Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. These are the reasons you should have been right there with me:
I cannot believe I have not written them up sooner, but what better time than now! Carolina Chocolate Drops is the absolute number one reason to regret not having attended Newport Folk Festival. Get hooked on them, it will only take one listen to Rhiannon Giddens’ vocals and fiddle, Dom Flemons banjo, passion, and history lessons banter, and Hubby Jenkins’ guitar and bones to fall inlove. This trio (plus 2011 addition, beat boxer Adam Matta) mingles old picking, jugs, and rhythm and blues; inspired by legendary southern fiddlers, CCD puts a new face on “black string music.”
Rhiannon Giddens sang old-time ballads and R&B covers with soulful nods to female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. (Being from the Piedmont area myself, I felt they did the foothills some serious musical justice with their sound.) Their creativity in mixing the older classics with their current influences is their greatest asset, making them one of the most fun and inspiring acts to watch.
“The breakout act at the Newport Folk Fest last year.”—Josh Jackson, Paste Magazine (January 2011)
David Wax Museum “broke out” in 2010, winning a contest to participate in last year’s Newport Folk Festival, and returned Sunday morning to solidify their reputation. As the opening band “on the big stage,” The Museum’s energy wakened the crowd and energized the day. As I stomped my feet and succumbed to their call and response style, I was trying to push “World Music” and “Americana” together in my mind, but as my mind tired of this futile effort, I let go of genres and just enjoyed the show.
A festival veteran at 43, Gillian sang her heart out, as usual, and she is on this list for many reasons (exquisite writing, straightforward folk-country sound). This year I had the chance to hear:
“Go to sleep little babe, go to sleep little babe/ Your momma’s gone away and your daddy’s gonna stay/ Didn’t leave nobody but the baby/ Go to sleep little babe, go to sleep little babe/ Everybody’s gone in the cotton and the corn/ Didn’t leave nobody but the baby/ You’re a sweet little babe/ You’re a sweet little babe/ Honey in the rock and the sugar don’t stop”
…A song she said she “didn’t get the chance to play often” but did that day, and the crowd hummed it throughout the rest of the day.
Emmylou Harris ripped my heart out when she sang “Orphan Girl” (written by reason #3); I’ve been waiting since Wrecking Ball to hear her sing this live, and Sunday evening I received the blessed chance. I have been a devoted Emmylou fan since before I was old enough to remember. My father has appreciated her haunting powerful voice for more than thirty years, and Sunday evening I could not have wished for more. At 64, she has the same unique, attention-commanding, emotion-coaxing sound that made her a legend—not a thing has changed.
Developing taste can often be uncomfortable, change can be terrifying; growing to love this darker Seattle-based band has been no different with each shuffle of my feet. Listening to their unshakeable blues-folk clang, I’m certain I’ll adopt them in the after-life, and “Dancing on Our Graves” will be my zombie anthem:
“O mellow my dreams you’ve gone away/ O empty belly it’s good to see you/ O my dreams of these quiet people/ O you and me dancing on my grave/ But oh lord, I know what I’ve done/ And oh lord, I ain’t afraid/ Hold me baby, cause your eyes are/ Hold me baby, cause your eyes are/ The prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life, honey we’re bound for the night”
Yeah, they are popular. Yeah, they are not 100% traditional folk. Yeah, they are good. Closing out Saturday night with The Decemberists was a perfect choice; they played folk with enough theatrics that I turned to look over my shoulder a few times to see if there were fireworks reflecting off of the water. Boat foghorns sounded on the band’s request, and although Jenny Conlee (my absolute favorite—she plays EVERYthing), was not in attendance, they kept the festival’s energy going, leaving folks excited about the following day’s bounty.
What Cheer? Brigade gave those of us who did not catch them Saturday afternoon a free hilltop sendoff, as we boarded the departing evening ferry. Full of endless pep and fun, the Brigade marched us right onto the pier, causing quite a few happy listeners to lag behind.