AHHHH JEFF TWEEDY BE CAREFUL THERE IS AN ARMY OF GHOSTS SWARMING BEHIND YOU #loljk. Newport Folk’s bringing about a bunch of surprises in 2012, and they started with Wilco last night. Read on and stay tuned for more #NewportFolk coverage.

Typically, the Newport Folk Fest hosts an intimate kick-off event in some capacity before the crowds descend upon Fort Adams in the morning.

It usually takes place at a downtown venue, the Tennis Hall of Fame being a most-recent locale for the festivities, and performances from Steve Martin and his band of banjos and various esteemed members of Newport Folk lineups past took place for a room full of die-hard fans, journalists on assignment and members of the music industry.

When it was announced that Wilco would be opening up the 2012 Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams, you knew that this break from the scheduling pattern would be met with a bit more than a “WOOOO JEFF TWEEDY’S COMING!”-celebratory cheer.

This was a clear indicator that Newport Folk is stepping up its game with programming—that it’s including a night show for the first time, and opening up the festival with an act with an incredible draw—and that 2012’s going to bring about more than a few surprises in the festival’s 53rd year.

Besides a field full of people dancing around to “California Stars” and a surprise guest or two (as any headliner at Newport Folk is known to provide), I had no idea what to expect for my first Wilco show. As we walked around the perimeter of Fort Adams during the final stretch of Blitzen Trapper’s set (which was lackluster at best, moving on), we saw the shreds of gauze that looked like they’d been lifted from some Anthropologie window display dangling from the beams of the stage. Within minutes of the first downbeat, those knotted linens worked as canvases for the splashes of deep purple and lime green that punctuated Wilco’s paradoxical onslaught of beats and twangs.

To quote my colleague James Reed of the Globe:


You’d think that lights wouldn’t make that huge of a difference—the music’s what matters, right?—but damn, the visuals elevated the quiet, enthusiastic Newport Folk opener to a set that wouldn’t seem out of place at Bonnaroo or Glastonbury. Wilco’s the first band I’ve ever heard at Newport to use a drum machine (though that’ll change with tUnE-yArDs later this weekend) and these bombastic flavors hitting the eyes and ears were enthralling to see at such a storied venue.

Photos: Mike Basu

The set lasted for a bit more than two hours and ran the gamut, including tracks from Mermaid Avenue and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and concluded with two encores that involved some dude ripping his shirt off and whacking the ever-loving life out of a cowbell.

As we noted in this week’s feature on Newport Folk and its legacy of legend-making, last night’s Wilco set is up there with other performances from years past that make us reexamine how folk music is defined. Complete with old school tendencies (pedal steel; cowbell; harmonies provided by the Guthries) and new school accents (the drum machine, the light show, the electronic components), it all goes back to the sentiment that Newport Folk is about what’s good–not necessarily banjos and songs about wildflowers and the like.


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  1. Diane Diane says:

    Glad you were blown away by your first Wilco show! That dude who ripped his shirt off is multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone’s guitar tech, Josh, and this is a fun thing they usually do when they play Hoodoo Voodoo. Josh has got some sweet moves and it just adds to the playfulness of that great song to watch him dancing shirtless around the stage with the cowbell. Always makes for a fun closer.