Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Live Shows: United Folk Festival, Wilcox Park, Westerly, RI 7/1/17

Photo by Ken Sears
In its second year (but kind of its first), the United Folk Festival swung for the fences with their line up. They brought in some of the biggest national and local names in modern Americana music for a free show in a park/arboretum in downtown Westerly, RI. The location and set up couldn't have been more perfect. Two stages were set up on opposite ends of a section of the park and alternated throughout the day. There was no overlap and no having to decide between two artists. You only had to turn around and face the other stage between bands. 

This did lead to my only complaint of the day. The crowd was definitely the sit on a
Langhorne Slim
Photo by Ken Sears
blanket and lounge kind. There was virtually no energy or signs of enjoyment from the crowd besides some clapping at the end. This could have also been since the majority of artists booked fell into the quiet, mellow end of the folk spectrum. While they were all great (Full disclosure: Bringing an eight year old with me caused me to arrive a bit late and leave a bit early, so I didn't see everyone), a little more energy interspersed would have helped out a bit. The set up did allow for breaks throughout the day, which is great if you have kids with you. My daughter and I were able to move to the side and play some frisbee while still being able to watch the performances.

My Bubba
Photo by Ken Sears
As for the artists, some truly stood out. Langhorne Slim was the first artist to ask the crowd to stand and move closer to the stage. Before that, the "no chairs or blankets" zone was virtually vacant for over five hours. He was able to get the crowd to start moving and actually stand, and he transformed that energy into a great performance. His blend of relatively mainstream energetic folk really requires that, and you could tell a good chunk of the audience had almost been waiting for permission to show energy. It was my first time seeing him play a set completely solo, and this might be the best way to see him. He opened with a pair of new songs before settling into the hits like "Changes." His live show is a must see, even if you don't think you're a fan.

Michael Nau
Photo by Ken Sears
Swedish/Icelandic duo My Bubba played much earlier in the day, but were one of the highlights. It would be easy to lump them in with other female folk duos like The Secret Sisters or First Aid Kid, but My Bubba have a truly unique sound. They blend traditional folk (as in the kind from 100+ years ago you learn in music history courses) with a modern sensibility. It creates a truly unique feel since they aren't truly traditionalists nor are they progressive.

On the more progressive side of things, Providence's The Low Anthem brought their completely experimental, atmospheric folk sound to the United Folk Festival. Folk instruments are just about the only thing that ties them to the folk scene. They're much more art rock than folk. As my daughter put it, they sounded like music from a horror film. Yeah, they were pretty great.

Michael Nau was the artist I knew the least about that won me over the most. He has a pretty standard take on the whole folk merging with country/rock thing, but sometimes you just want that. His recordings are much more laid back than his live show, so seeing him in person was a welcome surprise.

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