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Published: 2008/08/04

The Black Crowes, Trey Anastasio, Levon Helm, Jimmy Buffett and Jim James Shine at Newport Folk

Newport, RIs influential Folk Fest inched towards its 50th anniversary over the weekend, with both a revitalized lineup and a handful of festival-stalwarts. Once known as the festival where Bob Dylan plugged in, this year Newport Folk boasted an eclectic mix of folk, roots, indie and jam favorites at scenic Fort Adams State Park, a picturesque lot of land situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor. Though severe weather left part of Newport without power Saturday, the festivals generators kept the afternoons festivities on track throughout the weekend.
Though a far cry from the festivals acoustic roots, headliners the Black Crowes and Jimmy Buffett both tailored their sets to the event. The Robinson Brothers opened their performance with an acoustic version of Bob Dylans Girl From The North Country, before bringing out Luther Dickinson, the newest Crowe, for their first version of the traditional folk song He Was A Friend Of Mine since the late 1990s. The rest of the Black Crowes then took the stage for a charged performance that included electric numbers like the rocker Jealous Again. Buffett also offered a semi-stripped down performance, leaving his horn section at home on hits like Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise. He also invited out Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for a take on their Elvis Presley Blues and later nodded to Dylan by closing out the event with a solo acoustic version of Blowin In the Wind.
The Newport Folk Festival also received a jolt of youthful energy thanks to Trey Anastasio, who performed his second full-show since graduating from New York State Drug Court. Like his recent Rothbury show, Anastasio offered a solo acoustic set that mixed Phish sing-a-longs like Chalk Dust Torture and Sample in a Jar with material from his solo career such as Let Me Lie and Sleep Again. He also used the opportunity to debut two songs he wrote with lyricist Tom Marshall: the new Peggy and If I Could Be A Sailor, the latter of which the longtime collaborators wrote and eventually shelved over a decade ago. Before jumping into If I Could Be A Sailor, Anastasio also nodded to the dozens of fans watching the festival from their boats in the Newport Harbor. But, for many, the highlights of Anastasios set were a jam leading out of Wilson and a loose version of Bathtub Gin. Meanwhile, his decision to run straight from singles Bouncing Around the Room to Heavy Things, as well as his solo take on the post-Phish song Shine proved more controversial (to a few stalwarts in attendance).
Another weekend highlight was a solo acoustic set by My Morning Jackets Jim James. The singer spent the entire weekend at the festival, checking out Brian Wilsons kick off performance Friday and sticking around Sunday to sit in with Calexico on a cover of Bob Dylans Going to Acapulco,’ a song he sings with the group on the soundtrack to the film I’m Not There. James also sat in with M. Wards indie-folk duo She & Him on Magic Trick, a choice cut from Wards Post-War album. Soon after, Ward joined James during his solo set on the rarity Wonderful (The Way I Feel), as well as Golden and Look At You. James and Ward are longtime friends who have toured with Bright Eyes under the banner Monsters of Folk. Other highlights from James set included Bermuda Highway, Librarian and a set-closing Anytime, which ended with the My Morning Jacket frontman packing up his guitar and walking offstage while his omnichord looped the songs final notes in the background. Stagehands then set the stage for a tight performance by Cat Power.
Longtime Relix/ favorites American Babies emerged as one of the weekends success stories. The quartet—-with Fat Mamas Jonathan Goldberger stepping in for Jim Hamilton on bass—-played a high-energy show on one of the festivals side-stages that featured favorites such as Brooklyn Bridge and Invite Your Friends. When Stephen and Damian Marley were delayed entering the festival, American Babies stepped up for a second set, rushing over to the festivals mainstage for an encore performance as the Marley Brothers set up their gear. Despite the rain, several thousand fans stuck around to take in their first American Babies performance, which ranks among the groups largest to date.
Former Band singer/drummer Levon Helm also continued his post-Grammy victory lap with a marquee appearance on Sunday. The veteran drummer offered a number of Band chestnuts, along with cuts from his new album Dirt Farmer. He also brought out Gillian Welsh, David Rawlings and ukulele-wiz Jake Shimabukuro for the classic ‘The Weight. Yet, perhaps the weekends best Bob Dylan nod came from his son Jakob, who joked that his guitar was acoustic, but plugged in.

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