Photo credit: Luis Ruiz
Despite fighting overcast days and torrential downpours, Newport Folk Festival still managed to achieve the desired effect — amaze viewers with a diverse, stellar lineup, quality production, and streamlined operations. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the weather only enhanced some of the more somber or intense sets. Why not listen to The Tallest Man on Earth while standing in the rain or watch the boys in My Morning Jacket bounce around the stage as a storm rolls in? There’s also something to be said for the sense of community found in standing through the rain with your fellow concertgoers.
Overall, this years festival was the same rejuvenating, inspiring experience that it’s been in the past. While I’m equally a fan of the larger fests that feature late night dance acts and copious amounts of alcohol (or whatever you choose), feeling energized after a weekend, instead of exhausted, has its place as well. The attendees are respectful, the scenery is beautiful, and the fans are diehard. I simply can’t wait for next year.
Number of Attendees: 10,000 – Given that the show was sold out, I would say that we probably just went over the capacity for the venue.
Overall Crowdedness: The grounds generally don’t feel that crowded, but that might have more to do with the chill nature of the people there rather than actual crowdedness. Overall, though, if you want to be close for a set, it’s relatively easy to do so and relatively easy to get back out.
Not Your Festival If: You’re looking for a party more than a concert. The general populous at Newport tends stay pretty low key.
1) If you don’t feel electricity in the air when Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard sings, you likely can’t feel much at all. Moving seamlessly from calculated emotion to explosive wail, she easily conducted the audience, as they swayed or jumped to each song.
2) Perhaps the largest flaw in this year’s preview was not mentioning First Aid Kit in the bands to watch section. With harmonies that were sweeping without being kitschy and perfectly blended instrumentation, the Swedish ladies had complete control of the crowd (rarely do you hear people whispering at a festival). Their melodies are without match, and I feel fortunate to have finally gotten to see them.
3) Newport is the perfect atmosphere to strip down your set or showcase songs that were made for solo instrumentation. Patty Griffin played her first solo show in 10 years (as she claimed on stage) and The Tallest Man on Earth absolutely blew me away. I’ve been a fan of his music for years, but seeing him perform live, belting his songs and charging the audience with their power, was another thing entirely.
4) Playing a set consisting of both his solo material and songs from Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst did an excellent job of bringing out some top-notch guests. While Dawes backed him for a good number of songs, the ladies from First Aid Kit and Yim Yames, who sung and carried a Winnie the Pooh umbrella, also joined him for a few songs.
1) The weather! While the rain kept the days cool and the atmosphere a bit mysterious, it managed to put a damper on Jackson Browne’s set on Sunday Night. Overall, though, the falling drops somehow managed to miss the majority of the weekend, surprising given that forecasts had shown them falling throughout the day.
Best Rain Dance: While My Morning Jacket may not be my favorite band, there was something to be said about watching their magnetic live performance as a storm barreled towards the audience. Particularly during “Victory Dance”, the winds picked up, the clouds loomed closer, and the band seemed energized by the possibility of playing to a sea of soaking, dancing people.
Best Overall Sound: The sound at Newport is simply incredible. Whether it’s the type of music performed, the acoustics of the venue, or the quieter nature of the crowd, the songs were all crisp, mixed well, and sent to the audience at the perfect volume. Sharon Van Etten’s set, in particular, caught my attention. Of course, the fact that she’s an incredible performer certainly didn’t hurt.
Best Live Transition: While I love The Head and the Heart’s recorded material, the songs almost seem too guarded and sugary at times. When they perform, though, the gloves come off and the intensity comes out. Every song seemed to live and breathe, and the final performance of “Rivers and Roads” had the audience screaming at the top of their lungs, loving every minute and every lyric.
Best Music Designed for a Festival: After watching them perform live and seeing the audiences reaction, I’m relatively certain that Of Monsters and Men had festivals in mind when writing their songs. Filled with lots of Hey!s, Ho!s and sing-a-long worthy choruses, I probably heard more cohesive participation from the audience than I had all weekend. Granted, their songs are solid and would probably warrant some audience love without being easy to follow.