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An insider’s guide to Sunday’s Folk Festival performers

July 28, 2014

Ear Bliss closes out its three-part Newport Folk Festival preview this week. This week we offer an insider’s guide to the Sunday performers which from the Ear Bliss perspective, blows away the previous two days. The potency includes legendary Mavis Staples who will close out the main stage festivities, Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy on a solo sojourn with his drumming son in tow, Conor Oberst, past festival favorites Dawes, Rodrigo y Gabriela, 2013 NFF hit Hurray for the Riff Raff, Valerie June, Trampled By Turtles, Lucero, Gregory Alan Isakov, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Peggi Young & The Survivors, Caitlin Rose, Leif Vollebekk, The Lonesome Trio, Berklee Gospel And Roots Choir, highly recommended band The Deslondes, and The Bluegrass Situation. Let’s dig in.

Artist: Mavis Staples
From: Chicago, Ill.
Latest album: “One True Vine” (2013, Anti Records)
Description: What can anyone say about Mavis Staples that hasn’t already been said? She is as legendary as it gets and if you take a whiff of her album from last year, is making some of the best music of a career that is tough to top.
Tidbit: Staples performed at the Newport Folk Festival for the first time in 1964 as part of the family band The Staple Singers. Her latest album is produced by another 2014 NFF headliner in Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame. With each performing on Sunday, could there be an on-stage rendezvous?

Artist: Jeff Tweedy
From: Chicago, Ill.
Latest album: “Sukierae” (debut solo album due out Sept. 16 on dBpm Records)
Description: Folk pop or pop folk tunes. Who knows?
Tidbit: What more can you say than he’s the Wilco front man. Tweedy’s upcoming debut solo album features 20 new original songs performed by himself in a musical collaboration with his 18-year-old son and drummer Spencer Tweedy.

Band: Hurray for the Riff Raff
From: New Orleans, La.
Latest album: “Small Town Heroes” (2014, ATO Records)
Description: The voice of HFTRR lead Alynda Lee Segarra is as comforting and soulful as it gets. Folk, New Orleans, blues, it is all part of the Riff Raff equation.
Tidbit: Front person Alynda Lee Segarra spent the first 17 years of her life growing up in the Bronx. Initially it was the sounds of doo wop and Motown that cast a spell on her. She’d leave home as a teen hitchhiking her way in search of more and more sounds before eventually landing in the Crescent City.

Band: Valerie June
From: Brooklyn, N.Y. (via Tennessee)
Latest album: “Pushin’ Against a Stone” (2013, Concord Records)
Description: Delivering a whole different kinds of roots music, here’s hoping Juneplays solo with just that incredible voice, her tiny banjo she calls “Baby,” and her kick pad.
Tidbit: June made her Rhode Island debut in 2012 at the most prestigious under-the-radar festival, Swamp Stomp. She caught the attention of Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame who produced her debut album.

Band: Lucero
From: Memphis, Tenn.
Latest album: “Women & Work” (2013, ATO Records)
Description: Ragged roots rock with a distinctive Memphis injection of soul.
Tidbit: Sleeper act of the day, if you ask me, Lucero is no stranger to the Ocean State which has been a regular stop on their touring circuit for the last half-dozen years.

Band: Trampled by Turtles
From: New Orleans, La.
Latest album: “Wild Animals” (2014, Banjo Dad Records)
Description: Whereas they’ve found a real following on the jam circuit, Trample by Turtles tempting mix of bluegrass, alt country, and folk continues to move them into bigger situations.
Tidbit: For their latest release, Trampled by Turtles tapped fellow Northern Minnesotan Alan Sparhawk of the band Low fame to work his magic. He succeeds.

Band: Caitlin Rose
From: Nashville, Tenn.
Latest album: “The Stand-In” (2013, ATO Records)
Description: Possessing a voice with all the potency of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, country is the nearest description to what Caitlin Rose does.
Tidbit: Rose’s parents are both involved in the music industry in Nashville. Her mother Liz Rose is country songwriter who has co-written some 20 songs with Taylor Swift and even shared a Grammy with her in 2010. Her father, Johnny, is also involved in Music City working in sales and marketing in country music.

Band: The Deslondes
From: New Orleans, La.
Latest album: Debut forthcoming
Description: Honky tonk country music that can go as deep soul as it can New Orleans boogie and shake.
Tidbit: Ear Bliss caught these guys at SXSW and was pretty blown away. Bandleader Sam Doores and bassist Dan Cutler formed the predecessor group under the name Sam Doores & the Tumbleweeds in February 2010, and began touring and playing honky tonks in New Orleans while also serving as the backing band for Hurray for the Riff Raff. These dudes are worth getting there when gates open.

Band: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
From: San Francisco, Calif.
Latest album: “We the Common” (2013, Ribbon Music)
Description: Alternative folk.
Tidbit: Thao is Thao Nguyen. Growing up in Falls Church, Va., Nguyen first picked up a guitar at the age of 12. From there it was onto playing in pop bands in her teens followed by a series of critically acclaimed albums. During a break from recording, Nguyen did volunteer work for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners during which she met several women who were serving long sentences. One of them was Valerie Bolden, who provide the inspiration for the title track of her latest album, “We the Common.

Band: Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir
From: Berklee College in Boston, Mass.
Description: Gospel
Tidbits: Faculty member-led choir of students from the Berklee College of Music who will bring the a cappella sounds of the church to the Newport Folk Festival stage.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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