Newport Folk Festival @ Fort Adams State Park – July 27-29
Words: Jeffrey Greenblatt
Photos: Gerry Hardy
In my review of the 2010 Newport Folk Festival, I deemed the granddaddy of all music fests the “music fan’s, music fest,” and upon my return visit this year that statement has never rang more true. Despite persistent gloomy, overcast skies and periods of rain (which included a monster storm early Saturday evening during My Morning Jacket’s headlining set), people were still smiling throughout and were genuinely excited to see and talk about the music and find out what they may have missed at another stage.
[All Photos by Gerry Hardy]
And then there were the musicians, who all repeatedly echoed the same sentiment about how honored they were to be playing there, and how amazing the experience was from an artist perspective, as it offered them an opportunity to catch up with their friends in other bands that they don’t get to see too often as they criss-cross the country on their various tours.
Over the course of the weekend I managed to catch bits and pieces of sets from roughly 22 bands that included rising jamgrass act Trampled By Turtles covering Bob Dylan’s Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons paying tribute to Levon Helm by tackling the Basement Tapes deep cut Crash On The Levee and fest headliner Jackson Browne sitting in with up and coming psych-folk singer Jonathan Wilson for Gentle Spirit. Having taken in so much great music, here are my personal highlights…
Wilco – Fort Stage – 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
If you haven’t caught Wilco on their current tour, you’ve been missing out on a band that is firing on all cylinders, consistently nailing it night in and night out with standout performances and song selections that dig deep into their catalog. With their opening night headlining slot, Wilco delivered the goods once again, honoring the late Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday by kicking things off with the Mermaid Avenue chestnut Christ For President, a theme they would return to in their encore. The band’s 23-song set was highlighted by a sublime acoustic arrangement of Spiders (Kidsmoke), a ripping take on tour staple Impossible Germany that showcased guitar god Nels Cline’s frantic fret work and a jangly Handshake Drugs. The set also included some classic Jeff Tweedy stage banter, with a must hear story about him going to see The Ramones in St. Louis when he was 14 years-old that he threaded throughout the second half of their set.
For their encore Wilco invited out Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee along with her husband Johnny Irion, for takes on two more tracks from Mermaid Avenue: the fan favorite California Stars and the country-inflected Airline To Heaven, with Cline showcasing his lap steel skills.