Washed by the rain – Day One at Newport Folk Festival 2013
The rain came early and often – a mist to begin, finding its way to a steady spit. I didn’t even notice at first, to be honest. I was nestled in the center of a large and solid tent, a few rows back, watching the Milk Carton Kids play one of the first and finest sets of Day One at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
“We’ve worn our finest suits,” joked Joey Ryan after the duo’s first song or two. “[We] brought these notes that’ll help us put on the most professional show possible.”
As their set unfolded, Ryan and his songwriting partner Kenneth Pattengale dropped one-liners about the remarkable collection of photographers and the crowd around the tent. No doubt they were marveling at how far they’ve come in the three years since they blended their solo careers into a collaboration so intuitive it often sounds like they’re singing in the same voice, just on different notes. Of course, between jokes, they unleashed the music, with its daringly tight harmonies and heartbreaking lyrics. They pulled mostly from their recent release The Ash and Clay (Anti-, 2013), though a few of the songs reached back farther than that. For many under this tent, though, it was likely all new.
They also struck a considerable contrast to all that came after them. For a festival which has been a launching ground for many young singer-songwriters, the first day of its 2013 festivities was dominated by bands. From Hey Marseilles to the Last Bison, Phosphorescent and the Mountain Goats (who delivered an incredible pouring rain set at the Harbor Tent). Even singer-songwritery Blake Mills decided to welcome the walking awesomeness that is Dawes, who performed as his backing band this time around. The set was amped up and heavy on electric guitars.
“Look what Bob Dylan started!”, I heard a drenched passerby shout as he trod his way through the gathering mud. Nearly 50 years later, and it’s still an open wound, apparently.
But, no amount of rain or electric guitars could keep the folk away.
Amanda Palmer showed up, armed with ukulele, and delivered a set that had the radio folks gritting their teeth. (For every f-bomb, they had to take advantage of their broadcasting delay and bleep it out. Too many f-bombs, they’d have to drop the feed and send it back to the other stage. Needless to say, and unsurprisingly, Palmer tested the limits.) I departed her set, though, before she pulled her husband Neil Gaiman onstage, much to the glee of her army of fans, who expressed it in large numbers on their Twitter machines.
Over at the mainstage, meanwhile, Old Crow Medicine Show closed out the day, kicking and twirling and pounding on banjos. At one point, frontman Ketch Secor seemed to toss his fiddle in the sky and pull down a harmonica. He marched across the stage playing two harmonicas at once, as the rest of the band swapped turns on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. Tipping a hat to the remarkable tradition which landed them on that stage, the troupe delivered songs by Leadbelly and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, a tune about Vietnam, a coal mining song, and their own originals from Carry Me Back, which fit right in with the rest. They started in a teeming rain and ended against a clearing sunset, to a jumping crowd and a calming bay. If anyone was wondering, that’s how it’s done.
More tomorrow, as the lineup picks up its pace: Iris DeMent, Justin Townes Earle, the Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, Nashville to Newport, Sarah Jarosz, Shovels & Rope, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, and on and on.