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Black Pumas walk away with high marks

Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I., July 17, 2021

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz and Marc Cantor

The Newport Folk Festival schedule listed the mid-afternoon slot on the schedule "To Be Determined."

Whoever made the determination to put the Austin-based band on the roster of artists on closing day deserves a big raise.

Black Pumas pretty much walked away with the festival with their mid-afternoon gig on the main stage of high energy funk, soul and psychedelically-tinged blues. Lead singer Eric Burton easily overcame early microphone issues with confident swagger quickly connecting with the enthusiastic fandom.

He was a powerhouse, jumping into the crowd microphone in hand twice. His presence both on stage and in the crowd was electrifying. He didn't talk much, but his actions spoke volumes. He bounded about the stage, dancing, gesticulating and gesturing. He performed with his entire being.

Burton's vocals were a clarion call to a very receptive audience. He was able to alter his delivery no matter what the music.

The Black Pumas were far more than just Burton. Guitarist Adrian Quesada, who founded the band with Burton three years ago, often propelled the songs with his sharp, often steely guitar playing. While backing singers can serve as window dressing, not here. Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes not only provided good visuals with their dance moves, but they took prominent roles in singing as well.

Rhode Island's finest, Deer Tick, closed up the festival with a crowd-pleasing set covering the gamut from Irish ballads (including a jig at the end) to power rock to roots rock.

Clearly a crowd favorite – the fans seemed to know the words to every song, danced and heartily sang along - Deer Tick did not disappoint. Lead singer John McCauley played to the locals, first asking if anyone was from Providence before moving into "Smith Hill," which was "my old stomping grounds."

Deer Tick was clearly excited for the moment. Guitarist Ian O'Neill often leapt into the air, bouncing about the stage, letting it rip musically. Drummer Dennis Ryan took lead vocals on a few songs, while setting the beat.

McCauley's wife, singer Vanessa Carlton, came out for a beautiful on "In Our Time," hugging and kissing before going off stage.

For the finale of the festival as is typical, McCauley summoned other artists to come on stage (as did some staffers) for a rousing version of "Goodnight Irene." Shutting off the PA system, the a Capella ending made for a great conclusion to a successful fest in a most difficult year.

Another area band, Lake Street Dive closed up the music at the Quad stage. Truth be told, LSD could have easily been slotted to the lawn stage as the finale since they are clearly deserving.

That's much to their credit because this show was different than any other show the band has ever done. LSD made history on this night because the show marked the debut of guitarist James Cornelison. After a few glitches with wiring, all was straightened out, and Cornelison was on his way.

LSD is a musically engaging group covering soul, funk, rock and pop. Put any musical genre in the hands of lead singer Rachael Price, and there would be no worries. She sounds gorgeous in song after song, just about the perfect singer. Price aided the LSD cause with her stage presence as well, clearly into the music and feeding off the crowd.

The opposite apparently was true too because at one point, the crowd – uncharacteristic for Newport – rushed towards the front and let loose.

LSD went beyond its own material with a few choice covers, nothing new for the group. Chief among them was their take on Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" courtesy of keyboardist Akie Bermiss, whose soulful vocals more than did the song justice.

Following the one-two closing punch of "You Go Down Smooth" and "Good Kisser," LSD continue with a three-song closing coup de grace. Price referenced late WFUV radio music director Rita Houston, a fixture at Newport Folk Festival, who passed away in December 2020 at 59. As a result, LSD played three songs that were favorites of Houston: a superb take on David Bowie's "Starman" with Chris Thile guesting on mandolin and vocals; Mavis Staples' "You're Not Alone" with singer Allison Russell (though she was outshone by Price) and an excellent reading of John Lennon's "Instant Karma" with Jonathan Russell of The Head & the Heart on lead.

LSD continues being a fun, creative band.

Julien Baker, a darling of the indie folk crowd, offered an acoustic guitar performance that was filled with emotional and introspective songs, which covered a very narrow musical path.

Baker, who has performed with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, clearly was not comfortable taking center stage and said so herself. "This is going to be weird," she said. "Everything's weird." Early on, she said she was nervous and forgot the words to a song, resulting in her doing a cover instead. Baker certainly display a sense of humor in her patter.

Baker gained her footing more so when accompanied by Mariah Schneider, also on acoustic guitar. Schneider provided a good balance with harmonies and allowed Baker to play the banjo as well.

Katie Pruitt's stint only got better as her time on stage progressed. The Georgia native is one sharp songwriter, creating stories and images in her material, such as "Blood Related" about her family and "It's Always Been You" about a relationship in Nashville with a woman. Not to mention a great line: "Let's have a sword with with these French baguettes."

Pruitt turned to social commentary on "Look the Other Way," written in response to the murder of George Floyd, and "Southern Roots" on her hopes for her native region.

There was a lot to like about Pruitt with her words speaking volumes.

Thile's talents are not to be underestimated. He's a master of the mandolin and has been for decades. But sometimes he's a bit over the top with his playing, extending the song for minutes too long.

Thile turned in an excellent reading of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," not to mention a funny story of how had his first glass of wine when he was 19 in Amiens, France.

And he may well have been referring to COVID on his closing cut, 'Hard Times Ain't Gonna Ruin My Mind."

On the busking stage, traditional country singer Sierra Ferrell, the most traditional set of the festivals. She has a voice well-suited to the genre.

Jonathan Russell spends most of his nights lead singer for The Head and the Heart. Here, he appeared solo with his acoustic guitar. While the band was missed, Russell did cover some of his band's material. Not particularly talkative, Russell simply played his music – including reflective songs on youth.

Alabama native Early James acquitted himself well on his main stage, which was stepped in a more traditional country sound. With solid singing, James' guitar playing also gave depth to the material.

Jake Blount started the final day of the festival off with a pleasing set of acoustic music. Blount was adept on fiddle, although his vocals were not particularly strong.



©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com
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