For the last half dozen years or so, the Newport Folk Festival would begin with a small Friday night show at the Newport Casino. Last year, they bumped things up a notch, moving to Fort Adams State with headliners Wilco. The success of that night, and the festival in general, has led to what this year will be three full days of music beginning Friday morning. This week’s Ear Bliss offers an insider’s guide to the Saturday performers.
Whereas Saturday’s big names are known quantities (Avett Brothers, Jim James, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists), it’s those lesser known acts appearing on the smaller stages that are often the icing on the cake for festival goers. For the adventurous types, it’s all about discovery. Thanks to local artist Joe Fletcher, it’ll be an entire afternoon of discovery for many thanks to the Fletcher-curated “Nashville-to-Newport” program. It presents more than half a dozen “Other side of Nashville” talents and is worth planting yourself right at that stage to soak it all in.
Artist: Justin Townes Earle
From: Nashville, Tenn.
Latest album: Nothing Can Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (2012, Bloodshot Records)
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark
Description: Latest release is a collection of deep and personal folk tunes with a soulful underpinning.
Tidbit: Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock and haven’t heard, Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle. His song “Harlem River Blues” was Americana Song of the Year in 2011.
Band: Shovels and Rope
From: Charleston, S.C.
Latest album: O’ Be Joyful (2012, Dualtone Record)
Description: Scrappy duo whose old school strum and twang finds that sweet spot between Americana and the garage.
Tidbit: Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are more than just a duo, they are a married couple.
Band: Langhorne Slim & the Law
From: Portland, Ore.
Latest album: The Way We Move (2012, Ramseur Records)
RIYL: Murder by Death, Violent Femmes
Description: Edgy roots music with a folky outer core, but rock & roll underneath.
Tidbit: This will be Langhorne Slim’s second Newport Folk Festival appearance. The song “The Way We Move” from the recent album of the same name was featured in the recent Windows 8 television promotion campaign.
Band: Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
From: San Francisco, Calif.
Latest album: Driftwood (2011, Little Knickers Records)
RIYL: Linda Ronstadt
Description: Indie folk.
Tidbit: Bluhm’s guitarist/ husband Tim Bluhm is leader of longtime Bay Area indie-folk icons The Mother Hips.
Band: Hurray for the Riff Raff
From: New Orleans, La.
Latest album: Look Out Mama (2012, self-released)
RIYL: Felice Brothers and beyond.
Description: They cover the below the Mason-Dixon spectrum from swamp pop to backwoods folk to country.
Tidbit: Founder Alynda Lee Segarra left her native Bronx, New York at the age of 17 and started hopping freight trains across the country to satisfy a yearning to explore America’s myriad small towns. She ended up settling in New Orleans.
From: New Albany, Ind.
Latest album: From the Hills Below the City (2013, Rough Trade Records)
Description: Raucous roots music with overtones from gospel to rock.
Tidbit: The band’s name originated from a nighttime recording session at one of the members’ house, choosing the evening to remove the sounds of sirens and car honks. When they played the tracks back, they could hear the neighbor’s dogs barking in the background. Front man Shane Cody said it wasn’t going to work because the recordings contained too much houndmouth.
Band: Rayland Baxter
From: Nashville, Tenn. via Bon Aqua, Tenn.
Latest album: Feathers & Fishhooks(2012 ATO Records)
RIYL: Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan
Description: Folk and country music in troubadour tradition.
Tidbit: Baxter’s trademark is his touring vehicle, a 1969 Plymouth Valiant. His father is noted multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter who has played on albums by Bob Dylan, REM, and Steve Earle, among others.
Band: Amanda Shires
From: Nashville, Tenn. via Lubbock, Texas
Latest album: Carrying Lightning (2011, self-released)
Description: Utterly charming violin-playing tunesmith with an earthy soprano and an incredible way with a lyric.
Tidbit: Amanda Shires is married to Newport Folk Fest performer Jason Isbell. She has spent the last two summers studying creative writing at the prestigious Sewanee School of Letters program. At age 15, she was playing fiddle in the legendary Bob Wills-founded Texas Playboys band. She has a new album due out on August 6 for Lightning Rod Records.
Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance broadcast Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.