There are three stages at Newport: a tiny one called the Waterfront Stage, the perfect-sized Harbor Stage (where we webcast and broadcast from on Saturday, and the huge Fort Stage. We webcast from the Fort Stage on Sunday.
I liked the Harbor Stage — it felt intimate but not tiny — but the Fort Stage, with its Jumbotron screens, is festival-sized. The boats parked in the harbor should have been able to see Jimmy Buffett's pink patterned pants just fine.
Willy Mason was singing by 11:30 a.m. Sunday, and though I love a good musical saw and the sweetness of his musical family, I never connected with his songs. I'm not sure it was the right stage for him.
Bring back the Young@Heart Chorus for next year's Sunday-morning wake up.
One of the dangers of an afternoon festival is getting beaten down by the hot sun. Consequently, while Brandi Carlile singing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" had everyone up and smiling, some of Calexico's slower numbers may have been better suited to a summer sunset.
What makes a festival great is witnessing something you wouldn't catch at a club concert. Hearing Jim James sing the Dylan song "Going to Acapulco" (from the Basement Tapes) with Calexico and seeing Gillian Welch play along with Levon Helm's big band were a few of my highlights.
Hearing a few new songs can be a good thing at a festival, but you don't want too many. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings played three new songs, and that seemed just right. It's been five years since they last released a new record.
I'd never heard Brandi Carlisle and fell for her the moment I heard her voice. Well, at least I fell for her voice; the band seemed talented enough; but the music didn't have enough twists, turns and mystery to hold my interest. I need to go and listen to her music. Brandi Carlile fans, please weigh in and suggest a few tunes I should hear.
Gillian Welch dropped by the NPR tent, and my co-hosting partner — WFUV's Rita Houston — struck up a casual conversation that covered everything from making that new album to wearing that vintage dress.
Levon Helm ended our broadcast day. I've seen Helm in his prime as a drummer and singer with The Band, and I have to say that this was a bigger treat. He's survived throat cancer, and I think it's fair to say that he had a lot of help and continues to get a lot of love from his friends and family. That was plain to see on stage, with his daughter Amy singing and Larry Campbell on guitar and fiddle and his big warm band. Helm's smiles on the Jumbotron warmed my heart, and his singing was damn fine. This band played an appealing mix of Southern porch jazz; its trumpets should have stuck around for next weekend's Newport Jazz Festival. (We're webcasting from there, as well.)
By the end of the day, before Jimmy Buffett's set (which we didn't webcast), I wandered over to the tent I was so fond of on Saturday. There were The Avett Brothers, tearing it up, with Scott Avett stomping on a bass drum while playing a thrashing banjo; his face was fiery red, and the the music matched his intensity. We must do something with these guys live sometime — sorry it wasn't at Newport. Scott, Seth... you game?