50 Things About Folk Festival 50
1. The next time you fret about going to an outdoor festival because you think it might rain, consider that eight hours in an open field under an unobstructed sun is something else worth fretting over.
2. Despite all the good music I was about to hear, the song in my head Saturday morning was Frankie Yankovic and Cowboy Jack Clement's version of "The Barroom Polka" (particularly the line "They serve you cocktails in ritzy Newport").
3. I enjoy a festival that lets you walk up to the stage and take a picture. Nice policy, Folk Festival 50.
4. Women with tattoos on their hipbones can't really be expecting to grow old, can they?
5. First battle came right off the bat: Tift Merritt or Ramblin' Jack Elliott? Tift wins, because as much as I admire Ramblin' Jack, I'm not sure I can handle the massive storytelling first thing. But, happy 78th birthday, Ramblin' Jack.
6. The attempt at wit in the Dunkin' Donuts "skyvertisement" ("You Look Hot Down There") was not appreciated.
7. Note to future festivalgoers placing their blanket/towel on a lawn with more than 5,000 people on it: Someone's gonna step on it. Get over it.
8. Until Saturday, I never saw someone swigging from a milk bottle on a hot summer day.
9. If you sell didgeridoos, why bother bringing a dozen? Won't it be a miracle if someone buys one?
10. A Billy Bragg show where he doesn't sing "A New England" doesn't feel complete to me. But "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" was cool. And mocking the freeloaders who pulled up to the show in their boats was pretty entertaining, too.
11. I still get a bit overcome when I see the Avett Brothers cheered on by several thousand people. I imagine at some show soon I will finally just break down and weep like a baby. I hope you're there to see that. I won't be writing about it.
12. Happiness is a local food vendor selling a grilled Elvis sandwich (peanut butter and bananas, with a side of marshmallow fluff)
13. Someday, I suppose I will be an old person shaking my fist at the young folk who are standing in front of me. But I am still hoping not to be.
14. Yes, I had a Del's frozen lemonade, and, yes, I liked it.
15. Festival emcees shouldn't talk so much.
16. I heard a lot of good songs from a lot of great musicians, but the highlight may have been Gillian Welch and David Rawlings singing "White Rabbit." It made me feel better about missing a good chunk of Mavis Staples's set on another stage.
17. I was out in the unobstructed sun by the main stage from Tift Merritt's set at 11:30 until Gillian Welch's set ended around 3:40. That may explain why I bear a resemblance to a beet.
18. Yes, I used sunscreen. But I can't put any on my face because whenever I do, it gets in my eyes and I'm momentarily blinded. At the Saratoga festival last year, I was pretty close to blind for about 90 minutes. In fact, I was so out of it that I thought I saw Steve Earle playing with a guy on turntables. Weird.
19. I managed to dart over to the other stage to see a decent-sized portion of Mavis Staples's set, and, hot damn, that was great.
20. As I watched Ms. Staples sing "Respect Yourself," I was reminded that I first heard that song sung by Bruce Willis on his "Return of Bruno" LP, which may have been the first LP I ever owned (I made my dad buy it for me in the city). At the time, I assumed that Bruce Willis wrote it. And, so, I would like to apologize publicly to the Staple Singers (and Luther Ingram and Sir Mack Rice) for that. And I would also like to apologize for having another song from that album in my head last week.
21. Why are they the Staple Singers and not the Staples Singers? That bothers me.
22. I only heard a few songs from the Fleet Foxes, and the Iron and Wine stage was too crowded. So much for sampling new bands.
23. I did see the Decemberists. I liked them more than I thought I would. I'm still not certain I'd like recorded versions of the songs, but they were fun live. And bonus points for going into the crowd for a bit, though the reenactment of Dylan going electric wasn't particularly funny.
24. I don't know a band that is not made better by the addition of an accordion.
25. I've seen Pete Seeger three times this year. It's not getting old for me, though it is probably getting close to stalking.
26. "Worried Man Blues" led by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch was the highlight of the Seeger singalong, though it was all pretty great.
27. George Wein seems like a cool guy. I'm glad he put Folk Festival 50 together (though letting him use the Newport Folk Festival name would've been a nice gesture).
28. I was happy to see the sun go down on me. My ears were particularly grateful.
29. It's not a festival until you're tied up in traffic for an hour.
30. I've never been happier to see clouds than I was when I woke up Sunday morning.
31. Our spot was not as good on Sunday because I delayed our arrival by going to church (the church where JFK and Jackie got hitched). At church, the woman next to me told me I had a beautiful voice. Apparently, there is some incredible weed in Newport.
32. Josh Ritter or the David Rawlings Machine? Tough one. Started with Ritter; went over to see Rawlings for a bit; realized that, in addition to seeing David and Gillian the day before, I'll be seeing them this Thursday, too; and went back to Ritter. I think that was the right choice (and there's always the NPR archive to hear what I missed. Or what you missed. Check it out.)
33. There could not have been a happier man than Sunday's opener Josh Ritter. He beamed through most of his set and seemed absolutely thrilled to be playing.
34. One of the best parts of the festival, in fact, was how genuinely honored the performers seemed to be, whether it was Ritter recalling how he sent some of his early work to Pete Seeger and got some words of encouragement in return, or Scott Avett saying that he never thought he'd be this close to Ramblin' Jack Elliott.
35. Where the Hold Steady have failed, Josh Ritter and his band have succeeded: they have made me enjoy a band that features a guy with a handlebar mustache.
36. If you sit and read The New York Times while the Campbell Brothers play, I have no other choice but to say that I dislike you as a human being.
37. Biggest disappointment of the weekend: the Campbell Brothers didn't play "Jump for Joy." I was so ready to jump.
38. Another musical highlight: Guy Clark singing "Dublin Blues."
39. Neko Case or the Del McCoury Band? Sorry, Neko.
40. I love it when they play "Nashville Cats" (even when Del flubs the first verse, which, being the solid man he is, he completely owned up to at song's end).
41. Bluegrass with a tuba? Why not?
42. Band I regret not seeing more of: Balfa Toujours. They wound up being on at the same time as Del, though they were originally supposed to be on earlier (I think there were some travel issues).
43. I appreciate the idea, but I'm hesitant to take life advice from a guy wearing a "Love Guru" t-shirt.
44. The Museum of Yachting was intriguing, but not $5 intriguing.
45. Nice to see the full Deer Tick band after seeing a hastily put together acoustic performance from the lead singer a few months ago. Rhode Island loves 'em. I'm on the fence. But it was good to see everybody up and into the show, in contrast to Sunday's main stage crowd, which hardly moved a muscle. Perhaps they were just gearing themselves for the high-octane trilling of Joan Baez.
46. After watching a few Arlo Guthrie songs, I tried to navigate my way off the lawn and found it almost impossible. It was like Frogger but not as much fun. And instead of dodging cars, you were dodging old people in camping chairs. I survived.
47. Sunday's weather was much better on my face, and we bailed before the rains came, because I had a bus to catch.
48. I don't know what hell's like, but I suspect it might be back-to-back sets by Joan Baez and Judy Collins, capped off by a duet. Luckily, we missed that.
49. I think my favorite sunburned area is a sliver I missed by my watch that makes it look like I was branded.
50. The sunburn on half of my face, select areas of my neck, and bits of my arm was 100% percent worth it. Thanks for the driving and use of your futon, Sam.