Newport Folk Festival: Nickel Creek, Willie Watson, Milk Carton Kids, and Jack White All Shine
In contrast with Friday’s full-tilt rock ’n’ roll by Ryan Adams, Reignwolf, and others, the second day of the Newport Folk Festival opened on a quieter, more acoustic note.
Willie Watson of Old Crow Medicine Show, who just released his first solo album, Folk Singer, Vol. 1, delivered a spellbinding performance with his well-worn Larrivée guitar, five-string banjo, and harmonica. Soon following were the sweet Carter Family–esque harmonies of the Haden Triplets, the softly adventurous pop folk of Aoife O’Donovan, and a set of traditional songs by John Reilly and Friends (the celebrated character actor joined by Tom Brosseau on guitar and Becky Stark on vocals) gathered around a single mic.
Later in the afternoon, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids also worked the low end of the volume spectrum, with their trademark blend of book-matched harmony vocals, intricate picking, and dry wit.
Over the course of the day, the overall decibel level increased. Taking a more-is-more approach, the exuberant Texas band the Oh Hellos had four guitars, two banjos, and two drum kits onstage—13 musicians in all, singing and picking and stomping to create an irresistible wall of sound. Another Texan, Shakey Graves, made quite a big sound all by himself, bolstering his in-the-pocket blues fingerpicking and soulful vocals with a suitcase kick drum and pedal tambourine. On the main stage, the duo Shovels and Rope—Michael Trent and Carey Ann Hearst—played like a four-piece band, with fervent vocal harmonies and inventive configurations of guitar, keyboard, and one-handed drumming.
While Jack White closed the festival’s second day with his explosive electric blues rock, for acoustic music fans, Saturday’s climax was the reunited Nickel Creek. The trio of Chris Thile, Sean Watkins, and Sara Watkins, joined by bassist Mark Schatz, treated the crowd to older favorites like “The Lighthouse’s Tale,” “The Fox,” and “Smoothie Song” (with Thile on octave mandolin) as well as gems from their new album A Dotted Line, like “The 21st of May” and “Hayloft.” Packed in front of the stage were young fans, some of whom no doubt first discovered the world of roots music through the trio in the 2000s—eventually bringing them to this legendary gathering.