Newport Folk Festival 2014 Recap

Photo by our very own Andrew Cleak

If you’ve read this blog over the years then you know how much we love the Newport Folk Festival. It’s difficult to put into words how incredible this festival really is, especially the feeling of community amongst the artists and fans alike. Luckily, former Boston scenester Hilary Hughes summed it up better than we ever could in her recap of this year’s festival for Esquire. We could keep gushing about the festival, but instead let’s cut to the acts that made this year’s event so incredible.

Tall Tall Trees – It would be a damn shame for Mike Savino’s set to be forgotten simply because he was the first act to perform at this year’s festival. We included him in our list of 5 Must See Acts before the fest started and we hope that you were smart and took our advice. Savino aka Tall Tall Trees wowed the crowd with his impeccable looping skills and somehow incorporated the spacey sounds from a toy gun, along with various other props, to create a beautifully hectic soundscape. The ebbs and flows of the set kept everyone on the edge of their sets all the way through the last song, a rollercoaster version of the 2012 standout track “Highwire”.


Band of Horses – We won’t lie, we were a bit worried when Ben Bridwell started off this Friday evening set with just an acoustic guitar…Don’t get us wrong, the band is capable of incredible acoustic arrangements, but we were thankful that through the first few songs more of the band’s members joined until they reached full-on rock out mode on “The Great Salt Lake.” From there the set literally became a run through of the band’s greatest hits. “Is There a Ghost”, “Islands on the Coast”, and “Ode to LRC” were certainly highlights, but overall they couldn’t have picked a more perfect setlist even if they asked us to make it for them. We didn’t think that their intimate show at The Paradise three years ago could ever be topped, but this 12 song romp came pretty damn close.


Stream the full Band of Horses set via NPR

The Oh Hellos – Each year, a Newport Folk set comes to exemplify the community of the festival for us, and this year it was The Oh Hellos. While the band in itself is a community (they’ve got fourteen members!), The Oh Hellos and their interactions with the crowd exhibited the endlessly giving spirit that lies within the walls of Fort Adams. The Oh Hellos, one of the more modestly known acts at the Fest this year, came out swinging with their eclectic foot-stomp folk. As the band exerted full force on song after song, the screams under the Quad Stage got louder and louder. The crowd’s roars lasted long after each song, which clearly stunned and moved the entire band, as they exchanged wide-eyed glances and surprised smiles among one another. The immense reciprocal appreciation for those on stage and those watching was palpable throughout the set.  It’s clear that each and every musician, even the legendary Jack White, feels blessed to play at Fort Adams, but watching the Oh Hellos experience and react to the crowd’s unconditional love embodied the community spirit of Newport Folk Festival like nothing we’ve ever seen.


Jenny Lewis – When Jenny Lewis appeared on the Fort Stage draped in a billowing purple cloak, she joined Jim James in a very elite crew of cape-wearing music royalty. And while there’s no proof that a cape bestows singers like James and Lewis with special powers… given Jenny’s mesmerizing performance, y’all best believe. Jenny captivated the crowd with darkly funny soon-to-be hits from her brand new album The Voyager, like “Head Underwater” and “She’s Not Me.” And just as importantly, she didn’t hesitate to dig into her deep pockets of past work: the revelatory call to arms of “Rise Up with Fists!!” left us emotionally spent, and the ultra-rare loneliness ballad “Acid Tongue” stung so good. Even if she’d left her majestic stage attire back in the van, Jenny Lewis’ Newport performance made one thing blatantly clear: the Reigning Queen of Indie Rock is here to stay.


Stream the full Jenny Lewis set via NPR 

Jeff Tweedy Surprise Solo Set at Museum Stage – The Newport Folk Festival is full of little surprises and that’s what makes it so special. Tweedy brought along an acoustic guitar and played through stripped down versions of Wilco songs like “Misunderstood”, “Hummingbird”, and “Passenger Side” to a very packed house at the Museum Stage. The highlight though was when Tweedy, who always springs for an opportunity to interact with the crowd, called out a young child sitting near the front of the room donning a Wilco t-shirt. When Tweedy asked if the kid knew any of his songs or if his parents just dressed him up in a Wilco shirt the kid’s retort caught everyone off guard– “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Of course Tweedy obliged, but not before warning the crowd that the song contained adult themes (classic Tweedy). After taking the request Tweedy had time enough for one more song and again turned to the tiniest fan in the room whose reply caught everyone off guard for a second time– “I am trying to break your heart.” It was a perfectly hilarious and fitting exchange, one that we wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else but Newport.


Conor Oberst – The Bright Eyes frontman returned to the festival’s main stage for the second time in three years and did not disappoint amidst the Sunday afternoon drizzle. There wasn’t much banter between songs, but that didn’t matter as Oberst let his music do all of the talking. Backed by the boys from Dawes alongside accompanying mandolin, slide guitar, and horns, Oberst stormed through a mix of tracks from his recent solo effort, Upside Down Mountain, along with selections from the Bright Eyes catalogue. Though I was already a fan of Upside Down Mountain, seeing the songs performed live took my appreciation for the record even further. “Governor’s Ball”, “Artifact #1”, and “Double Life” were certainly standouts that allowed Oberst to really dig in and show off the visceral stage presence he has become known for over the years. The real treats though were the Bright Eyes selections, especially “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)” and set closer “Another Travelin’ Song”, the latter of which saw Oberst kicking his mic stand straight off the stage and leaving the crowd screaming for more.


Stream the full Conor Oberst set via NPR

Posted on by Eric in Newport Folk Festival Recap

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