Tag Archives: Deer Tick

Summer Festival Spotlight – Newport Folk Festival

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Imagine yourself meandering through the rustic barracks of an 18th century waterfront U.S. military fort.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Now imagine that the sun is shining, the beer is flowing, the harbor is dotted with white sails and white caps, and every single one of your favorite bands is playing.  Luckily, you don’t have to just imagine this perfect scenario–you can experience it!

Now in its 54th year, the Newport Folk Festival continues to carry the torch when it comes to stacked lineups with all of the best festival trimmings.  Over the July 26-28 weekend, the industry’s most talented musicians will land at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI and play to a–more than likely–sold-out crowd.

Here are some of the top reasons to get your hands on the oh-s0 coveted Newport Folk Festival ticket (or find a friend with a boat and post-up in the harbor), along with fan feedback from some new and slightly seasoned Newport Folk festivarians:

1. The Lineup:  Unlike other festivals, Newport doesn’t release their full lineup until well after tickets go on sale.  Savvy festivarians know to purchase tickets early, because year after year festival organizers book only the best acts.  Second-timer Karen, from Nashville, TN, didn’t need to know the lineup to know she would grace Fort Adams with her presence again this year.  “I bought my 3-day pass the day they went on sale, without a single act having been announced.  No need.  I knew it would be good–no, great,” she said.  And she was certainly correct.  Heavy-hitters include Feist, The Avett Brothers, Beck, The Lumineers, Jim James, Old Crow Medicine Show and Trombone Shorty, to name a few.  While these are certainly impressive headliners, Newport will also host one of the most impressive lineups of indie bands on the festival circuit this year.  Bands like Langhorne Slim and the Law, Shovels and Rope, The Lone Bellow, and The Milk Carton Kids, along with solo performances from Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle, are must-sees at this year’s NFF.  First-timer Blair, from Asheville, NC, is most looking forward to Langhorne Slim’s performance on Saturday, which is slated to be one of this year’s crowd favorites.  With such a stellar lineup, fans like Karen are going to have to think long and hard about where to be and when.  She added, “My only frustration is going to come from having to make some hard choices about who to see when every act is terrific.  Good problem to have, though, right?”

2. The Backdrop:  There’s nothing quite like watching the sun set over Newport Harbor as the headliner closes out the day with an inspirational performance.  The NFF has one of the most beautiful backdrops around–historic mansions nestled into vibrant, green rolling hills surrounding a sailor’s paradise.  From Fort Adams, this breathtaking scenery is sure to make any festival goer stop in his/her tracks and take in a panoramic view.  Repeat offender Karissa from Hackettstown, NJ shared her thoughts on the festival’s landscape.  “Last year was my first NFF, and I plan on going every year now.  It’s clean, it’s close, and the views are amazing.  When you’re at Fort Adams, you’re right on the water.  You can look out and see people on their sailboats dancing to Jackson Browne or My Morning Jacket.  You can see the famous Newport Mansions on your drive in and dream about spilling a few million out to live in one, one day.”  Sounds pretty magical to me!

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3.  The Nightlife: After the sun goes down and all of the lawn chairs get folded up, the festival still rages on.  On Friday and Saturday nights, Dawes and Friends will play shows at The Jane Pickens Theater  to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation.  Just down the road at the Newport Blues Cafe, Deer Tick will close out Friday-Sunday nights with performances to benefit both the Newport Festivals Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  Though frontmen Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and John McCauley (Deer Tick) are friends, collaborators, and recently appointed Newport Folk Festival Board of Advisor members, you can bet that the vibe at each show will be span the spectrum.  A word to the wise, the rowdy bunch should fall in line with Newport’s golden(toothed) boy McCauley at Newport Blues Cafe, while the more laid back fans should kick it with L.A. rocker Goldsmith and pals.  Either way, the evening events offer festival goers a chance to keep the party going, while supporting great charities.

4. The Festivarians:  Music lovers travel from far and wide to get to Newport, and these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill festivarians.  Rather, they are fans that know a thing or two about music, and that’s why they are there–for the music.   After her first NFF, Karen noticed that the crowd was one of the things that made NFF so special.  “I have been calling it an adult festival, but that’s not really accurate.  It is very mellow and civilized.  I can compare it to MerleFest, actually, now that I’ve been there.”  Karissa added, “At NFF, everyone is on the same page.  Audiences are respectful.  I didn’t see a single person stumbling around drunk, trying to push their way to the front, which is kind of hard to believe for a three-day festival!  You can look to your left and right and on either side of you is a person wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band written across the front of it–pretty amazing.  I’m all for NFF.  Best festival, hands down.”

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5. The Unexpected:  From Dylan’s 1965 plug-in to The Pixies unplugged in 2005, you just never know what kind of amazing musical treats will pop-up at NFF.  Over the years, fans have been delighted with surprise onstage collaborations, fort-top performances, and secret acoustic sessions.  It’s safe to say that NFF will deliver more unforgettable, unexpected moments this year, as well.   In 2010, The Avett Brothers, rode a scissor lift high above a line of port-a-johns and played a secret short set to those fans who able to sneak away from the other stages.  This is just one of many moments that will live on in the NFF history books:

6.  The Layout:  Due to tight capacity restrictions at Fort Adams, NFF has been forced to keep the festival numbers down, which is quite amazing considering the caliber of musicians that attend.  Having a festival with only 4 stages in a very close proximity to one another, but with ample space to keep sound separate, is a major plus for NFF.  “The beautiful thing about NFF is that it’s small. There are four stages and it only takes a minute to get from one to another.  I recently attended Firefly Music festival in Delaware and it was so crowded and the stages were so far apart, it took my friend and I forever to figure out where we were supposed to be.  We actually walked around Firefly reminiscing about how perfect NFF is,” shared Karissa.  The festival layout allows the experience to remain intimate and engaging, as if you were enjoying a private show with 10,000 of your closest friends.

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These are just a few of the many reasons to get to the Newport Folk Festival this year from July26-28th.  At the time of this entry, single-day tickets for Friday were still available.  You may have to resort to Stubhub or Craigslist for the Saturday and Sunday shows.  But, just remember that there’s always next year, so be sure to buy your tickets early.  See you in Newport!

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Debut Album: Middle Brother

Not cool dude, not cool.

Musical masterminds John McCauley (of Deer Tick), Matt Vasquez (of Delta Spirit) and Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) have joined forces to turn out what I think is an upbeat yet heartbreaking, return-to-your-roots debut album.  The self-titled debut for this trio, Middle Brother, steals the best qualities from each artists and melds them into a collection of tunes that ticks back and forth like a metronome between upbeat, gritty rock, to melodic and soul-bearing ballads (Rolling Stones Interview).

Before listening to this album, I was only familiar with McCauley and Deer Tick, so I wasn’t completely sure of what to expect from the other two members.  I was secretly hoping that McCauley’s raspy, beautiful voice would be the lead on all of the songs.  While his voice graces the lead spot on 5 of the 12 tracks, I enjoyed hearing the variation in song and tone with Vasquez and Goldsmith singing the lead as well.  I am not sure if the lead singer is the primary songwriter, but the emotion, connection, and personality of each song seems to fit the lead vocalist.

As is true with most albums, there are songs that I instantly love, some that will eventually become favorites, and a select few that I am always bound to skip while listening in my car.  While I am no expert on the creation and playing of music or finding the hidden meaning in lyrics, I am an expert on what I like and don’t like, so here is my initial impression of each song:

1. Daydreaming (McCauley lead vocals):  The intro to this song make me daydream of my boyfriend waking me up on a Sunday morning by playing these delicate cords, but the second that McCauley’s voice hits my ears and he starts talking about being hung over, the imagery shifts to a picture of him in his torn Levi’s and cotton t-shirt, slumped in an old 70’s orange velvet chair playing his guitar and staring out the window, hair messed up, cigarette embers burning away in the ashtray as smoke rises up and clouds the sun beams that break through the window into his small, messy bedroom.  This is one of my favorites on the album.  The harmonies are beautiful, and the lyrics sketch out a ‘day in the life’ of the writer who is left lonely, daydreaming about the girl who he may never get.  The music is simple, as it should be, and the story is one to which we can all relate.

2. Blue Eyes (Vasquez lead vocals): Is it just me, or is Tom Petty singing on this track?  Vasquez has a Petty quality to his voice that drums up images of The Traveling Wilburys, although I am not sure who McCauley and Goldsmith would be (perhaps Dylan and Orbison, respectively? ha!).  This is a sweet chasing love song about a gruff, foul-mouthed musician who got a taste of the best, lost it, and wants it back.  Funny how some guys can’t seem to see what they have until it’s gone.  VIDEO

3. Thanks for Nothing (Goldsmith lead vocals):  According to Goldsmith, this is a song for anyone who has ever felt like “damaged goods” after getting out of a relationship.  Although the pace slows down a bit, I enjoy the soulful sad tone in Goldsmith’s voice.  It makes me believe he’s writing from personal experience…one that most of us have felt at one or more times in our lives.  I enjoy how McCauley’s gritty voice can complement Goldsmith’s in the harmonies, and then Vasquez chimes in for the “Oooooooooh”s.  The best line of the song (“Now the only girls I meet all look for hearts that they can fix, when mine is more like a kid that has gone missing“) so effortlessly portrays a common scenario in love, where a hopeful girl finds a guy who is broken but not ready to be fixed, and thinks SHE will be the one to turn his life around.  All too often, these girls get hurt, fail, and move on to the next heart to mend.  This song makes us recall the fresh feeling of heartbreak, and remember how sarcasm and resentment often accompany our disappointment and feeling of being left with no silver lining. VIDEO

4. Middle Brother (McCauley lead vocals): This song picks up the pace again, and transports the listener to a dusty, old saloon, where McCauley is sitting on a rickety stool, playing and singing joyously about never living up to the expectations of others, yet hanging on to the hope that someday he will.  In the dark corner of the bar a hunched over drunkard in a ragged shirt and vest bangs away at the keys of an old upright piano, giving the rock-n-roll an old-timey feel.  Perhaps the lyrics resonate with those who have been the middle child…never measuring up to the eldest and never as cute and innocent as the youngest.  The tone of the song is feel good and upbeat…a great song for driving with the top down.  Unfortunately, a part of me gets a little depressed for McCauley and the absence of approval.  VIDEO

5. Theater (Vasquez lead vocals):  This is probably my least favorite song on the album.  I think it’s just the pace…melancholy, drab, and slow.  Honestly, I usually hit the skip button on this one.  The take away message seems to be that this life won’t tell you nothin’…nothin’ but lies.   Next.

6. Portland (McCauley lead vocals): This song shifts back to our rocking drifter McCauley, now with a So-Cal, Mexicali vibe.  Images of a hitchhiking trio come to mind…trying to make it to a show on the West coast.  They get picked up by an old leather-faced farmer in an beat-up Chevy pick-up.  As they are transported as far West as possible, the boys find themselves singing and playing in the truck bed, as dust billows from below the truck tires.  As they travel along, they come across the characters who help create the stories in this song.

7. Wilderness (Goldsmith lead vocals):  Goldsmith raises the bar on this song.  As the sweet strum of the guitar opens the song, I am immediately reminded of McCandless’ travels depicted in “Into the Wild“.  I wonder if Eddie Vedder would agree.  The song depicts a common struggle between charting one’s own path and being influenced by the path and thoughts of others.  It is the shortest song on the album, but it’s packed with lyrics that make you listen to it over and over…and endlessly question your own imbalances in life.

8. Me, Me, Me (McCauley lead vocals):  That old torn and tattered upright piano player makes an encore performance in this song, but this time he channels some Little Richard.  Mix that in with a Chuck Berry-like guitar solo, and you have a song that is sure to get you moving.  I can’t quite tell if McCauley is pleading with his lover to leave her dishonest and shallow man, or if that man is actually him.

9. Someday (Vasquez lead vocals):  Apparently Middle Brother also has a troop of female do-wop background singers hidden away somewhere…very reminiscent of Little Shop of Horrors…FEEED ME SEYMOUR!  The ladies swooning in the wings lend this psuedo-love song some swagger, while Vasquez’s lyrics tell the well-known tale of the guy who should care about the girl in front of him, but can’t seem to drum up the desire to seal the deal completely.  Without apology or remorse, Vasquez  sings, “I’d love to give every part of my best.  Maybe someday I’ll just give you the rest”, implying that if he can’t give it all, perhaps what is left will suffice.   Is he a hopeless romantic who wants to find his way to love, or just a typical alley cat who can’t seem to choose between the tabby down the street and the calico next door?

10. Blood and Guts (Goldsmith lead vocals):  While I have no idea what singing with Blood and Guts means, Goldsmith has some great lines in this song (“I’ve got a friend who speaks but doesn’t talk.  And I can play the part all right but I didn’t make it up“.  “If you’re breakin’ my heart, you won’t get no help from me”).  He seems to struggle with reinventing himself and moving on in the wake of  heartbreak, and his anguish and disappointment translates clearly through both his somber tones and bouts of yelling.  I just wish I knew what the hell Blood and Guts meant.

11.  Mom and Dad (McCauley lead vocals): This may as well be called “Middle Brother: Part 2″.  His efforts to make his parents proud fall to the wayside and his life as a limit pushing, burnin’-the-candle-at-both-ends rock star takes over.  While I can imagine that these lyrics depict the lifestyle of a large portion of touring rockers, I can’t help but think that McCauley takes it to another level.  After watching the Rolling Stone interview, it’s apparent that he’s not used to being awake during the day and he’s seen his fair share of crazy nights.  However, somewhere between the loose women and free shit, perhaps McCauley is expressing a sliver of regret for not speaking up when he felt his life begin to tailspin.

12. Million Dollar Bill: Appropriately, the closing song gives each of the guys a chance to collectively bleed their hearts out for us one last time.  Each man conjures up a way to stay in the heart, mind, and life of the woman who left him behind.  But rather than dwell on the pain that accompanies the loneliness of lost love and wish her the same pain, in their absence they plan to create a better life for her in the future.  It’s a somber song with a wish for redemption.  The last verse ends somewhat abruptly, making me want one more harmonious chorus from the boys.  I guess that is the sign of a good song.

While I know my attachment and affection for each of these tracks will shift with time, I can confidently say that this album will be one of my top Summer soundtracks.  My interpretation of the lyrics are merely just visions that my mind creates while I am listening to their songs, and likely have nothing to do with the true meaning behind the words.  To sum it up…I give those boys an A- for their first effort, and hope to see them play these tunes live, very soon.

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