I’m just back from an epic family vacation that took us from the Valley of the Sun to Boston, then to New York City, and then on to Newport, Rhode Island for my (and my family’s) first Newport Folk Festival.
First off, it was great to have the opportunity to meet some of the people I’ve gotten to know through this web site, and through the internet music community I’ve been immersed in for the last several years. In Boston, I met Mike Heyliger, denizen of Popblerd. In NYC, I met my Ickmusic collaborator Michael Parr (who, unbeknownst to many, I had never met), his lovely wife Christine, and Dennis Corrigan aka @IrishJava. And finally, in Rhode Island, I met up with Ken Shane, senior music editor of Popdose, who was also behind the Newport Folk Festival’s social media presence, handling NFF’s Twitter & Facebook postings throughout the festival weekend.
As I expected, meeting these folks was nothing like meeting a person for the first time. Say what you will about the internet, but you really do come to know people through mediums like music blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Rdio, Spotify, and whatever social platform Google is trying lately (Buzz, +, etc.). It’s a connection of the like-minded: the shared passion for music, and its marriage with technology in the 21st century. These are exciting times to be a music fan – of course, all of this access to music and those who perform and follow it can be overwhelming, to say the least. But it sure is fun to navigate through it all with people like these folks. So Mike, Michael, Christine, Dennis, Ken – great to meet you all in person. Now you all know what a sexy beast I am in real life.
So in Newport, the music portion of the vacation took hold. My family, they’re good sports. They know that I’ll do my best to work in a music angle to every outing, near or far. This summer, it was the Newport Folk Festival. Highest on my list of must-see’s were Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, and M. Ward, backed by Dawes. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone rather bonkers for the “D” trifecta: Deer Tick, Delta Spirit, and Dawes.
Although Deer Tick wasn’t on the festival bill, by no means did that suggest they’d stay quiet for the weekend. The band is from Providence after all. Much to my delight, John McCauley and the band announced three late night gigs at the Newport Blues Cafe – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Best of all, the club was right across the street from our hotel in Newport. So, for me, the Folk Festival weekend ended up being bookended by two raucous late night gigs featuring Deer Tick and friends…
I missed the early acts on Friday, but when I rolled in at 10:30, Deer Tick was just taking the stage, and they didn’t stop until 1am. They played originals and some cool covers – a few Nirvana tunes (DT has an alter ego called Deervana, and have played entire Nirvana sets billed as them); John Prine’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, and some – uh- others that I didn’t have the foresight to tap into my iPhone (damn Blue Moons).
Sunday’s gig was extra cool, featuring an opening set by Dawes, and appearances by Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, M. Ward (for a brief guitar solo on the last tune of the night, “La Bamba”), Joe Fletcher, and my new favorite, Jonny Corndawg – a wild, young countryfied singer from Virginia – and a close bud of the Deer Tick clan. His debut is due later this year, but he does have a Daytrotter session under his belt, and is featured here on Songs: Illinois (I didn’t get him either, Craig, till I saw him perform).
The closing sets of my Sunday Newport Folk Festival were Middle Brother, Dawes, and M. Ward. I’ll have more about the festival itself soon in another post, but the good vibe that was evident in MidBro and Dawes’ sets continued on to the Newport Blues Cafe on Sunday evening. It’s so interesting to note the contrasts between the three “D” bands themselves, and the front men from each who make up Middle Brother. You have Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – the introspective, sensitive one. You have Deer Tick’s McCauley – unrefined, raw, gritty, laid back, taking it all as it comes. And then there’s Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez – wild, carefree, and caretaker of a primal scream that can shake the rafters. Matt was clearly the MidBro member feeling the least amount of pain on Sunday night. Everyone was having a great time, but Matt was having a GREAT time. His lead vocals on two Nirvana covers backed by Deer Tick (“Negative Creep” and “Senseless Apprentice”) were a highlight – whipping the small club into a crowd surfing frenzy.
Although the festival itself had its great moments- and I’ll cover them soon – it was the two late nights with Deer Tick & Friends that really made my weekend extra special. I was seeing Deer Tick for the first time, and on their home turf. The opening song of their debut album, War Elephant, is “Ashamed”. I liked the tune as is, but seeing it performed in Newport on Friday and Sunday, with the crowd wailing out in unison, “Ohhh–oooh-Ohhhhhhhh”, was one of those thrilling moments that make the live music experience so great – and make the songs you hear on the album so much better.
Sweet! It’s on YouTube. This captured it perfectly, because, well, this was it:
After Friday’s gig, I went up to John and thanked him for a great set, and since he’s a huge John Prine fan (like myself), I thanked him for keeping Prine’s music out there as well.
Telling him I came all the way from Arizona, John replied, “Welcome to my home state.” It sure was a great welcome, and ushered in a hell of a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island.