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- Posted on Aug 2nd 2010 3:54PM by Ashley Iasimone
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It was never a surprise, for instance, to find My Morning Jacket's Jim James -- who was initially only billed to perform solo as Yim Yames -- also sitting in on sets with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore and even John Prine. As festival producer Jay Sweet told Spinner, "I think there's about one or two degrees of separation between every band that's playing. They've either opened for, know, shared a bass player, shared a tour manager -- it's incestuous."
"I mean, really, the whole thing feeds off each other," Sweet added. "I saw the Avett Brothers and Low Anthem checking out David Wax Museum. I saw Andrew Bird, Jim James and the Low Anthem watching John Prine. Jim goes out and sings with John Prine. Calexico sits in with Andrew Bird. With the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, you're gonna see Andrew Bird, Jim James, Cory Chisel, Tao Seeger -- everyone's gonna sit in."
The vibe of the festival was mellow and welcoming. On the blue-skied harbor, thousands of concert-goers spread out blankets and wandered around food and craft stalls; Brandi Carlile chatted with fans on her way to check out the Yim Yames performance and later, James was spotted with friends munching on falafel by one of the fort's tunnels that led backstage. Collaborative efforts may come with the set-up of a festival, but at Newport, they really fell into place organically.
"I think other festivals, if they try to do that, it's very forced. We do it in the planning stages," Sweet explained. "We have the knowledge of knowing which artists know each other. When the artist gets around to look at the bill and says, 'Hey, I know like 15 artists,' we know they're gonna eventually look at that and start making the phone calls themselves."
This year's roster was somewhat of a hodgepodge; of the 30-plus acts on the two-day lineup, one could roam around the site's three stages to hear traces of the folky harmonies of the Swell Season, the soul power of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, the bluegrass-folk-rock of the Avett Brothers, the New Orleans-style brass and horns of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the twang of Cory Chisel, the neo-soul of Nneka, the storytelling of John Prine and more.
The "why?" behind that medley of a roster, and how it somehow seamlessly worked, began with one simple criterion, said Sweet: "Are they a career artist, or not? Are these people, if they wanted to, going to have a full career in music? We don't invite people into the family – I call it the family – knowing that we can't have them back some other year."
What the success of the festival essentially came down to is Sweet, co-producer Bob Jones and founder George Wein sticking to the long-standing blueprint of booking artists that defy trends and have music, as Sweet put it, "in their blood." And just maybe, as an addendum, they'll be getting behind the next Bob Dylan or Joan Baez early on.
"I don't think we are genre-specific at the Newport Folk Festival. I always say, it's not the Newport American Folk Festival," Sweet explains. "I don't think we fall into one specific genre because I think the real thing of folk music is that it's music by the people, for the people; I'm paraphrasing Pete Seeger. People look to Newport, in a weird way, to help define what can or cannot be considered folk."