While many other folks spend time at the bigger stages catching the headlining and larger names on the bill, history has proven that I take a somewhat different approach. I spend a good portion of my weekend in the Museum. For the open mic, For Pete’s Sake and whatever else Minto and Chris Funk decide to throw at the festival goers last minute and usually unannounced. This year festival was even more jam packed with bands that showed up without being on the official Fort Adams bill and somehow made their way into performances. Be it Kam Franklin from The Suffers on stage with Middle Brother or Langhorne and Shovels & Rope in the Museum Stage, those unannounced acts seemed to dominate this past weekend at Fort Adams.
But, I digress. Our favorites come in the form of the friends we keep that grace the stages of Newport. Those that make their faces known is pop up stage performances, first time open mic-ers or that coveted Sunday Morning Harbor Stage slot…
Ian Fitzgerald (Harbor): I took 3 photos and then I could no longer see the artists on stage through my viewfinder because my eyes were filled with tears of joy. Ian and the boys of Smith&Weeden filled the stage with an intoxicating billowing cloud of ripping solos, gorgeously badass harmonies and the best songwriting that would grace a Newport stage this weekend that lifted the tent off the ground it was so moving. Songs from Fitzgerald’s highly anticipated upcoming record, a solo performance of quite possibly the most devastating and poignant song’s ever written and a raucous closing old favorite made this THE best set of the weekend. I have never seen the songwriter so confident and in charge of the stage and audience. He belongs there…and I cried the entire time. Too perfect. Ian Fitzgerald wins the Newport Folk Festival for 2016.
Christopher Paul Stelling (Museum): Just a year earlier a man got down on one knee and proposed on that stage that Ian and Smith&Weeden lit on fire. The previous day I was tapped on the shoulder and greeted with a big hug from Stelling and asked if he was popping up anywhere. Luckily he did and although it was a quick fire set that seemed to move as rapidly as his fingers flying across the frets of his old beat up gut string acoustic, it was and exciting and brilliant performance nonetheless. The Museum was bursting at the seams with people even hanging in the windows to catch a glimpse. Chris is one of the hardest working folks out on the road and its a wonderful thing to see folks so excited to see him back at the Fort this year.
Glen Hansard (Fort): A man’s voice, his guitar and an unrivaled passion…the combination is a killer in the best way. I was skeptical as Hansard took the stage. How could one man be able to woe such a large crowd, but he did it without even breaking a sweat. The sheer passion and fervor in the Irish songwriter’s performance was incredible. His picking hand moving at breakneck speed’s and his lone howl echoing out across a sea of thousands of smiling faces. At one point he shouted for an artist to join him who knows some percussion, maybe hop on that drum kit back there or play a little tambourine…to which sly Elvis Costello sauntered out onto the stage. It was really something to behold. Put this man on your must listen to list if you haven’t already. He is a beast.
Larkin Poe (Museum): I had only heard the name Larkin Poe before without listening much to their music…a fatal error on my part. The sister duo of Rebecca and Megan Lovell tore my heart out, took a big bite out of it, spit it back out and left me asking for more. There is a driving rhythm to their music that just shakes you. Their set brought me back to Reignwolf’s a few years back with the steady forward moving feeling to the songs guided by a strong kick drum beat. The girls singing in harmony and the rock n’ roll attitude of it all…well it was just f*cking intense and beautiful. The crowd started small but that didn’t hinder their getting right into it as Rebecca asked the sound woman “so, can we just go for it?” and go for it they did. As the grit and bluesy goodness poured out of the windows of the Museum the people poured in at an equally fast pace. Badass at its finest.
Hayes Carll (Harbor): As musicians or songwriters we all have “our guys”. Well, Hayes is at the top of my list. Carll has a no apologies voice and attitude to most of his songs. A storyteller and a poet with a road worn vocal that hangs heavy over his words. Today his voice was on fire, the band was tight and the set list was a killer blend of great new songs from Lovers & Leavers and some old crowd pleasing favorites. Allison Moorer lended her vocals and the chemistry between the two was undeniable. Fitting like a glove. Hayes ended his set with the shit kicking “Stomp & Holler” from KMAG YOYO and the classic Carll tune ” Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”. While standing ovations at the end of a set aren’t unusual at Newport Folk, Hayes and the trio had the entire crowd on their feet for the duration of the final two tunes, stomping their sandals in the dirt and two stepping in the aisles. Simply put: killed it.
Bonus: Smith & Weeden (Late July Tent): I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this set that was the true ending to my folk festival, even though we caught the Shakes as well. While I may be a bit bias here as they are all good friends, Smith & Weeden will probably be a band that I am still talking about in 25 years as one of my favorites of all time. The guys just have this certain something, be it the ungodly tight three part harmonies that makes it seem someone made a deal with the devil because they are that good, Jesse Smith’s Mick Jagger like swagger or just how goddamn fun they are to watch because you know they are loving it while they are up there doing it…they just have it man, they just have IT. And while their tunes may not be the most kid friendly, the families and young ‘uns (as well as us adult folks) were digging it hard. Under a small tent in the corner of Fort Adams surrounded by the folks and friends that I love, listening to one of our favorite bands who also happen to be friends, well that was how I wanted to remember this year at Newport…