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Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

on July 30, 2012, 9:35pm
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Saturday, July 28th

apache relay 3 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Apache Relay – Alex and Ani Harbor Stage – 11:30 a.m.

Amidst some heavy humidity, a standing-room-only crowd still showed up for Apache Relay’s set, which opened the Alex and Ani Harbor stage on Saturday. The Nashville troupe didn’t disappoint, putting on a solid set of roots rock. Frontman Michael Ford Jr. easily steals the show with his ragged, heady voice, breaking and twanging at times to enhance the band’s Americana with a rustic edge. As attractive as he sounds, it’s hard not to fix your eyes on the big man with the guitar, Mike Harris, all lovable cool with his shades and shaggy beard. Ben Sollee joined the band for a few numbers, including “The Watering Hole”, the first of many cameos throughout the fest. Songs like “American Nomad” and “Power Hungry Animals” were standouts, and the band was just what the festival needed to get in the mood for the weekend to come. -Ben Kaye

preservation hall jazz band 8 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Del McCoury and Tao Seeger – Fort Stage – 12:40 p.m.

The iconic New Orleans outfit Preservation Hall Jazz Band was introduced as a group that had done things on the Newport Folk stage that had never been done before, and with promises to continue that legacy. Those who witnessed the afternoon set were not let down. The band playing their own numbers and jazz classics as band members alternated vocal duties would’ve been enough, but there’s always something more at a Pres Hall show. Country legend Del McCoury came out for a few numbers, including his “Careless Love”. Festival regular Tao Seeger also made an appearance for a pair of Portuguese language numbers, which added a nice international flair to the day’s events. The highlight of them all was when both musicians joined the band with yet another Ben Sollee appearance for a swinging version of the spiritual hymn “I’ll Fly Away”. Everyone on stage was pure smiles, and the sheer enjoyment was reflected right back at them from the faces in the crowd. -Ben Kaye

deertick newport 003 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Jake Cohen

Deer Tick – Quad Stage – 1:40 p.m.

With their tough to categorize folk/country/rock hybrid, a return slot at Newport Folk for these local Providence boys seems obvious (especially after their now-legendary late night parties in 2011, and soon to be legendary aftershows this year). However, Deer Tick’s sound on their most recent recording, 2011’s Divine Providence, has started to match their live sound in bars and clubs: harder and with more distortion, more raw vocals from guitarist John McCauley, and more rock. Towards the end of their set, McCauley announced, “Considering this is a folk festival, we figured we’d play a rock song,” before launching into a spirited cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”, which followed the band’s original take on ’50s blues rock. It was an ironic comment given that Deer Tick had just delivered a set of countrified, rocked-out tunes off Divine Providence like “Clownin Around” and “The Bump”, during which fellow Middle Brother/Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vasquez appeared to jump on the keyboard bench and shout lyrics along with audience. Yet they reminded the crowd of their folksier roots with the fingerpicking electric guitar of “Houston, TX” from Born on Flag Day, which still transcended traditional folk norms with McCauley’s grungy, pinched vocal. – Jake Cohen

alabama shakes 7 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Alabama Shakes – Fort Stage – 2:00 p.m.

Last year, we CoSigned Alabama Shakes for their CMJ performance at the Bowery Ballroom. More than half a year later, these rising hot shots have gained swift fame on the heels of their debut Boys and Girls and the undeniable single “Hold On”. At their main stage set, they played the track second, a sign of pure confidence. Most young bands would stick such a well-loved song near the end of their set, but Brittany Howard and her ace crew know songs like “I Ain’t the Same” and “You Ain’t Alone” can hit home even harder. New cut “Making Me Itch” (as Howard explained with a grin, “We’re gonna play a new song ‘cause we’re in Newport”) was further proof these soulful blues rockers aren’t going to be a one-trick pony. They stormed the Fort like veterans, unintimidated to be on such a storied, esteemed stage so soon into their career. As their repertoire grows and their game continues to tighten, expect to see a prolonged reign. -Ben Kaye

first aid kit 1 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

First Aid Kit – Alex and Ani Harbor Stage – 3:00 p.m.

You really can’t help but smile when sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg (of First Aid Kid) come on stage and start giving directions to their drummer in Swedish. “We are two Swedish sisters and a Swedish drummer from Sweden,” was how they introduced themselves. It might be easy to get distracted by the quaint banter and the striking beauty of the pair, even in their overtly hippie garb (they looked somewhat more comfortable in jeans and flowing t-shirts when they guested at Conor Oberst’s set on Sunday). Let the charm and good looks divide your attention, however, and miss one of the most talented duos working in the choral folk genre. Their magical harmonies in close thirds combine into a chill-inducing single sound, their songs full of whimsy and reverence for their inspirations, and their beauty captivating. Okay, so it’s really easy to get distracted by their beauty. Sensing the importance of Newport for the genre they call home, both sisters frequently commented on how excited they were to be there, name-dropped a host of folk legends in their country-ish “Emmylou”, and covered Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”. The appearance by First Aid Kit’s pal Oberst for his verse in “King of the World” was an easy highlight in what was already a stellar performance. -Ben Kaye

dawes newport 003 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Jake Cohen

Dawes – Fort Stage – 3:25 p.m.

Dawes continued Saturday’s alt-country theme (which really began Friday night with Wilco) by delivering a set of straight-ahead rock songs liberally dusted with country and folk flavors. Despite the presence of two thirds of Middle Brother (no Delta Spirit) and honorary fourth Brother Jonny Corndawg, Dawes used their time on the main stage to showcase their sound without any sit-ins or guests. That is, aside from Matthew Vasquez, who could be seen singing along to “Fire Away” backstage and joined the band onstage for “When My Time Comes”. This was more than made up for when Dawes became both Conor Oberst’s and Jackson Browne’s backing band the following evening. The band worked their way through their catalog without really charging up the audience until the anthemic and powerful “When My Time Comes”, with lead singer Taylor Goldsmith and Vasquez leading a sing-along. New song “From a Window Seat”, about “sitting on a plane too long when the fear sets in,” added a bit of honky-tonk to their sound and gave fans a taste of what may be ahead for the band’s Americana stylings. -Jake Cohen

bensollee newport 005 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Jake Cohen

Ben Sollee – Museum Stage – 4:30 p.m.

I hadn’t planned on staying for the entirety of Ben Sollee’s intimate Museum Stage set, but I also hadn’t planned on being so blown away. Sollee advances the cello past its classical music origins and onto another level entirely. “How to See the Sun Rise” began with layered long tones in the lower register of the cello, over which Sollee crafted a beautiful, lamenting melody with hints of Appalachian nostalgia, and then he broke out on the chorus playing boogie-woogie with aggressive bowing. He even strummed the instrument on “It’s Not Impossible”, and got a funky groove going along with drummer Jordan Ellis. On “A Few Honest Words”, Sollee shows a social consciousness that harkens back to the folkies of early ’60s Newport, passionately singing in his clear voice, “We don’t choose our leaders/ They choose themselves.” He’s even “ditched the van” to ride his bike from venue to venue on recent tours. In the spirit of Newport collaboration, Sollee brought out Sara Watkins to sing and play fiddle on “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain”, and Apache Relay joined in on Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child”. In that same spirit, Sollee kept popping up onstage throughout the weekend, making him the sit-in MVP of Newport 2012. – Jake Cohen

guthrie family reunion 2 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Guthrie Family Reunion – Quad Stage – 5:35 p.m.

Here was the brightest candle burning in honor of Woody Guthrie’s 100th anniversary. At its height, for a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land”, there were no less than 20 Guthries on the Quad Stage (yeah, some were babies held by their parents, but they still count). The set opened with Sarah Lee Guthrie performing the Woody-penned “Folk Song”, followed by Cathy Guthrie leading the fam in the hilarious “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow” from her band Folk Uke (“I didn’t think I’d have to play any of my songs,” she remarked, “because they’re not really appropriate folk songs.”) The man everyone was waiting to see, Mr. Arlo Guthrie, came out for the third number, “Dead or Alive”. He filled the set with his loving tales of family and mischief, often referring to his late father and recalling his lessons. A highlight in a prime set showcasing folk music’s first family came when the band covered Wilco’s “Airline to Heaven”, spliced in The Allman Brother’s “Jessica”, and seamlessly went back into Wilco. -Ben Kaye

city and colour newport 003 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Jake Cohen

City and Colour – Harbor Stage – 5:40 p.m.

City and Colour frontman Dallas Green explained that he was performing as a solo guitarist and returning to his singer/songwriter roots because, as he was told, “it’s not that kind of a festival.” Funny, especially on a day that featured Deer Tick, Dawes, Blind Pilot, and headliners My Morning Jacket. Yet when he launched into the chorus of “Sleeping Sickness”, he highlighted his clear, passionate tenor, free of the full-band treatment on Bring Me Your Love. His voice is reminiscent of Justin Vernon, but with more immediate emotions and more power in his natural range. Mostly, his voice has tremendous soul, and the lack of a full band allowed the audience to concentrate on that intensity. “Sing it if you know it,” he implored the crowd, and it seemed like plenty did. -Jake Cohen

my morning jacket 5 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

My Morning Jacket – Fort Stage – 6:05 p.m.

Anyone expecting a rip-roaring My Morning Jacket set to tear the Fort Stage to pieces was probably pretty foolish. I freely admit I can be a fool sometimes, and my expectations for this set are just another example. (Note to self: always quell expectations – always). Of course MMJ weren’t going to go into a set of “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” or “Rocket Man” covers – this is Newport! The pale suits were a fitting wardrobe choice, and it only makes sense they’d tailor their setlist to the scene, as well.

That’s not to say they didn’t play excellent songs, like “It Beats 4 U”, “Victory Dance”, and the always powerful “Dondante” (a brief loss of sound during the sax solo but a small hiccup); it just took a minute to adjust to what was not going to be your typical marathon MMJ rock show. It was still an impressive outing from Jim James and crew, who barely spoke save for one big “Hello!”, instead letting the music and the guests say it all. Guest appearances came in two separate one-two successions, but the cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference”, dedicated to the late Levon Helm and featuring guests Brittany Howard and Clint Maedgen of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, followed by “Smokin’ from Shootin’” with Ben Sollee and a screaming Conor Oberst, hit hardest. As far as solo aspects went, “Welcome Home” from the band’s iTunes Sessions made a rare, and possibly first ever, appearance right at the start, a tasty treat for MMJ diehards.

my morning jacket 8 Festival Review: CoS at Newport Folk Fest 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

The dark clouds predicted by weather reports all day started rolling in heavy during the set, and while the wind whipped about James’ already wild hair, the crowd headed for the exits early. Unfortunately, long lines for the water taxis and parking lot shuttles meant most everyone was caught in the downpour. Or perhaps this was fortunate, as those heartbroken they had to bail early likely ended up seeing more of the set. In the end, though, no one saw the whole thing, as officials called the performance off due to the severe threat of lightning and torrential rains, leaving “I’m Amazed” as the last number. It was one of the punchier cuts of the night, and who knows if that would have led to that “Black Metal” appearance or the classic “One Big Holiday”. Though it arrived a bit short and soggy, the performance was no less of a well-structured and delivered package. -Ben Kaye

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