I just got back from 6 days in Newport, where I was commissioned by Squarespace to do an interactive exhibit and mural, All Over This Land, during the Newport Folk Festival. I was expecting a nice seaside town and a sleepy music festival, boy was I wrong. What a beauty spot Newport is. From the scenic coastline, the Cliff Walk, the incredible Mansions and a hopping’ tourist scene to the site of the festival, the 200 hundred+ year-old Fort Adams State Park. You hear “folk festival” and you think of music by the festival founder, the late Pete Seeger and some quiet Peter, Paul & Mary-fied sounds, and there was that, but SO much more. Five years ago, ticket sales at the festival had become pretty dry, then Jay Sweet – a journalist and music supervisor for filmmakers the Farrelly Brothers – wrote a proposal asking to book the fest. He got the gig and put together a smash lineup with acts like Iron & Wine, Deer Tick and the Decemberists along with veterans like Arlo Guthrie. It sold out. As the 22 year-old powerhouse Benjamin Booker said this year, “This ain’t no folk show,”. It sold out in 2014 too, WAY before all of the acts were announced, so all of the “big names” were all surprises. I caught Jack White, Band of Horses and Conor Oberst on the main stage, among others. In the Quad, where we were stationed, we got to hear (and sometimes see) acts like Benjamin Booker, Lucious, Trampled by Turtles and Hooray for Riff Raff, none of which I had ever heard before but were amazing.
Under the radar superbands like Puss N Boots, which is Nora Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson played beautiful sets, and along with Lake Street Dive featured the one-and-only Mavis Staples (video below). Jeff Tweedy, who performed with son Spencer on drums, also had Mavis onstage for “Wrote a Song For Everyone”. Saturday was Mavis’s birthday and the whole weekend was one big party for her. I was walking through the Quad after it had shut, down during Jack White’s amazing performance, which I caught a bit of, I came up Mavis and had a quick chat and got my photo taken with the legend. (SO happy with that!) Mavis turned 75 – she first played Newport 50 years ago with The Staple Singers. Although during her killer version of, “I’ll Take You There” she informed us that she was NOT 75. “I’m 30, with 45 years experience!” She led the finalé with Lucius, Norah Jones and a good amount of the artists that had played throughout the weekend, with the song that Pete Seeger would always close the festival with, “We Shall Overcome.” Gotta say, I got a little teary then. We all hung out after the crowds had left and watched a beautiful sunset. We later made our way backstage for an after-party and some drinks. Mavis made a grand exit in her Mavis-mobile (golf cart) to wild applause from us the crew, organizers and the other performers. A nice send-off to an amazing weekend. You’ll see some of the bands above shot by the Wild Honey Pie shot for SS Squarespace On The Boat, here.