30 Days Til Newport Folk: Day 29 – Chris Thile Solo Mandolin in the Museum Stage: Bach, Bluegrass & Badassery

Another day peeled off the calendar and another day closer to Fort Adams…

Day 29 – Chris Thile solo in the Museum stage, Bach, Bluegrass, and badassery – 2014


I am a mandolinist, therefore, as one might imagine I have aspirations to one day behold the talent that Chris holds in the nail of his right pinky finger. The Newport Folk app was a brilliant invention given the way that much of the very best things that occur at the festival happens on the fly, impromptu, backstage or last minute in the Late July tent or in this case, in the Museum stage.

My phone screen lit up with an alert that a special non-announced set would be happening in the Museum and it would be Thile solo on his mandolin…I think I made it from the right side of the Fort stage to the museum in about 5 leaps and was immediately followed by a crowd that had to line up down the brickwall as I weaseled into the room.

10268504_10101751092623254_1782988446227943649_nI couldn’t even tell you what in particular Chris played…I am vaguely remembering a sonata in G minor on the list, but he spoke with the crowd, played a bit, spoke a little more, played some more. I don’t believe I have ever been starstruck in any fashion by actors, or famous people, or musicians but this situation just had its hooks in me and the hooks were buried deep. I was zoned in on the front of the room…and my wife took this picture without me realizing as I gazed dumbfounded at the astronomical amount of skill and talent and poise that this performer commands.

Chris’s performance that day was loose and effortless, off the cuff as far as what he was planning on doing, but he displays such a gracefulness when he plays. Watching him is really magical as he fingers fly at speeds unimaginable by most folks who have picked up a fretted instrument before, and still his face looks as though he could carry on a conversation about foreign diplomatic policy or advanced mathematics.

Even for someone who is simply a fan, not another musician who runs into folks who they may even consider to be heroes of sorts at a gig, or at a show, or deals with things like this regularly, the proximity that Newport allows blurs that line between audience and artists. You can be sitting watching a favorite act, turn to your left and another one of your favorite songwriters is next to you after they just ran off stage to catch the same artist you are currently watching because that “love” is there. Or, you may just be feet away from watching a virtuoso playing whatever comes to mind for an audience that is eating it up like chocolate cake on their birthday. Newport…man, it is the best.