Folk n’ Roll : An Interview With Jesse Smith of Smith & Weeden

Smith & Weeden are like Providence’s Rolling Stones. The dudes are rock stars. The 4 piece rock n’ roll band has been a mainstay in the local community the past few years and for good reason, they f*cking rule. With rip roaring dueling electric guitars, unimaginably tight 3 part harmonies and infectious grooves and hooks that will keep you moving and shaking.

The band has also had a foot in the door at the Newport Folk Festival the past few years as well and been a big help behind the scenes. Singer and guitarist Jesse Smith can be seen at Newports past behind the mixing board making everyone sound sweet in the Late July Kids Tent, stage managing the heck out of the Museum Stage with his pal Bryan Minto and all around just bringing joy and good vibes to Fort Adams.

This year Jesse gets to be on the other end of things as he backs up Ian Fitzgerald with Smith & Weeden during his Sunday morning set (one that other pals have performed during and absolutely crushed) and also on Saturday during a special Museum stage set as part of the Converse Rubber Tracks series. We caught up with Jesse to get his thoughts on all things Newport, what exactly the Providence musical tornado in the museum will entail and what it means to be a part of this folk family. Check it.

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RLR: So you have been a part of folk fest for the past few years and know the inner workings/behind the scenes well as a sound engineer and running shop on the museum stage. How does it feel to be on the other side of that as an artist this year? 

JS: It feels great! I have the feeling its going to be a little hard to shut off my work brain to just enjoy the fest as a performer. But I’m very much looking forward to giving it a try. And it’s a huge honor that Ian chose us to back him. I’ve had a huge songwriting crush on him for awhile now so I was very flattered when he asked us to play with him. That being said its really exciting. I’ve worked the fest as an assistant stage manager on the museum stage for the past three years with my good friend Bryan Minto, occasionally helping out around in other areas like doing sound at the kids tent one year when they realized they didn’t have anybody on it or getting J. Roddy Walston and The Business their artist passes and generally solving problems around the fest when they came up and stuff like that. I just sorta fell into the gig because I was looking for a way to get into the fest but I’ve never been able to afford it. So it was really just a way for me to be able to participate in the festival that I’ve been such a fan of for years. Which was very cool because now I know how it all works from the inside and how cool the organizers are and how much the general positive atmosphere of the fest comes directly as a result of their love of music and the artists and their understanding the artist/audience relationship. It’s pretty surreal to be on the performing side and it’s a huge honor. I mean, this is the same festival that Bob Dylan went electric at!! How could I be not hugely stoked to be a part of that history!!!??

RLR: We know you and the Smith&Weeden boys will be adding the rock n’ roll to Ian Fitzgerald’s set on Sunday but you are also a part of the Providence all star review in the museum. Details have been scarce on this set…can you give us some of the skinny on whats going on? 

JS: So, Ian O’Neil, of Deer Tick and Happiness, was offered a slot to perform solo and, being the awesome, generous friend that he is, decided to use a good chunk of his slot to showcase some of his friends music, ergo the name. So how its going to work is Ian, Chris and Dennis of Deer Tick are going to be the backing band for a rotating cast of pals to come up and showcase one of there songs. AND its on the museum stage that I’ve worked the past three years which is pretty cool to be coming back to full circle. So, Penn Sultan, Rafay Rashid, Liz Eisenberg, MorganEve Swain, and Ben Knox-Miller will all be playing one of our originals with them as a house band. I would also not be surprised if there were some last minute surprise collabs.

RLR: Folk Fest is all about the community. How do you feel about the community around it between artists, fans, and everyone else in between? 

JS: Great. Its the best festival, with the best organizers, the best audience and the best artists. Period. Not blowing smoke.

RLR: So, whats your favorite stage and why?

JS: All of them have little special idiosyncrasies. I’ve seen amazing performances on all of them. I gotta say though the atmosphere and the acts that come through the museum stage is really my favorite. That little room is really keeping the folk in folk fest if you ask me. Something special about how small it is. Also, Chris Funk does an excellent job curating the talent for his segments. Always some really awesome surprises in there. Second runner up is probably the kids tent. Awesome spur of the moment stuff always happens in there.

RLR: Whats next for S&W, is there a record down the pipeline? 

JS: Honestly, I don’t really know. We’ve all been focusing on our lives and things outside of the band this year (in a good way) and haven’t gotten to the next phase of deciding what our next move as a group will be. We have enough material for a new album so I’d like to make one and I’m sure we will. Just haven’t gotten around to discussing the when and the how, yet.

RLR: What are three of the most memorable sets you reminisce about from previous folk fest? 

JS: Oof. I don’t know, I’ve always been working so i usually am only able to pop in on things for few minutes here and there. BUT, My Morning Jacket’s set was so sick. I love that band. My favorite performance probably ever was Father John Misty’s set a few years back. He’s got to be the sexiest front man around. At the end of his set he launched into this tirade about folk music and fedoras and driving Prius’ and assorted ironic and witty rage at society in general that was very rock and roll and poignant. I imagine he probably offended some people that day but I just loved it. Also, my friend Christopher Paul Stelling’s set was something else. You can’t really top asking your girlfriend to marry you during your set. That’s also the slot and stage that we are playing with Ian Fitzgerald this year. Some big shoes to fill.

RLR: Finish this sentence: “Newport Folk is…”

JS: v #chill.