Recap: Newport Folk Fest Day Two

The What Cheer? Brigade, pictured in part above, pretty much made the festival for me. They ended the day by leading a parade through the festival grounds with Elvis Perkins at the head. Totally epic. More on them later.

We stayed at a friends house close to the festival ground. What probably would have been a thirty minute walk turned into an hour long car ride due to traffic in downtown Newport and we missed Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. We weren’t too disappointed though, as we got to catch a little of April Smith’s set, pictured above. And goddam is she adorable. Chances are I never would have given her a shot outside of this festival. If allowed to sit at the periphery, her music has that loungy, Norah Jones vibe that I often try to avoid. But somewhere between the walking bass, the twinkling piano and her ability to mix sweet nothings with mad ravings among her stories, I was hooked. Girl cursed her off mouth every so often and the parents and children sitting so passively in front ate it up. I think she’s just as likely to beat me up as she is to go on a long walk along an empty beach with me. So thanks for that, April, your music is just the right type of crazy to keep me interested.

Immediately after April came my first experience with the What Cheer? Brigade, a twenty piece art-punk brass band from Providence. Although part of the official Newport bill, their sets sprang up between sets at random across the festival ground; along the parapet that borders the main stage, through the crowds along the waterfront, in the tunnels between the smaller stages. They played and looked like the resurrection of some fabled high-school marching band that might have died in a hideous bus-crash on the way to a competition, back from the dead to play their music harder and with more ambition. Notes fell just the right type of dissonant short of their mark, their bass parts punctuated the gut before the song. The What Cheer? Brigade was felt before it was heard and goddamn was it loud.

Sunday proved to be a tough day for photographers. As the day ended, security began kicking us out or completely barring us from the pit in front of the stages (except the inside stage. Those dudes were cool, especially Chris, thanks man). So this is one of five shots I had of the Felice Brothers. This is also about the time where Newport started to screw up. I got kicked out of the pit in front of the Felice Brothers – who, as far as I could tell, were psyched to be there and played really well – after the second song so I didn’t get to see much of them because it was impossible to get anywhere close to the stage after that. I saw security guards threatening to beat up festival goers and Phoenix colleague Addison Post almost got kicked out twice for trying to take photos of the Felice Brothers and Edward Sharpe. Weird.

This is as close as I could get to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Why they weren’t on the main stage, I don’t know. Their album “Up From Below”  is a brilliant blend of pop songwriting among folk roots. It takes the trebly guitar warbles and echoed, rawhide style “has!” that I associate with childhood folk and the pop constructions of a former power-pop wizard, Edward Sharpe frontman and former Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert. They’re an ideal genre bridge, something I think this festival did a good job of trying to present, lineup-wise at least. On the bright side, had I not abandoned Edward Sharpe due to the crowds and an abrasive security staff, I would have missed an excellent set from Elvis Perkins and the ensuing art-punk parade.

In his last song, Elvis Perkins incorporated the entirety of the What Cheer? Brigade and as the song trailed off, people jumped off the stage and split into two groups. Perkins led one group along the perimeter of the stage grounds while several What Cheer? kids took to the left and walked through the crowd while playing. They met up at the far end of the grounds, near a tunnel and along the perimeter wall of the fort bordering the stage. They played for ten minutes with the members of three different bands, somewhere around thirty musicians all pounding their respective instruments. I can’t imagine they had time to rehearse and how they managed to pull of such a compelling, well conceived orchestration is beyond me. As the song ended, one of the What Cheer? crew raised his instrument and yelled “We’re going to take you on a parade!”

Hey, that’s him!

As hinted at by the lead picture in this post, the What Cheer? Brigade took a couple hundred people on a parade around the fair grounds. They took a loose position that felt half rehearsed, half a natural reaction to each other. Players exchanged leads, took form together and just as quickly fell apart and eventually decided on an arbitrary gathering spot, at a hill near the outside tent as the sun fell, to perform their last stand. I walked away to beat the crowd and find the rest of the Phoenix crew so we could leave. But as I exited the festival, I could still hear the What Cheer? Brigade being totally fucking epic to a handful of stragglers. Like I said before, they made the festival for me. Thanks dudes.

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