A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of going once again to the Newport Folk Festival. The three-day fest in Newport, R.I. has been an institution to say the least. Perhaps it is best known for the day that Dylan went electric to a chorus of boos. It didn't seem to stop his career.
Nowadays, the fest doesn't exactly live up to its billing of being a folk festival exactl8y. One would be hard pressed to label most all of the acts playing this year or in recent years part of the folk family.
No matter. The festival has changed with the times and now presents a variety of music ranging from folk to country to soul to New Orleans styles to blues and probably a few others.
The greatness of the festival is that it enables listeners to check out a lot of acts easily in a relatively short amount of time. I will confess that I wasn't super excited about this year's line-up. No knock at the organizers, but there weren't a lot of acts I was dying to see. Well, I was looking to see Margo Price, who put out a great, hard core country disc earlier this year. Unfortunately, Price played on Saturday, but I couldn't attend. Oh well.
But expectations be damned. The energy of both fans and artist is palpable whenever the festival is held. The bottom line was that this turned out to be another fine festival.
The Alabama Shakes played their brand of hard soul with lead singer Brittany Howard infusing her emotion into the songs, picking away here and there. The Shakes proved to be a nice way to close out the festival. Elvis Costello preceded her with tried-and-true songs along with unreleased material. And he had a rootsy, country feel to some of his songs thanks to the mandolin and lap steel of his main backing mates, Larkin Poe, in reality two sisters.
But most folks knew something about Costello and Alabama Shakes.
Instead what was perhaps even more exciting was a chance to check out everyone from the fine Canadian outfit now making a dent here, The Strumbellas, to a dyed-in-the-wool folkie Joan Shelley to the new outfit Case/Lang/Veirs, who actually are not so new on their own (Neko Case, kd lang and Laura Veirs), but this was their first time out east. It was great seeing lang once again as she has not lost her pipes, energy or engagement skills.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones were super in a set of soulful music. Lead singer Paul Janeway does not look the part to say the least, but he's got the Otis Redding/James Brown thing down pretty well. They've made somewhat of a name for themselves already, but seeing them live for the first time at Newport was a highlight.
This is the beauty of Newport - the chance to experience and explore different music from musicians at different career levels. Here's to next year's Newport Folk Festival. I can't wait.