Newport: A Folkin’ Retrospective

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It’s been two weeks since Newport Folk Fest and we’re still recovering.  Seriously, The Donkey is a total weenie when it comes to the road.  Driving from Beaufort, South Carolina where we’d been taking it easy for a few days to Newport, Rhode Island kicked our slow boatin’ asses.  Speaking of watercraft, we slept on a boat for a few days, enjoyed some of the best sunrises and sunsets you’ll ever see and got a little barfy from the undulating harbor.  Have you ever seen a seasick donkey? Trust us, you don’t want to if you can help it.

After some good rest, memory card retrieval from a dog’s mouth, and a handful of other festivals, we’ve compiled a definitive list of why Newport Folk trumps all summer shows n’ gatherings.

Holy @#!* Moments

Tis the stuff Newport is made of, folks.  With so much talent crammed into Fort Adams, your jaw is on the ground at least once an hour throughout the weekend.  No joke. Musical discoveries and collaborations abound.  Among the this year’s most memorable moments for us were:

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Hearing Alynda Lee Segarra’s voice live for the first time. Great God, people.  Hurray For The Riff Raff is just the best thing we’ve heard all year. There, we said it. We will continue to say it until everyone agrees. Segarra shared with us backstage her thoughts on the performance. “I had an out of body experience up there!”  So did we, Alynda.

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Blake Mills backed by Dawes over on the Fort Stage. Mills is one of the most gifted guitarists on the globe. You can catch him on tour with Fiona Apple this fall.

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One word. Bombino. Not only is the dude a master player, but he’s pretty smooth when it comes to the hip-swivel dance moves and wooing the ladies.

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How many photogs can you cram in a pit?  The Donkey lost count and almost got squashed when Lord Huron took to the Quad stage.  Hands down the most folks we saw there all weekend.  They did not leave disappointed.

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We finally got to hear Shovels & Rope play Cavalier live.  Yeehaw!

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Nicki Bluhm, y’all.  That voice.  She and her Gramblers knocked out a killer version of Linda Ronstadt’s You’re No Good.

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Watching the shock and awe of Amanda Palmer delivering this Dresden Doll’s lyric from Coin Operated Boy to the Harbor Stage audience. “I can even fuck him in the ass.” Everyone laughed.

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Oh, Joshua Tillman. What ever are we going to do with you?  Dude is a blue-eyed fox, bat shit nuts, and perhaps the stage reincarnate of Jim Morrison at Hollywood Bowl.  Let’s just say, he entertained us with many opinions at the Fort. Don’t wear vests or fedoras in his presence, else he will berate your very existence … and then probably give you a big hug and a strawberry moonshine kiss.

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Phosphorescent (aka Matthew Houck) released an incredible album this year, Muchacho. Hearing Song for Zula played five feet in front of you will bring you to your knees.

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Story time with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.  This guy has that name for a good reason. As far as we’re concerned, he could talk all day.  His tales are chock full of folk history and subtle humor. Respect.

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Holy NOLA! Trombone Shorty can blow, y’all.  Machine gun brass blurts all over yo’ face with one of the most energetic sets of the festival.  Crescent City classics and plenty of original material as well.

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Cary Ann Hearst.  Ok, we might be overdoing it with the Shovels & Rope love here but we crush hard for CAH.

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We’ve seen Old Crow Medicine Show too many times to count, but watching them rouse up the massive Newport Folk crowd harbor side was breathtaking. These guys proved they can own a big ass stage.

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Cold Specks showed up on our radar a few months ago after being mentioned by Jim James in an interview.  This is a voice to be experienced live, folks.  Al Spx oozes mystery and delivers chilling, soulful sounds. Check out I Predict a Graceful Expulsion.

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One of our favorite collaborations of the day came when Spirit Family Reunion joined Hooray For The Riff Raff.  Houndmouth and Dawes turning out “I Shall Be Released” was pretty damn amazing too.

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Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow almost spontaneously combusts every time we see him.  It’s a wonder the audience doesn’t wash away in a tide of his sweat and tears.  It was like church up in that tent, y’all.  The added bonus of the set was a cover of John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery.

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The man that wasn’t there.  Well, technically Beck was at Ford Adams but he didn’t want most photographers in the pit snapping away during his scaled back set that featured a duet with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.  We can tell you he’s a diminutive little man that looked like he raided Bob Dylan’s closet that day.

Folk Family

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Newport Folk staffer Abby with Houndmouth’s Shane Cody snuggle up.
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Lots of reunions and hugging happen at Newport Folk Fest.  It’s a place comprised of lifelong friendships and the irresistible urge to take care of each other long after the last water taxi heads back to town. The festival staff makes sure everyone from artist to audience has solid food and libation choices. Recycling is everywhere.  There’s no shoving to get anywhere and all say please and thanks.  A festival raised right, y’all.

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This year, we showed some love to Dave Lamb of Brown Bird.  You can read more about his ongoing treatment for leukemia here as well as make a donation to offset costs and the impacts of a touring hiatus.

Paste Ruins

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Dank. Drippy. Divine.  That’s how you can describe the Paste Ruins.  The good people at Paste Magazine thought it would be a swell idea to host intimate sessions in the catacombs of Fort Adams.  Bless every fiber of their souls. It’s an outstanding experience for fans and artists alike.  Our favorite session came courtesy of Joe Fletcher and Patrick Sweaney.

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The beloved oyster boy of Newport’s hospitality tent. ©TheDonkeyJaw.com

Beautiful Beards

Beards ain’t no big thing these days. Everyone has ’em.  That said, we think Newport folk have some of the burly and best.

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The Fine City of Newport

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God love the city of Newport.  They’ve tolerated the influx of us crazy folk for many years now.  We jam their quaint streets and take all of their water taxis.  We don’t pop our collars or wear little belts with whales on them.  They love us anyway. Sloppy Donkey kisses to you, Newport. Until next year …

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