Newport Folk On 2021 Part Two
You Light The Rooms To The House Of My Soul
Attendance to the Newport Folk Festival was decreased due to COVID-19 but the number of days was doubled. Folk On Part Two began just sixteen hours after Sunday’s memorable dance party finale featuring Chaka Khan. Could the second half live up to its expectations? Could the Newport Folk Festival crew survive physically, mentally, and especially emotionally for another three days? Could the fans who decided to attend the entire six days survive the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of this marathon of performances?
On Monday afternoon Erin Rae, Courtney Marie Andrews, Aoife O’Donovan and Hiss Golden Messenger all performed impressive acoustic sets. On the other hand, Sunny War’s performance was outstanding. The songwriting, vocals, and crab claw finger picking style put the listener into a melodic trance. The Fruit Bats and Middle Brother both picked up the pace during their electric sets. Eric Johnson of The Fruit Bats hair was flying in the wind. Middle Brother opened up their set with a cover of The Traveling Wilburys “Handle With Care”. Middle Brother band members John McCauley and Mathew Logan Vasquez really bring out Taylor Goldsmith’s inner rockstar. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie solo acoustic set allowed the audience to listen to his emotional lyrics. The demeanor of songs such as “Black Sun” are transformed in the acoustic setting. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats were able to make up their set on Monday which was cancelled over the weekend due to an impending storm. The band did not disappoint. Rateliff is the ultimate showman. “Hey Mama,” “I Need Never Get Old,” and “Son Of A Bitch” supercharged the crowd. After covering Doc Watson on Sunday, Billy Strings displayed his own musical catalog. “Away From The Mire,” and “Wargasm” displayed the band’s expertise. Crowds at the Quad stage, where Strings performed, are generally subdued due to strictly enforced fire code regulations. Throughout the set you could just feel the audience wanting to move in the aisles. Finally with a little prodding by the band, the crowd went hog wild during “Hide and Seek.” Generally there are no encore at Newport but Billy Strings reappeared and ended his set with “Slow Train.” The final act of the day featured brothers Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes as Brothers Of A Feather. There has been so much news about how these brothers don’t get along but none of that was evident on stage at Newport. The brothers played a ten song set which covered six of their studio albums. I hadn’t seen the Black Crowes in years and was apprehensive how the brothers would sound. To my delight they sounded better than ever. The show climaxed with “She talks to Angels” and “Thorn In My Side.”
There had been some controversy behind the scenes concerning miscommunication between the band Middle Brother, Emma Swift, and festival organizers. In the end Emma Swift and her husband Robyn Hitchcock were given the opening slot on Tuesday morning. The duo performed an exquisite set of Bob Dylan covers. S.G. Goodman’s performance kicked the day off at the Quad stage. From the opening verse of “Space and Time”, off of her 2020 release Old Time Feeling, the audience was mesmerized. Other highlights included “The Way I Talk” and “Red Bird Morning.” Allison Russell played her own set of material off of her debut release Outside Child. Bonny Light Horseman, and Sharon Van Etten both played captivating sets. Three of the day’s sets seemed very out of place to me: Bleachers, Fred Armisen, and Beck. With so much great new music released in the past year I thought the festival could have done better.
Tuesday’s most gratifying set was Langhorne Slim’s midday performance. The set included lighthearted tales of addiction, anxiety, and grief which had taken place during the past two years. Eighteen months into this pandemic most people have become callous due to the constant, never ending news cycle. There is a substantial amount of grief, over 600,000 people have been lost, countless people’s lives have been negatively impacted. Langhorne Slim iterated how important Newport was to him and to the audience, to heal together. Songs such as “Changes,” “Panic Attack,” and “Morning Prayer” were relatable to anybody who has experienced loss. The encouraging lyrics of “Life Is Confusing,” featuring Vasthy Mompoint, lightened the mood. To end his performance Langhorne Slim jumped into the audience, stepped on a chair and in unison with the crowd sang “You Are My Sunshine.” This was one of the most uplifting performances of the festival.
On Wednesday, the sixth consecutive day of the festival, Early James threw out a “pick me up” to the audience. Bluesy rock selections off of Singing For My Supper were generously welcomed by the music starved audience. Katie Pruitt was another bright spot. The physically unassuming singer’s powerful jaw-dropping vocals earned her a standing ovation. The Black Pumas kept the crowd moving and shaking. Eric Burton concluded the band’s hit single “Colors” in the midst of the crowd. Watchhouse (previously Mandolin Orange) mesmerized the crowd but Julian Baker appeared visibly nervous debuting songs off of Little Oblvians. Lake Street Dive closed the Quad stage to an ecstatic audience.
At last the final performance. Rhode Island natives Deer Tick were given the honors of closing this historical festival. A collection of 23 raucous selections filled the festival’s finale. Newport Festival’s Folk On concluded with the entire cast and crew of the festival joining the band for Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.”
Newport Folk’s executive producer Jay Sweet accomplished what many thought was impossible earlier in the year. Musicians and fans were reunited. The entire six day festival lived up to everyones expectations. In the end, everyone went home with a smile on their face, overjoyed they had attended this historical event.
Find Part One here: Newport Folk Festival’s Folk On