Dialed in from a tour stop in Nashville, Joe Fletcher is ecstatic to discuss the artists he has pulled together for the Nashville to Newport set. Ecstatic might be the wrong word given Fletcher’s chill demeanor, but he is stoked. Trust us. He has been on the road kicking around solo alongside Nashville’s JP Harris someone he regards as,“ an exceptionally talented, original honky tonk musician.” Safe to say, the Providence troubadour is looking forward to some company at the Fort and promises a few surprises.
What prompted you to pull together Nashville to Newport?
The Folk Festival originally came to me with a different idea to work together with Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem on a two-day event featuring local musicians. He and I talked about it a little bit and agreed that we should splinter off with him sticking to the local musicians idea and I with another. I had a list of people that weren’t going to be at the Folk Festival this year that I wished were there. The common thread was that a large percentage of them lived in Nashville. That gave me the idea of a theme. I reached out to the bands to see if they’d be willing to make the trip if they only played a short, fifteen minute set. Almost everyone I approached was able to make it work with their schedule. There were more of them than we could fit in unfortunately. I put together a proposal and took it to the festival producers and they were really excited. They even gave me an extra hour and a half to work with. Three and a half hour show now!Ten bands. Fifteen minutes each.
Will there be any surprises in store for folks?
We’ve got some extra time built in for some surprise guests. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make it a one-of-a-kind thing. My band is also going to be playing with any of the solo artists who don’t have their full band with them. John McCauley wants us to back him up. We’ll do some of our own stuff in the show obviously. Again, some special collaborators on hand. A lot of Justin Townes Earle’s guys play on records of people playing Nashville to Newport, so they’ll probably be jumping over too. It’s a once in a lifetime thing to have all these people together, so you make the most of it.
This will be your second year playing Newport Folk Fest. You’ve touched on amazing collaborations. What else is special about this festival?
I’ve thought a lot about why this festival has been around since 1959. The location. Bonnaroo won’t last fifty years. As long as the people in charge of Newport are committed to keeping it in the same location, it can’t really outgrow itself. I was looking at black and white photos of last year’s show and the backdrop was the exact same as it was when you see those shots of Bob Dylan going electric or Howlin’ Wolf on that stage. There’s a real sense of history. A long line of fucking heroes have played that place. It’s unbelievable. Some of those people came up North and played music for an audience of white people for the first time at the very end of their lives. Mississippi John Hurt and guys like that. You just have to pinch yourself that you are there playing too.
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing when you can say you saw Wanda Jackson and Mavis Staples within a few hours of each other.
Exactly. It’s not just who was there, but who is there now. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger, the list can go on forever.
There’s a ton of talent coming out of Providence. Yourselves, Brown Bird, Low Anthem and Deer Tick to name a few. What’s the scene like there?
I tour so much that I’m not sure I’m the one to ask anymore (laughter). Deer Tick rose to fame as a Providence band, but they’re all over the place now. In my formative years when I was in a band, it was a really supportive, pushing each other kind of community. It’s the right size place for that kind of thing. Things that come out of there are little bit skewed, so you are more likely to hear something you’ve never heard before. It’s definitely something I don’t see in surrounding towns.
You mentioned Brown Bird earlier and we’re all wishing Dave the best in his recovery. How have the benefit shows gone that you put together for him?
We did a big one in Providence with JP Harris at Columbus Theater and actually had time to plan a silent auction as well. It raised two thousand dollars. We had a show booked with Brown Bird at Brighton Music Hall at the end of June and when they had to cancel I approached the club about keeping it for a benefit show since we knew all the Brown Bird fans would be free that night and want to help Dave. The Devil Makes Three also did a show. I expect more of these shows will be popping up since they’ll need help for a while.
When something like this happens to someone you are so close to and care about so much, you just want to do anything you can do to help. There are hundreds of people that feel that way about Dave Lamb and Brown Bird because he’s touched a lot of people with his music and personality. Dave and Morgan Eve are blown away by the outpouring of support and it’s really helped him out. He told me it’s hard to be afraid of this when there are so many people lifting you up. He’s not feeling sorry for himself at all and is forging onward. He wants to get all this shit over with.
On a different note, what can you tell us about your album coming out later this year?
It’s coming out in October and it’s essentially my first solo record. Lots of fingerpicking, so it’s a pretty quiet and dark record. I’m really excited about it because its been a long slow process for a variety of reasons. I’ve been doing a lot of solo touring with strangers because I’m the only one that does this full time. So, our ability to tour as a whole is seldom. I’m lucky I can still go out and play the songs by myself.
Nashville to Newport kicks off at 1:30 pm on the Museum Stage, Saturday, July 27.