After missing Friday's edition of the Newport Folk Festival, I entered Fort Adams State Park on Sunday determined not to miss a single thing. Of course, with 4 official stages all going at once, such a thing is impossible, as I re-learn every year.
Starting the day off at the Quad Stage, The Haden Triplets came on bright and early at 11:05 am. Considering the last time I saw Petra and Rachel perform live, it was at the Middle East in Cambridge with That Dog, the circumstances couldn't have been more different. Instead of 90s post-grunge guitars, they performed beautiful 3 part harmonies over classic country and folk songs. Dedicating their set to their father, the recently departed Charlie Haden, they covered classics like Bill Monroe's "Voice From on High" and The Carter Family's "Single Girl, Married Girl."
After The Haden Triplets, I headed down to the Harbor Stage for John Reilly & Friends. Yes, it's that John Reilly of such films as Magnolia and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It was curiosity that brought me down, but he proved he's not just a musical novelty act. He even addressed it by declaring that he had some nerve playing folk songs at the Newport Folk Festival. His set was very stylistically similar to The Haden Triplets, and even covered "Single Girl, Married Girl." Having Becky Stark sing backup sure doesn't hurt.
I dragged myself away from John Reilly to head over to the Fort Stage for Pokey LaFarge. He kept the old-timey vibe going with his set of roots and Americana. Hailing from St. Louis, he always puts on a fantastic live show, so I didn't regret leaving John Reilly. He brought a 6 piece band, including a horn section, and played laid back numbers like "Bowlegged Woman" and "Sweet Potato Blues," the names of which perfectly describe the band's sound. Fighting the throwback act tag, their set was exquisitely timeless. Plus, the entire band was by far the best dressed of the entire weekend.
I made my way back over to the Quad Stage for my most anticipated act of the festival, Benjamin Booker. For an act to play one of the most prestigious festivals around without an album out, and with this much hype behind him, he better be amazing. Booker destroyed my expectations and rocked the entire crowd. Declaring right from the start that this wouldn't be a folk show, Booker delivered on his promise. His 3 piece band played harder than any other act I've seen in my 8 years of attending Newport, showing what Nirvana could have sounded like if Kurt Cobain had explored his blues influences more. He had the entire Quad Stage crowd up on their feet through almost his entire set, of which the highlight was "Have You Seen My Son." It was an interesting choice to slow it down with more mellow material for his last few songs, but it might have just been to bring us all down to earth for the rest of the day. His set was definitely the highlight of my weekend, if not year.
Houndmouth was up next on the Quad Stage. Led by the three way vocals of Matt Meyers, Katie Toupin, and Zak Appleby, I don't think I've ever seen a band have as much fun and play as loosely as they did on stage. Opening with a Funkadelic cover is always an interesting choice at a folk festival, but they made it their own and pulled it off. "Penitentiary" was just a revelation live and their pure joy at playing was contagious. After missing their set last year, it was spectacular to catch them this time around. I'll be keeping an eye out for them when they come around on their own, hopefully as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, my desire to catch everything made my head down to the Fort Stage for Deer Tick. They've been involved with the festival for 5 straight years, and this was their main stage debut. To celebrate, the band took the stage decked in white tuxedos and yacht hats with a horn section. It was a triumphant set, with the biggest singalong of the weekend during "Ashamed." I don't think any band has come as far as they have since their debut at the Harbor Stage from bar band to overtaking an entire festival. I give it 2 more years until they're headlining the whole thing.
Of course, I wasn't able to catch all of Deer Tick since I had to make it over to the Harbor Stage for Lucius. It took me a while to warm to Lucius, but they officially won me over with their set on Saturday. They brought an updated version of 60s girl group pop to the festival and delighted the crowd. Their matching outfits and makeup can seem too gimmicky at times, but they clearly have chops, playing everything from keyboards to drums during their set. Mavis Staples even joined them for a rendition of "Go Home." When you can win over Mavis, you're doing something right. It was just another set of pure fun.
Puss n Boots closed out the Harbor Stage on Saturday. Norah Jones was the obvious draw for most in attendance, but they are truly a 3 person band with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper as equal members. I've never truly understood the Norah Jones thing, but she may have truly found her calling in an all female country band that plays Neil Young and Wilco covers. They were also joined by Mavis Staples for "Twilight." The crowd might have come for the A-list star, but they got a great performance from a band that I hope is around for a while.
Jack White closed out the Fort Stage and the night. Playing an absolutely firey set filled with more White Stripes songs than I could have expected ("Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "Hotel Yorba," "Ball and Biscuit"), he found new life with well known songs. It took a bit to accept that he has a top professional backing band, and some of the charm of The White Stripes is lost without Meg on drums, but you quickly got over it and just enjoyed the music. White made a comment that Newport was the first time in 12 years he could walk around a festival and just enjoy music without being bothered. And it was true. He was a regular fixture all day, walking around with John C. Reilly, and watching sets like Benjamin Booker. It's one of the truly magical things about the Newport Folk Festival. It's a huge name festival, but it's still as small and intimate as a club show. It's more of a community than an event.
Check back soon for our take on Sunday's edition of the Newport Folk Festival.