved on to Robert Ellis at the Quad Stage (after finally figuring out how to get inside the fort) and were just in time for his ode to TV aptly titled “The TV Song.” Had just seen him in Central Park, so was happy to hear a little more.
Caught the last few songs of Brown Bird’s set. I had never heard them before, and they had a really cool sound that reminded me of a refined Gogol Bordello without the vodka-fueled insanity and thick accents.
Spirit Family Reunion was next on the Harbor Stage, and they sounded amazing. The harmonies were tight and the fiddler Mat Davidson (right) was especially on point. I loved that he couldn’t stand still while playing.
Missed Jonny Corndawg in order to get over to Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I can’t get enough of those guys. They played with Del McCoury and Tao Rodriguez Seeger, Pete’s grandson. Along with being legends in their own right, they also earned best dressed at the fest in my opinion. Classy guys all around.
Stuck around for Alabama Shakes’ first few songs, which included their hit “Hold On.” Had just seen them in Central Park, so I didn’t feel too bad about skipping out to see Deer Tick.
We arrived at the Quad Stage just as John McCauley declared “This is a folk fest, so now we’ll play a rock song.” This band never disappoints. They’re crazy and all-around entertaining to watch. Never miss a chance to see them.
We stayed for Sharon Van Etten, but we both weren’t really feeling it. Something was pulling us over to see First Aid Kit, and I’m so glad we went. Johanna and Klara Soderberg are stunning. Their music is sweetly sad, and I was thrilled to hear “Emmylou” live.
Dawes was next up on the main Fort Stage. Even if he had missed him there, we would have seen him at least five more times that weekend. Hardest working guest artist of the fest for sure! “When My Time Comes” was a highlight.
We ran into the bass player of Blind Pilot on our way to Iron & Wine. He was loaded down with four instruments and struggling! We offered to help, but he said he was almost there. A few songs into I&W — they were making us a little sleepy and Sam Beam even admitted that all the songs start the same — and we headed back for BP. Really enjoyable band, and the trumpet was a great addition. Christina and I liked them so much, we decided to skip Patty Griffin.
Paid our respects at the Guthrie Family Reunion for a bit — the Tijuana whore song was classic — but had a better time at City and Colour. He was solo for the fest, but engaged the audience incredibly well by himself. He’s funny and charismatic, and his voice is like honey. Beautiful lyrics too, despite many songs being about death.
We ended with a few songs from headliner My Morning Jacket. A pretty ominous storm was rolling in, but we wanted to at least hear a little. Luckily, we took our place in the crowd just as Jim James invited Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to the stage for a fantastic version of The Band’s “Makes No Difference.” We took off immediately after, made it to the car right before the deluge, and got caught in a flash flood afterward. But it was completely worth it.
We were beyond happy with the music all day. And we were shocked by how out and open all of the musicians were. Holding the festival to a smaller size allowed the fans to really have a great experience while also lending itself to collaboration among bands. We ran into so many musicians walking around, grabbing beers, playing cornhole, talking with fans or just watching other bands perform. It fostered such a supportive atmosphere and contributed to a really cool, creative vibe.
“Help unlock the secret locations on the map to secure free tickets to Of Monsters and Men.” I saw the message on Twitter and immediately clicked on for more information. Intel and MTV Iggy launched a Music Experiment website with a simple challenge: tweet #musicexperiment until the meter hits 100% to find out where to pick up highly coveted free tickets in New York City. I did my part and it didn’t take long for the locations to be unlocked. Luckily there were some additional tickets available on Monday, and I scored two from the amazing Star Struck Vintage store on Greenwich Ave. (Stop in — the owner is awesome and the selection runs from classic Army goods to a ’90s-era D.A.R.E. shirt.)
My friend Stephanie and I braved the derecho that was planning on destroying NYC that night to get to the Angel Oresanz Foundation, the same gorgeous venue where I was lucky enough to see the Florence and the Machine: Unplugged taping. We got there early, settled in with some drinks, were surprised to see one of my favorite old-timey bands Gelber and Manning playing pre-show tunes, and were completely in awe of (and disgusted by) side-show and burlesque entertainers Donny Vomit, Heather Holliday and GoGo Amy. We’re talking knife throwing, sword swallowing, flammable titty tassels, and nails going where no nails should go.
Of Monsters and Men came on around 9:30 and played an hour-and-a-half set. We’d somehow wedged ourselves into the second row and had a great view of the six-piece band from Iceland. Decked out in the night’s theme — 1930s cirque — the band launched into songs from their album My Head is an Animal, starting off with the first track “Dirty Paws.” The sound was really off for most of the night, but being so close it didn’t matter too much. The drummer was quite possibly my favorite. Every time I found him on stage, he was working a new instrument. First drums (with a great mask, by the way), then accordion, then cymbals — all while really committing to the ’30s pajama pants and suspenders look.
The band as a whole really looks like they love what they’re doing (minus the dramatic keyboard/trumpet player; she’s rocking the pained musician stage-face) and enjoy sharing it with their fans. They tried on hats and masks from the audience and led sing-along after sing-along of their “la, la, la”-heavy songs. (I think they have some variation of “la, la, la” in every song. Could explain why they’re all so damn catchy.) Very much looking forward to seeing them again on Sunday at the Newport Folk Festival. Couldn’t have asked for a lovelier appetizer to the upcoming music weekend!