Opening up the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival is no small matter…it also comes with what I imagine would be a great deal of anxiety and tension. As is their nature, the members of Kingsley Flood did what they do best, play excellent rock n’ roll with an energized set that (I would guess) got even the people across the harbor, walking down Thames Street, rocking to their infectious blend of story telling ballads, “country tunes for people that don’t like country”, and horn driven rock. The entire band danced around the stage, playing to a gradually filling lawn in front of the fort, all of who danced and clapped along to their lively set to kick the festival off with a bang. Just a few years back I was watching these guys in the crowded basement of the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. Seeing them up there on the stage, captivating the audience with their vigor and good vibes really struck a chord with me. I cannot wait to see where these guys are in a year.
Day 1 of the festival was full of roaming and rambling for me. I tried to catch as much as possible and take it all in. I caught a lot of half or quarter sets, found my way backstage to mingle with other media folks and artists, and just kind of kept an open mind about what I may stumble across. I got to catch my good pal Dan Blakeslee play to a super attentive audience in the Museum Stage’s open-mic series…prior to Dan hitting the stage was a young gent named Dylan who exclaimed how he was going to play a killer solo for the audience, but would play this song instead to which Blakeslee exclaimed “GO ELECTRIC DYLAN!”, with laughter erupting from the crowd. Host Bryan Minto followed up with “Dan Blakeslee, ladies and gentlemen”, further solidifying my belief that Dan Blakeslee knows everyone and everyone loves Dan Blakeslee. But, perhaps the best surprise for me was wandering up to the Quad to catch Blake Mills set. I hadn’t heard much of Blake’s music previously, but to see the fine gents of Dawes backing him up intrigued me, so I stuck around. And I was damn glad that I did.
Mills’ set was full of witty banter and a general vibrant feeling of “I really like this guy”…partway through his set he played a tune with a few choice words (OK, a lot of choice words) following it with a “sorry, forgot to give the “kiddy earmuffs” warning to the parents on that one”. A really fantastic mix of tunes, a great voice, and incredible songs….plus, I did mention Dawes was his backing band, right? Just a killer set from this year’s “act that took me by complete surprise and made me a life-long fan”. Congrats Mr. Mills, you won the award.
Through my wandering and rambling I also caught bits and pieces of JD McPherson’s set on the mainstage and was pretty impressed. I can see why he is a Rounder recording artist. Caught a little of Hey Marseilles before hitting up the Kingsley set. Saw a few cool acts in the Late July tent (including the great Mr. Joe Fletcher) and Paste Ruins stages and really just soaked in the people and atmosphere of day 1. Sadly, due to the rain, wet clothes and camera bags, and grumbling stomachs my crew and I headed back across the harbor to get some sustenance and sleep catching only a bit of Feist’s set (of which was pretty damn good). You could tell she really wanted to amp the slowly saturating crowd up and get them to forget about the rain. We did miss Old Crow which was kind of a bummer. I dig the traditional stuff that those guys have brought to the mainstream…but then again, I am sure those guys are as sick of hearing fans yell “PLAY WAGON WHEEL!” as I am when I play at a bar. At least they didn't bring 'Hootie' out to sing it, right?
Day 2 was the day that I was most (and least) looking forward to out of the 3 as it had the artists I was most excited for, but also because it contained a lot of difficult choices for me…