The Newport Folk Festival may not be what it used to be - musically that is - but that's almost a given these days of musical potpourris being the norm. So, is the quality and breadth of the music that the chestnut of a festival encompasses as well.
On the opening day of festival number 57, fans got a chance to see a variety of sounds and acts from unknowns like L.A. Salami to veterans like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie fame.
As is the case with the Festival, fans are given the choice of staying for entire sets or catching a bit of this and that and checking out far more acts in the process. Tough choice sometimes.
One ultra-worthy act was Joshua Hedley. The heavily tattooed traditional country singer mines Texas country, and he sure did a great job of it. Hedley has a very full-bodied voice and quality songs to boot. Just signed to Jack White's Third Man Record, Hedley showed every sign of being a keeper.
Brent Cobb was another standout performer. The Georgia native is on tour at the sheds with Chris Stapleton, and after hearing Cobb, it's easy to see why. Equally longhaired, Cobb played country with a heavy dose of blues and southern rock. Cobb's not big on flash either, but that was okay considering his singing and songs.
LA-based group The Wild Reeds were big on three-part female harmony, which recalled Laurel Canyon sounds. The trio of Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Sharon Silva sometimes changed up on instruments and who took lead vocals. Diversity worked well for them in a set that at times grew intense, especially thanks to Silva.
Blind Pilot would not be accused of being prolific. They have three CDs and an Ep to show for themselves after a decade together. But they also seem to be on the upswing with their brand of Americana sounds.
There was nothing especially flashy about the Portland, Ore.-based band, but they also shifted sounds enough - Dave Jorgenson on trumpet and Ian Christ on vibes, for example - to easily maintain interest. Lead vocalist Israel Nebeker was up to the task as well.
L.A. Salami (that's his real name) was one of those acts that was way under the radar screen. He was a soulful singer with stage presence and acquitted himself well.
Gibbard played an uncommon solo acoustic set with a few songs on piano before switching to guitar. He offered the kind of music that required the audience to really listen. A nice of humor also helped.
It probably should not have come as much of a surprise that Carl Broemel has musical chops. He's better known as the guitarist for My Morning Jacket and has his own career on the side. Broemel is a decent lead singer, nothing flashy or especially captivating, but his guitar playing and the musicianship of his band was.
Big Thief showed itself to be an intense indie rock band, or at least lead singer Adrianne Lenker did. She voiced much surprise that the crowd even knew the band's songs (some shouted our requests) and played away solo on guitar with squalling, intense sounds that seemed to match her personality.
Yes, what is considered folk is not so certain, but, regardless, Nancy and Beth were a curious choice for the Festival. They are the comedy music act of actresses Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt. Mullally was best known for being Karen on "Will & Grace," while Hunt played a bassist on "Friday Night Lights."
Drawing a large crowd, they played an assortment of music decked out in matching bright green pants suits, white shoes, white shirts and glasses. The pair received an intro from comedian Nick Offerman, who happens to be Mullally's husband. He and singer Shakey Graves also worked themselves into a song. Nancy and Beth drew a big crowd, but based on what was heard, Nancy and Beth didn't seem to fit into the Newport milieu. Just don't tell that to their fans.
Newport Folk on day one proved to be a bit of something for most everyone who would come to the festival. Seek and you will find a lot of high quality music whether known or unknown.