My Morning Jacket, Dawes, The Guthrie Family and More Highlight Newport Folk Day 1
A dapper Jim James – photo by Dean Budnick
My Morning Jacket headlined the first night of Newport, RI’s annual Folk Fest. Held every summer on the waterfront at Fort Adams State Park, Newport Folk Fest received a reboot in recent years thanks to a new generation of rootsy indie rockers and folk-inspired younger songwriters. My Morning Jacket—whose frontman Jim James is a member of Newport Folk’s Board of Directors—symbolized the new generation of bearded hipster rockers as much as anyone.
Nodding to the event’s family vibe, the group opened their set with “Welcome Home,” a cut from their 2011 Holiday iTunes EP, and proceeded to offer a unique setlist boasting a number of guests. The members of My Morning Jacket also marked the occasion by facing increased rain in white suits. Centro-matic’s Will Johnson sat in on the ballad “Bermuda Highway,” while both Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard and Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Clint Maedgen joined MMJ for a cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” (Levon Helm is something of the a godfather to the current crop of rising Americana acts). Cello player Ben Sollee and Conor Oberst then emerged for a take on “Smokin From Shootin’.” Unfortunately, soon after the Jacket’s set was cut after only 12 songs due to heavy rain and lightning.
The band’s performance closed a busy first day for the sold out event. Earlier in the day, Preservation Hall Jazz Band hosted a 50th anniversary show on the festival’s main fort stage. New Orleans transplant Tao Rodriguez-Seeger sat in on “ El Manicero,” and Solle played cello on “Closer Walk with Thee.” Del McCoury, who recently toured with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, played on a few songs as well, including a show-closing “I’ll Fly Away.” Solle, the festival’s sit in champ, had already made a guest appearance with The Apache Relay on one of the fest’s side stages.
Musicians continued to collaborate throughout the day. Dawes, who served as one of the festival’s unofficial house bands, invited a number of friends to join them on the mainstage. Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez sang with them on their single “When My Time Comes” and Conor Oberst joined First Aid Kit on “King of the World.” Several generations of Guthries congregated around Arlo Gurthrie for a set billed as the Guthrie Family Reunion. The set doubled as a tribute to family patriarch Woody Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this month, and featured some of the folk icons’ great-grandchildren on guest vocals. Fellow Americana icon Del McCoury watched sidestage. Arlo Gurthrie’s daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie, her husband Johnny Irion and their children offered a bonus set in the festival’s kids’ area, too.
The afternoon’s offerings showed just how broad the term Americana has become. Deer Tick played garage-rock inspired folk rock on one of the festival’s side stages, Sharon Van Etten offered a more psychedelic-colored version of the genre and Iron & Wine reworked their original songs with big band arrangements. Recent grassroots success story Alabama Shakes made their Newport Folk Fest debut on the festival’s main stage in front of a sprawling crowd. Elsewhere, LA guitarist Jonathan Wilson played a stealth set in the festival’s silent disco space, where fans listened to his sparse arrangement through headphones. Later in the afternoon, Oberst also made a surprise appearance in the festival’s kids’ area.
As previously reported, after the festival’s official schedule ended, members of Dawes, Delta Spirit and more joined Deer Tick at the nearby Newport Blues club.
Matt Vasquez with Dawes – photo by Dean Budnick