Words by Scott Pingeton | Photos by Nina Mashurova
For me, Saturday at Newport was a blur. There was the wide eyed anticipation of a great weekend of music that laid ahead of me, but also the disorienting buzz of the crowd morphing from an orderly line into a chaotic mass of humanity as we passed through the gates. Once through the gates, it's a land grab for coveted blanket real estate. And finally, a brief moment to look around and take in the beautiful surroundings - the salt air and sailboats, the rows of vendors, the bright colors of the beach chairs and blankets. Then the madness begins. With music pulling you in all directions it doesn't take long before the carefully-planned strategy is a distant memory as I rush from stage to stage to see as much music as possible. And this year, there was the nagging reminder that our Nightcap afterparty looming just a few hours away - equal parts excitement and nerves.
Despite having to leave just a few hours into the day to start setting up for the afterparty, Saturday was full of highlights. River City Extension delivered a stunning set of anthemic folk-rock, replete with rousing horns, breathless energy and a visit into the crowd. Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside overcame a brief power outage to open the Quad stage with an impressive set of early rock n' roll-influenced songs. Later, Delta Spirit proved why they are my favorite live band in the world. It was a long whirlwind of a day.
But on Sunday, with the successful Nightcap behind us and another full day of music from some of my favorite bands ahead, I was able to slow things down and take it all in. My day started just as it did a year ago...waiting anxiously for David Wax Museum to take the stage. Only this time it was the much bigger main stage. It's been well-documented how David Wax and company seized their opportunity to play the Quad Stage last year after winning a contest, turning in one of the most memorable sets of the weekend and following that up with the release of Everything Is Saved (a shoe-in for my albums of the year list), a Tiny Desk Concert, Mountain Stage appearance, nonstop national touring and opening slots for Josh Ritter, The Avett Brothers and Dave Matthews Band. They topped last year's appearance with an exuberant main stage set that won over so many of the blanket-mafia that they got called back for an encore. It felt like a victory lap to see the band come full circle in such a big way, but I get the feeling that it was just a second wind in their sails on the way to even bigger fame.
Up next it was a mad dash to catch some of Mountain Man's gorgeous harmonies. I got chills as they led the huge crowd at the Harbor Stage in a round on "Now I Walk In Beauty". Then I was off to catch a bit of Secret Sisters before returning to the main stage for some Carolina Chocolate Drops - one of my favorite sets of the day. I sacrificed Cave Singers - painful since I've never seen them live - to camp out for all of Trampled By Turtles...and boy am I glad I didn't leave their show early. The intensity ramped up throughout the entire set of ragged breakneck bluegrass, culminating with "Wait So Long" and an encore of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind". I left the Quad Stage just long enough to catch a bit of Wanda Jackson whipping everyone into an absolute frenzy with "Let's Have A Party", returning in time for Justin Townes Earle's fantastic set. Earle has a commanding stage presence, baring his soul in his lyrics and witty between song banter. If you're on the fence, you gotta see him live - Justin Townes Earle is not getting by on name alone, he's the real fucking deal.
The hometown heroes (Deer Tick), budding stars (Dawes) and 2011 festival standouts (Delta Spirit) joined forces as Middle Brother for one of the true highlights of the weekend -- a raggedly fun set of rock n' roll that will likely be the supergroup's final appearance together for quite some time. But before Dawes got called out for an impromptu encore of their own I was off to catch The Head And The Heart serenade an overflowing crowd at the Harbor Stage about canyons and valleys and rivers and roads. Meanwhile Elvis Costello was playing a not-so-acoustic set on the main stage with the help from his Imposters. It was a welcome sight to see Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas on stage with Costello and he didn't disappoint - bringing Chris Thile up for a gorgeous rendition of "Brilliant Mistake" and Emmylou Harris for "Scarlet Tide" before closing the set with the classic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding".
As the sun cooled and set in the west, I caught the acoustic half of M. Ward's set from the side of the stage - the softly fingerpicked "Here Comes The Sun Again" was a gorgeous highlight. As I made my way back to the main stage for Emmylou Harris that familiar bittersweet feeling came again. Newport Folk was winding down, the crowd was starting to thin, the sun was getting low - it was time to go home.
2011 was a landmark year in Newport Folk's history - the first advance sell-out in years, a diverse and deep lineup, perfect weather and a flawlessly-run festival. If there was any room for improvement last year, it was improved this year. More beer tents, larger Quad Stage, blanket-free zone in front of the Fort Stage - the list goes on. As New Englanders we are truly lucky to have a festival of this caliber to call our own. What was once a quaint little festival that's past far overshadowed it's present is now one of the premier music festivals in the world. I cannot fathom a summer without a trip to Newport Folk. It will be a long wait for 2012, but I'm already excited for what next year's festival will bring.
More photos from Newport Folk 2011 Day 2