So, I'm now in my third straight weekend of travel. I guess now's as good a time as any to start writing up some recaps for the three of you reading this blog. And awaaaaaaaay we go...
The plan was to get to the Newport Folk Festival sometime in the early afternoon on Saturday. But the best-laid schemes of mice, men, and anyone taking 1-95 through Connecticut gang aft agley. So, as the family truckster crawled through Connecticut with my sister behind the wheel, me in the navigator seat, and my mom in the back, we figured we might as well make some dreams come true and take a little pit stop before our officially planned brunch break. And that is how it came to be that, after several trips to New England and several glimpses of the sign, we wound up at Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield, CT, at a little after 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
I suppose I could have just bought the t-shirt and headed back into the car, but it didn't seem right to buy the shirt without sampling the goods. So I got a Chicagoan, and though I'd stop short of calling it super duper, it wasn't half bad.
And what do you eat after you shove a hot dog down your throat at 11:30 a.m.? Why, pancakes, of course--specifically the Coconut Crunch pancakes at Chip's in Orange, CT. The pancakes were much more super duper than the weenie.
After that, we headed back out into the Connecticut traffic and moved in fits and starts the rest of the way, until we finally made it to Fort Adams State Park in Newport at just around 4 p.m. We'd missed a bunch of bands, but there was still enough to see to make the day worthwhile (plus, we already had tickets, so it seemed like a good idea to use them). And sitting out along the water as the day grew short wasn't such a bad place to be, music or no music.
I scoped out the new layout with my sister, and the new stage inside the fort, where Dawes was playing when we got there, was definitely an upgrade from last year. Plus, it was just cool to be inside the fort. The second stage, where Doc Watson held court as we passed by, had made a 90-degree turn from last year, which I think may have actually been a turn for the worse, as it was harder to see from outside the tent, and the traffic into and out of the stage seemed a little more hectic than last year.
But I only really have minor complaints like that when it comes to the Newport Folk Festival (I suspect if I drove, I'd be more apt to complain, but, hey, stubbornness has its privileges...and thanks, Laura [and Sam, for last year's efforts]). And since the sun was not nearly as broiling as last year, it was a much more pleasant, less sweaty experience this time around.
The highlights of the first day for me were Andrew Bird covering Bob Dylan's "Oh, Sister" and John Prine's whole set, which ended with Prine and Jim James from My Morning Jacket (or Yim Yames, if you prefer) singing "All the Best," before bringing Jim Rooney on stage to close with "Paradise." And, thanks to my favorite part of the Newport Folk Festival--its generous, you-can-come-to-the-front-to-take-pictures-for-the-first-three-songs-of-a-set policy, I got one of my favorite pictures ever, of Prine.
And we got a special music bonus as we waited on the shuttle line to get back to the parking lot--a performance by the What Cheer? Brigade, a roving, ragtag brass band of sorts who played sets throughout the park on Saturday and Sunday. Check them out if you get the chance.
After the postshow family collapse on Saturday night, we were up and at 'em again early Saturday morning. I was up and at 'em a bit earlier than the ladies, as I had churching to do, right after some johnnycakes at the nearby diner (the 'cakes were OK, but nothing worth switching teams and risking your cushy mafia career over). When I returned to the hotel, a quick dropoff so I could pin down a spot on the main lawn for the day quickly turned into "we might as well just all stay and cobble together breakfast from Clif bar samples and free Stonyfield Farms yogurt." My mom and sis holed up under the tent at the second stage and saw Cory Chisel and the Punch Brothers while I took in Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. My camera, seemingly believing that it had done its job for the weekend after the top-notch Prine photo, decided to take most of Sunday off and gave me all sorts of problems throughout the day. Still, I eked out a couple of good ones in the early part of the day among strong sets from both Rodriguez-Seeger and Jones.
I also snuck a picture of the festival impresario, and generally swell guy, George Wein, without whom I would have not been able to get in a car on a Saturday afternoon with my family, have a hot dog and pancakes, and see some of my favorite musicians.
The fam reconvened on the main lawn for the Avett Brothers' set, though my sister and I left my mom to head up front early on. After a little confusion, I made my way up to the photo section while my sister chilled in the new Standing Area right behind the photo section. She was originally skeptical of positioning herself in the tightly packed space, but when I made my way back to where my mom was, she was firmly entrenched, trying unsuccessfully to keep her freshly unstitched kneecap in place and unaffected by "Colorshow." She failed. Sorry, doc. The knee made it through OK, though. And the Avetts came through with another good set, even playing a new song that sounded right in place with the others.
I darted during "I and Love and You" to get to the second stage to see the end of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's set and grab a spot for the Felice Brothers' set. The booking of the Avetts and the PHJB at the same time was the big scheduling bummer of the weekend, but I cut it a little bit by making a rare trip to the Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night to see the PHJB open for (and play a few songs with) Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Yim Yames (all three of whom also played at Newport). That show left me sufficiently satisfied (and was one of the best I've seen this year), but I still wanted to see if I could catch a few PHJB songs at Newport. I got there in time to see the end of "St. James Infirmary" with Yames and the set-closing "We Shall Overcome" with Rodriguez-Seeger. I highly, highly recommend checking out the PHJB at City Winery on November 3.
The Felice Brothers were also stellar, though perhaps not the best keepers of time in the world. They underestimated their allotted time on stage and wound up having to be coaxed back on stage to play two or three more songs simply because there was more than enough time to do so. But they got everybody moving during "Frankie's Gun" and "Take This Bread" before making way for the hippie mayhem of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, at which point my mom and I headed back to the main stage to catch the end of The Swell Season, whom I enjoyed much more than the last time I saw them, particularly during covers of "Into the Mystic" and "The Auld Triangle."
Then the family again reconvened for the headliners, the Levon Helm Band, whom you may have heard that I like quite a bit. I headed up to the photo pit, where I quickly became involved in what my have been the most annoying 20 minutes of my life. It began like this:
Shirtless Guy: So, who's playing next here?
Me: [Wondering why he's up this close if he has no idea who's playing] Levon Helm.
Me: Levon Helm.
SG: And who is that?
Me: [Slowly losing mind] He was the drummer for The Band.
SG: What band?
Me: [Seeing where this is going, ready to cry] THE Band.
SG: Oh, THE Band?
Me: Yeah. (SG's still perplexed.) They're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Played behind Dylan. All that stuff.
SG: Oh, so I guess I should know who he is.
Me: [Words starting to fail] Yeah. I guess.
Then, before I could recover fully from that, the woman on the other side of me started talking to me about how she used to work for a record label that put out solo records by Levon, Rick Danko ("before he died," she helpfully added), and Garth Hudson. So, making conversation, I mentioned that I had those records, which was the wrong move, because now I had apparently demonstrated a willingness to talk not only before the show started but as it was going on and I was trying desperately to get my camera to stop focusing on the wall behind Levon rather than Levon himself so I could get one decent picture. So, I fielded comments on how Garth and Maud Hudson are broke, Garth is fried, musicians have a hard life, Levon was a financial success because he was in "Coal Miner's Daughter," and on and on and on. Then, as I was singing along to "Ophelia" and taking photos (not an easy task to begin with), she asked, "Is this one of The Band's songs?" Oh boy.
I should also point out that this was after she was trying to tell Shirtless Guy, whom I'm assuming she was friends with, about the songs of The Band. She remembered "Up On Cripple Creek," then faltered. So, of course, she asked me.
Annoying Woman: What are some of the other songs The Band does?
Me: [While taking photos) I don't know. There are lots of them. "The Weight."
AW: And how does that one go again?
And then, when Levon came out, her first comment was "He looks old." "That's because he is," I responded, because, I think we can call 70 old, right?
It was a long three songs, through no fault of Levon and his band. But between Shirtless Guy, Annoying Woman, and another Drunken Woman who seemingly thought guitarist Larry Campbell was Levon Helm, I was more than happy to depart when the fourth song, the relatively new and pretty damn incredible Levon Helm Band cover of Sam Cooke's "(Aint That) Good News" started. I got one in-focus Levon picture and a few salvageable, wall-focused ones.
After watching the Mountain Jam Levon and Friends show online, I was sort of expecting a star-studded finale (the rumor floating among the bright lights in the photo pit was that Jimmy Buffett was going to play a few songs, which would have made me cry, just not in a good way). Unfortunately, all we got was Glen Hansard from the Swell Season and Richie Havens on "The Weight," which Richie Havens knows neither the words nor melody to. He was similarly shaky on the festival-closing "I Shall Be Released," which featured all of the festival acts that cared to be on stage, including members of the Felice Brothers, The Low Anthem, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three (who were staying at our hotel), Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Aoife O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and many others.
And then the sun set on another Newport Folk Festival.
We spent the night in Newport and did some sightseeing on Monday before heading home (and making a first-time stop at the spinoff Eveready Diner in Brewster, NY), deftly avoiding I-95 and visiting the pottery shops and antique centers of Connecticut as we made our way.
All in all, a strong start to A Month of Festivals.