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Newport Folk Festival Spotlight

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Jay Sweet

Posted on by Eric in Newport Folk Festival Spotlight | 2 Comments


Last week I was lucky enough to chat with Jay Sweet, producer of the Newport Folk Festival, Editor of Paste Magazine and fellow North Shore resident. I talked to Jay about this year’s Newport Folk Festival as well as the devout following that the historical festival has gained over the years.

Maimed & Tamed: How does the selection process for bands work at the festival?

Jay Sweet: We don’t go after fad bands that are just one and done, we have to do this for a long-term relationship. We want to invest in bands that are going to invest in us because as they get bigger we can’t really afford them. If you take the Avett Brothers or the Felice Brothers, bands that we have had three or four years in a row, those were growth relationships. We kind of bet on them early and they were loyal and without that loyalty from the bands we don’t have a festival. The entire budget of the festival is usually equal to what one headliner costs at one of the other major festivals. To put it into perspective it would cost about three times our entire budget to get just Neil Young. There are only three ways an artist can get to play Newport; 1. You the artist want to play 2. We the festival want you to play and 3. Our fans demand that you play. Two out of those three things have to happen or you are not going to play Newport.

M&T: If you had as much money as the major festivals, who would be your dream headliners? (This is one he said he has never been asked before, but is always prepared to answer)

JS: We are upset that we have never been able to get Neil Young. We think Neil Young having never played Newport is a travesty to everybody. He was supposed to play with Buffalo Springfield in 1967, he was listed in the program, but about a week before the event their management sent a telegram to George Wein saying that due to a tonsillectomy they were going to have to cancel. We have the telegram you can see it on our Facebook page. The fact that Bruce Springsteen has never played a solo acoustic set either is really disheartening and the end all be all would have to be Joni Mitchell who doesn’t perform live anymore. Those are the three legends that are still alive that we think it would be incredibly beneficial for both them and us to show that they understand the musical heritage of the festival. Think about the musical history of this country, this festival is ten years older than Woodstock, Newport is our original festival in this country, it is the granddaddy that started them all. It is amazing how some bands still take it as another gig, but most of them realize that this festival should be on their bucket list.

Also the three artists who we have tried every year to get, but it has not happened would be Beck doing an acoustic set, Eddie Vedder, because we need people to carry on the Pete Seeger torch of musical political activism, and Jack White. With Jack we want to try to bring back the blues, I’m talking the Delta blues, not Chicago blues. I’m talking about the Robert Johnson, Skip James, Bukka White, Son House type blues. A guy with a guitar, tapping his foot, sitting on a chair, singing gut-wrenching Delta blues. Who does that? Who can make it cool for young people to dig the blues? Jack White can do that. He understands from afar what we are trying to do and we don’t think there is anybody other than Jack White who can turn people on to the Delta blues. If he sat down and just played a set of Bukka White, Skip James, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, we think he could single-handedly revive that type of music and get a lot of people turned on to doing that.

M&T: Who are you looking forward to seeing the most at this year’s festival?

JS: We are really excited about Gillian Welch being back and having her and the Decemberists on the same bill. Having Freelance Whales and PS 22 on the same day is going to be fun too. We are also excited about Tegan and Sara because that was one of those instances where we have wanted them, they wanted to play and the timing just had to be right. It is awesome when you get two women that don’t make sense on the bill, but they started as just two women with acoustic guitars and Newport is something that has been on their career list. When we took over the festival I put this massive white board in my office and wrote down every artist that we love that we thought would be right for this festival at some point. When we get to cross them off it is a very good feeling and Tegan and Sara was one of those bands that we have been waiting to cross off for a few years.

Of course we are very tight with all the guys in Middle Brother and we are really excited about having them this summer. I think there is something about those guys where you can tell that they are going to be around for a while. All three bands [Dawes, Delta Spirit, Deer Tick] and all three guys [Taylor Goldsmith, Matt Vasquez, John McCauley], they’re just in it for the long-haul and they are really good at what they do. They are to me all about the future of what is going to be great in the music industry. They have their own scene, they don’t really care what is happening. Sometimes you look at a lot of bands that are trying to chase something, instead of creating something, but Middle Brother has nothing to chase and they are simply creating their own community and their own sound.

M&T: It is pretty obvious that you look at the word “folk” in a very general way, how would you describe your definition of folk music?

JS: People tend to think of folk as this weird term, but we try to keep it as general as possible, because folk is really music that will continue on. It is music that can be popular, but it is not built to be popular for that time, it is built to last. Folk music is for the people, by the people, meaning that people want other people to learn how to play these songs. We want to bridge the gap between generations, take for example having Richie Havens and Trey Anastasio back to back. Being in the front row the older school people who were there to see Richie Havens were like ‘Who is this Phish guy?’ They were almost going to leave, but then they were like ‘Oh my God he is great!’ Then you hear all these Phish-heads going, ‘Who is this black dude in the robe killing that guitar?’ That to me is the job, to show the musical lineage and bridge the gap to the younger audience so they understand that a line can be drawn from the people that they are digging musically now and the people who came before them.

Finally I asked Jay to give us a playlist of the 5 songs that he has on heavy rotation right now. Check out the playlist and see what Jay has to say about his song choices below:

Alexander- “A Million Years”

“I love that song so much, I have to play it right now.”

The Head and the Heart- “Lost in My Mind (Live at KEXP)”

“Every time I hear it, it is just so amazing. It has to be that exact live version though, I think it’s ridiculous.”

Futurebirds- “APO”

“I have been totally digging this song recently.”

Middle Brother- “Wilderness”

“I was just surfing this morning, and I probably sang that song at least 10 times in a row in my head while I was waiting between waves.”

My Morning Jacket- “Gideon”

“I listen to this song regardless of year or time at least 10 times a week minimum. It is one of the few songs that never really gets old.”

Jay also added that, “I have to give the Low Anthem a shout, not just one song, but every time I listen to them I have to go through the whole album. I think the new album is amazing and I don’t really pick a song, I have to play the entire album all the way through.”

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Middle Brother/Delta Spirit

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This week the Newport Spotlight is on the two bands that I am most looking forward to seeing at the festival this summer. Although I have seen both of them before, Middle Brother and Delta Spirit both offer something special to the Newport stage. Middle Brother is the ultimate folk supergroup made up of Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, Deer Tick’s John McCauley, and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez along with other members of Dawes filling out the band at their live gigs. Their self-titled debut is certainly at the top of my list for best albums of 2011 thus far with its true Americana feel and songwriting that gives you a candid look into the fraternity of folk stars. It seems that Matt Vasquez gets the smallest share of the spotlight in Middle Brother, but luckily for him, he has a pretty badass band to fall back on. Delta Spirit’s 2010 release History from Below was all over our best of 2010 countdown and they have already begun work on their next disc which is set to be released in early 2012. In an interview with Rolling Stone at Coachella this year the band talked about wanting to stray away from their folk and Americana past and focus more on their love for hip-hop and the 90s… The band continued to say that their new album would be more Montell Jordan and Curtis Mayfield than Neil Young. If you are not intrigued at all by this you better get your head checked. Here’s to hoping that we hear some of these new tracks at the Fort in July.

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Freelance Whales

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Hailing from Queens, New York, Freelance Whales have been all over the indie music scene since the release of their 2010 debut LP Weathervanes. The band fuses folk instruments with electronic backdrops to produce a sound that falls somewhere between The Punch Brothers and The Postal Service. Although the band has not gained widespread success  (Pitchfork gave Weathervanes a 4.2) you may have heard some of their songs on television and not even realized it. “Generator^First Floor” is featured in a Starbucks commercial as well as a spot for the Chevy Volt and they have had music featured in a variety of television shows too. Freelance Whales will be at both Newport and Bonnaroo this year so we will be sure to double-dip in their jam sessions and so should you. Check out a few of their songs below and maybe we will even be lucky enough to see a collaboration with PS 22 at Newport.

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: River City Extension

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Each day we come one step closer to one of my favorite weekends of the year; The Newport Folk Festival. I am beyond excited to see some new bands and hopefully revel in the excitement the crowd emits when they witness a good act. With this being said, I think the Newport Folk Family has A LOT to look forward to from River City Extension. Any group that self proclaims their genre as Folk/Lyrical/Thrash will definitely have the crowds dancing in their seats. With a sound along the lines of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (the highlight for most at last year’s festival) expect booming vocals, horns and drums. Newport might have a new crowd darling on their hands. So what should you do next if you’re going to be present at this year’s festival? GET THEIR ALBUM THE UNMISTAKABLE MAN AND LEARN ALL THE LYRICS!

My personal favorite track would have to be ‘Something Salty, Something Sweet’. If this doesn’t make you think of summer in the purest sense of the word then get your head checked. The catchy chorus of this song will surely have everyone singing out loud this summer at The Fort. Oh did I mention that they love crowd involvement and are looking for people to clap along throughout their sets? Get excited people.

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: David Wax Museum

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For our first ever Newport Folk Festival segment, we’re spotlighting David Wax Museum, and there’s not a more perfect band to kick things off with.  The group was somewhat of a dark horse coming into Newport 2010, as they attained their spot by winning a contest, and gained most of their audience at their show by persuading and charming concert-goers.  Regardless, the group left Newport audiences stunned by the electricity and energy they brought to the stage.   The group is based out of Boston, though their members have travelled the world, particularly in Latin America.  Their musical style has become known as “Mexo-Americana,” which perhaps sounds like a tasty new special at Taco Bell, but trust us, the music David Wax Museum serves up is equally delicious.  They mix classic Americana folk with some spicy Mexican accents, including the jarana guitar and a, wait for it… jawbone of a donkey.  This traditional Afro-Peruvian percussive instrument, combined with the saxophone, fiddle and upright bass, create a truly unique sound.  So, David Wax Museum will be shaking their asses (resisting a donkey pun was way too difficult, sorry about that) at Newport Folk Festival for the second consecutive summer.   Beyond their musical prowess and an Energizer Bunny-esque stage presence, David Wax Museum offers up uninhibited joy with each performance.  When playing, they are one hundred percent immersed in their music.   We can say with confidence that David Wax Museum is going to put on a refreshing and spirited show in Newport, but if you need any more convincing, check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert below that includes the track “Yes, Maria, Yes” which the band also played at the festival lineup announcement party.

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