Posted Jul 28th, 2015 (4:59 pm) by Theresa Flanagan
Newport Folk Festival 2015 - Shakey Graves
Image by Theresa Flanagan

"We can not say this any other way. BOB DYLAN IS NOT PLAYING #NFF15 #DontLookBack" Clever hashtag use by the festival's Twitter account, and appropriate too. Much as we love Dylan, he's not one for looking back. He's got an open invitation to play the festival, but even if he had showed it wouldn't have been to play through his familiar and loved catalog. The '65 Revisited set was a celebration not only of the living legend himself, but artists he's played with, the ones he's inspired, and the history and traditions of the festival he irrevocably altered 50 years ago -- for better or worse, depending on who you talk to.

So, back to the beginning of the day. Likely, most people headed to Fort Adams State Park this Sunday morning were comparing various weather apps to determine just how likely the ominously overcast sky was to open up on us. Newport Folk may be a rain or shine event, but thunderstorms and lightning would still lead to a massive shutdown. Thankfully nothing more than a few faint sprinklings arrived on the scene, mostly while we were under the cover of the Quad Stage tent to catch The Ballroom Thieves. The Boston based band released their debut full-length A Wolf In the Doorway in April, and it's definitely one to check out. Guitarist and (current) songwriter Martin Earley describes their sound as "rock in a folk suit," and it certainly fits. This was their Newport Folk Festival debut as artists, but they reminisced on sneaking in alcohol in sunscreen bottles as previous attendees. In fact, they came up with their band name while hanging out at the Fort!

Our next stop was the Museum Stage for a talk from Elijah Wald, who recently released his book about the 1965 festival, Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties. Wald set up the hour by showing some pictures and playing some audio clips from the festival, including Pete Seeger's introduction to the evening set. Then, he opened things up to a panel that included The New Lost City Ramblers cofounder John Cohen, Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival cofounder George Wein, and the "father of festival sound" Bill Hanley. Each shared their (very different) perspectives of the night, clearing up some myths and as John Cohen put it, creating new ones. In the middle of the talk, the electric guitar that Bob Dylan played 50 years ago showed up for ten minutes. Wald reminded the audience that Dylan left the guitar on a plane immediately following the festival and has never asked for it back. The guitar sold at auction for nearly a million two years ago, but owner Jim Irsay lent it to the festival for the weekend. Quite a few artists had a chance to try it out backstage, but Wald also let us know that it would be up on the main stage later in the day, "in case any of you didn't get the shot."

After getting our fill of history, we headed back to the Quad Stage for Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. They got the crowd up on their feet and dancing, and brought out J. Mascis for "The Shape I'm In." The band's latest self-titled album is due out next month.

Our first Fort Stage set of the day was Lord Huron. We reviewed their second full-length Strange Trails earlier this year, and we're far from the only ones who appreciate the band's cinematic folk sound. They wrapped up their set with three tracks off of their 2012 debut full-length Lonesome Dreams, finishing with "Time to Run." We stuck around to catch Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit. Unfortunately, Johanna Soderberg had lost her voice, so her younger sister Klara had to do without backing vocals. They've come a long way since their Youtube cover of Fleet Foxes, inspiring others like Lily & Madeleine to follow in their footsteps. After listening to "Blue" off of The Lion's Roar, we headed back to the Harbor Stage for our next act of the day.

We've mentioned Blake Mills in passing on the site before, but the phenomenal guitarist deserves a full billing of his own. He's a perfect fit for this festival: a brilliant but understated musician who's big on collaboration. For the second song of his set, he played "Hey Lover" off of his solo debut Break Mirrors. He prefaced it with a nod to Dawes' cover of it on Stories Don't End. Some of his former bandmates were actually right off stage left enjoying the set, confirming that while they weren't actually on the bill for the festival, Dawes would be playing a part in it.

From there, we headed back to the Quad Stage to catch a bit of British folk darling Laura Marling. She released her fifth album Short Movie earlier this year, and continues to captivate. On our way back through the festival, we stopped back by Blake Mills for a few songs. Then, it was time to settle in at the Fort Stage.

Jumping from the Harbor Stage last year, first up was Hozier. Newport Folk Festival 2014 was one of his first American showings and he said it was where he first realized that people actually liked his music over here. Well, we definitely were fans of his debut. Despite the serious love he's gotten in the last year, the 25 year old still comes off endearingly bashful but appreciative when speaking on stage. He has no problem when singing though. He closed out his set with a bit of an audience singalong on "Work Song."

Then it was time for the wide open lineup of '65 Revisited. Back in 1965, Dylan closed out his set with two acoustic songs "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." This time around, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings kicked things off with "Mr. Tambourine Man" before bringing out Willie Watson for a few songs.Then, out came the electric. Even though Dylan himself wasn't getting up on that stage, someone that original set was. Al Kooper was back on stage to play the Hammond organ, along with Dawes as the backing band. Taylor Goldsmith stuck his strap on that '64 Fender Stratocaster and turned out to address the crowd. "This guitar that I'm holding has been on this stage before...I bet you know what's coming next." The song that started it all, "Maggie's Farm." After that Taylor switched back to his own guitar, but Hozier picked Dylan's guitar next for "Tom Thumb's Blues." He passed it on to Deer Tick's Ian O'Neill when he and John McCauley hit the stage for "Outlaw Blues." Taylor brought Blake Mills on stage for the remainder of the set, introducing him as his "best friend from 11 years old." Robyn Hitchcock came out for what he called "probably the best song of all time," "Visions of Johanna." Every artist who wanted to be up there came out for "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." That included Shakey Graves, who we were sorry to miss in Sunday's amazing lineup. We caught him taking a snap of the rest of the stage, Lagunitas Little Sumpin' in hand. Amazing as it was to be in front of that stage, we can imagine it was even more fun to be on it.

Newport Folk did it again. After yet another amazing year, we can't wait to be back! If we've inspired you to get there too, make sure you jump on tickets early because they sell out lightning fast. If you want to get back to Fort Adams MUCH sooner, check out the other Newport Festival Foundation production; the Jazz Festival will be celebrating 60 years since Miles Davis' debut performance this coming weekend.

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