1. The Milk Carton Kids closing with “Memphis”
The Los Angeles-based duo opened the Quad Stage at Newport 2013 with one of the best and quietest sets of the day. Resting on tightly matched harmonies and the incredible dexterity of Kenneth Pattengale’s guitar picking, they plowed through 50 minutes of beautiful love and heartbreak songs, songs about disillusionment, disappointment, and the hope inherent in imagining their future children. “Memphis” was the set-stealer, though, with its topical nature and beautifully spun lyricism. Pattengale gave all that credit to his partner Joey Ryan who, he says, showed up at his house one day with this perfectly finished song that was poised to just break your heart. Indeed it did.
2. Mountain Goats made me a fan in the pouring rain
I got lost for a little bit, wandering the festival grounds. First waiting for Amanda Palmer at the Senheuser/Paste Ruins, then searching out Phosphorescent and JD McPherson, finding myself too late for both. So, I took shelter under the Folk Alley awning and watched what remained of the Mountain Goats. Having never been much of a fan, I watched skeptically, through oodles of teeming raindrops, and found myself enthralled. There’s nothing particularly special about the way John Darnielle and company perform their music. They’re straight-shooters, who deliver the music precisely as it comes. But by the time they nailed “This Year” (the final song of the set), I was converted to a fan. What more can be said than that they’re just a darn good band who knows well how to bring it live.
3. Old Crow Medicine Show covering Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee
It’s called a “folk” festival after all. In a day that was, for me, filled with rock bands and larger, louder outfits, watching the Old Crow Medicine Show throw down on the main stage felt a little more like home. Ketch Sekor, it practically goes without saying, saws a fiddle like crazy. The band lit into several songs from their most recent release ‘Carry Me Back,’ as well as a number of cover tunes from folk music of yore. Among those covers was a tribute to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee that was heavy on the harmonica (Sekor plays two at once, swapping them back and forth between breaths) and four-part harmonies. It was a fitting tribute to the array of music which has graced the Newport Stage in its 54 years, and an outstanding ending to the first day of the festival.