Crashing Deer Tick’s Newport Folk Festival Party

"I was sober." John McCauley is lying belly-up on top of a picnic table at Fort Adams National Park. The Deer Tick frontman, along with his rest of alt-country quartet, is visibly exhausted, and for good reason: in addition to the hour-long set they plowed through at the Newport Folk Festival earlier that afternoon, McCauley and crew are still recovering from the opening night of their weekend-long engagement at the Newport Blues Café that serves as the festival’s official after-party.

Given Deer Tick’s propensity for cracking Coronas with their teeth onstage and the fact that one of their most popular songs screams, “LET’S ALL GO TO THE BAR!” every other line, to hear that McCauley was this wiped out from a folk fest show and not loaded for the first night of the Newport Blues run is a surprise, to say the least. This is the same guy I watched bash his Fender to smithereens until streams of sticky red ran down from his Koolaid-dyed scalp, back when Deer Tick performed a Nirvana cover set at South By Southwest a year and change ago. This is the man I’ve seen drop to his knees and swill out of a bottle without relieving the guitar from his clutches. This is the guy whose very breathing implies that his blood type is a potent mix of Four Roses and rock ’n’ roll, and yet the first thing he tells me about the show he played the night before is that he was sober for it, and that that was fuckin’ weird.

But, hey. There’s a first time for everything, and the fact that McCauley was uncharacteristically dry didn’t hold him, the rest of Deer Tick, or the superlative lineup at large back from turning the Newport Blues Café into the most impossible club to get into in New England last weekend.

Though officially hosted by the Newport Festival Foundation and their label, Partisan Records, Deer Tick serves as both the emcee and main attraction of these after-parties, sitting in whenever they’re invited and leaping onstage to pound a keyboard over somebody’s shoulder when they’re not. This in turn transforms the Newport Blues Café into a fertile breeding ground for collaboration, one without the limits begrudgingly imposed by the Newport Folk Festival, with its all-ages audience and national media attention. In 2011, the after-party wasn’t officially sanctioned and members of the Newport Folk lineup—the Felice Brothers, Trampled By Turtles, Dawes, Delta Spirit—all convened at the bar to get shithoused with their friends and play a set should they feel so inclined. This year, after the Newport Blues shows sold out in minutes and Newport Folk followed suit shortly thereafter, the band, the label and the festival figured it’d be wise to capitalize on a good thing by actually booking a lineup—including one of the festival’s headliners, Jackson Browne—and announcing it, catching lightning in a bottle and bringing an air of formality to an otherwise unruly endeavor.

Deer Tick is cool with this formal approach, though: they may kick a hole through an amp or knock over a drum kit from time to time, but when it comes down to it, they’ve got a show to put on and they want to do it well. “We have a pretty tight schedule,” says Ian O’Neill, Deer Tick’s lead guitarist, when I catch up with the band before their show Saturday night. “These shows can be a little looser than our festival sets, which we always keep pretty structured—they’re different beasts. As far as backstage stuff is concerned, people could just wander back there. We confirmed people beforehand this year, whereas last year we didn’t really know who was gonna show up.”

The after-parties also provide an opportunity for Newport Folk artists to go from a day job demeanor to the perks and pitfalls of an after-hours scenario, which works in their favor while bringing them back down to reality. Jackson Browne, whose presence at Newport Folk kept festival-goers captivated despite the downpour that lasted for the majority of his time onstage, had no problem belting out a few covers (namely Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita,” where he was joined by Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith on vocals) and good-naturedly sang over the slurred rumbles elevating from the crowd. Sharon Van Etten sounded just as effortlessly, hauntingly gorgeous as she did during her Newport Folk performance earlier that day, the only difference being that she had changed into jeans and had no problems calling out the hammered asshole who kept flailing around and making a scene at her feet. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Jim James of My Morning Jacket were among the patrons present for Saturday night’s show, though they opted to remain incognito and take in the show as opposed to sitting in for it.

And Deer Tick, who stuck to their catalog and kept their language clean for the crowd they played for at the Fort, enjoyed their goofy cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” in the vein of Mariah Carey as much as the girls hanging over the bar waiting for an aluminum bottle of Bud Light did. If Newport Folk was the main event that introduced these musicians as meteoric talents, some whose lyrics and notes resonate with those of Woody Guthrie, Dylan and the rest of the festival’s storied legacy, Deer Tick’s after-party did a service by showing fans that folk music’s an amorphous genre that includes all kinds of fuck-ups, weirdos and nerds who take a the punchline of a joke as seriously as they do the crux of a brilliant ballad.

“Jay Sweet [producer of the Newport Folk Festival] said that our set and the after-parties are what Newport used to be about, and what Newport needs to be again,” says O’Neill. “There’s louder bands, and bands that play quiet and loud music. If anything, it’s drifting more towards us than what it used to be, you know?”

Deer Tick may corral the bros with bar anthems better than anyone else, and their music may be met with a kind of consternation that’s not unlike what Bob Dylan faced when he plugged in at Newport Folk himself years ago. The fact that one of the oldest music festivals in the country wants to be as much a part of their raucous dive bar adventures shows that they’re a unique force that can give old school rock and roll and up-and-coming indie talents the same platform to perform on, even if the place is covered in a boozy film from the get-go, and even if John McCauley hasn’t had a single drop to drink. 

Photography by Mike Basu

Linkage: James Cameron Looking For A Pandora Of His Own

From the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of the atmosphere, James Cameron is truly embracing a life with no bounds. With a little help from Google, the Avatar director is working on a space venture, Planetary Resources, that will “overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP” and “help ensure humanity’s prosperity.” Because there must be a Pandora out there… [Mashable]

Do you spend your Sunday nights flipping between Mad Men and Good Wife and Girls and, oh no, does Veep start tonight? According to the New York Times, you are not alone. Rather, you might be a part of the "43 percent," the portion of America suffering from too much good television on Sunday nights and not enough DVR space. [NYT]

Carrie Mulligan and Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford made things official over the weekend, quietly tying the knot in the English countryside in the company of Sienna Miller, Colin Firth and Jake Gyllenhaal. For some reason, though, the rest of Mumford’s bandmates were not invited. [E!]

After four weeks atop the box office, Hunger Games has been routed by unexpectdly well performing the Kevin Hart led adation of Steve Harvey’s self-help book, Think Like A Man. [ArtsBeat

Ducked out of the music game for a minute now, Conor Oberst is working on opening a cocktail lounge called The Pageturners Lounge in an old bookstore in Omaha.  [NME]

Rick Ross had a brush with the nautical authorities this weekend when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pulled him over in his yacht, from which the smell of weed was reportedly wafting. [TMZ]

Morning Links: Jospeh Gordon-Levitt Joins Batman, Nicki Minaj To Join X-Factor

● Wyclef Jean was “grazed” in the hand by a bullet while campaigning for presidential candidate and fellow performer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly in Haiti this weekend. He’s taking antibiotics and is just fine, so back to the elections, guys? [AP] ● Nicest living boy in Hollywood Joseph Gordon-Levitt has officially signed on to play Alberto Falcone, the son of a mob boss, in Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. He’ll be joining Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy. [Variety} ● Even though it’s Hong Kong-produced, mainland China won’t get to see much of the world’s very first 3D Porn, Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy. Tour agencies are working quickly to resolve this injustice by booking trips to Taiwan for the most eager viewers. [Yahoo! Malaysia]

● “He reminds me a lot of me when I was younger,” Chris Brown said of adopted mentoree Justin Bieber. “I kind of try and be the big brother and make him go the right way and have a great time.” Now that we think of it, Justin seems to be doing just fine one his own. [JustJared] ● Nicki Minaj is in talks to join L.A. Reid as a judge on Simon Cowell’s imported version of The X Factor. She’s fit for the job: One look from Minaj is worth a lifetime of judging, but before making any promises, she needs to know that her shoes will be visible from under the judge’s bench. [Page Six] ● “[At SxSW] you have the greenest of the green, and the oldest, most poisoned of the fucking dinosaurs, walking next to each other in sunny Austin,” opined Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst during his own SxSW set, now streaming in full on Spinner. He didn’t quite place himself in this equation, but you know how it goes: “Hard lines curved in your face/ The sunshine is so cliche/Just like love and pain.” [Spinner ● Most things you can do, Chad Ochocinco can do better. Or so he thinks. In lieu of an NFL lock-out, he’s decided he’ll be fulfilling his childhood dream of being a Major League Soccer star! The MLS has only been around since he was 17 years-old, but football/futbol — who’s counting? [NYT]

Conor Oberst & Ben Kweller @ Terminal 5

Earlier this year, Conor Oberst released his first solo album in 13 years, and he and the Mystic Valley Band (named for the area where they recorded Tepoztlán, Mexico) have been touring since July. They swung through New York this past weekend for a country good time at Terminal 5 with opener Ben Kweller, who Oberst met when they both were living in Brooklyn. Kweller has since moved back to his home state of Texas, but is also on tour previewing his country album coming out next year.

Oberst is known as a bleeding heart, mainly with the project Bright Eyes, but as he proves with this album, there’s a thin line between confessional music and country music. He still keeps it personal, but the performance is infinitely more exuberant and definitely more twangy, sounding at times reminiscent of Tom Petty. In this new incarnation he looks like he’s actually having fun on stage, not as with Bright Eyes when it seemed as if he were counting the minutes until he got to leave. He’s currently working on more non-Bright-Eyes fare: an album with M. Ward and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, but it would be interesting to see if he and Kweller team up for something in the future. They overlap in a couple of areas — both are recognized musicians from their early teens, both currently riding the same musical wave with much of the same audience. They united for one raucous song Saturday night (sadly, not the Ghostbusters theme, as in a previous concert) and when Kweller left they shared a quick kiss, along with a couple “I love you mans.” The two play another show this week in Richmond, Virgina, and then, who knows.

From GaGa to Ratatat: Music for August

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (Merge Records). A phone left dangling off the hook. The singe of tequila as it’s washed down with salt. The smell of bonfire smoke as it’s carried away into the night sky. These are the everyday snapshots Conor Oberst conjures on his self-titled fourth solo album, a return to one-man showmanship after 13 years. As he trembles and wavers through drifting laments, his voice defying tone, the Bright Eyes frontman reveals a heart in shards, sparring with Ryan Adams to become the Bob Dylan of our generation. — Nick Haramis

The Faint, Fasciinatiion (blank.wav). Once the sonic embodiment of the Apocalypse itself, these vitriolic gents have decidedly refined their approach. Yet Fasciinatiion still sees them surfing the edges of social decay, as on “Machine In The Ghost,” where they sneer at our dangerous attachment to superstition (“History’s been crucified/ Humans supernaturalized”). The music, sort of Gary Numan tech with a Gang of Four attack, is appropriately futuristic and unsettling — but distinctly infectious. Briilliiant. — Ken Scrudato

Ron Sexsmith, Exit Strategy For The Soul (Yep Roc). On his irresistible ninth album, Canadian singersongwriter Ron Sexsmith doesn’t so much craft a song as he does bring it to life. Fluid, melodic and shimmering with Cuban horns, songs like “This is How I know” and “One Last Round” invite the listener to come early and stay late. Don’t miss his charmed version of “Brandy Alexander,” the track he co-wrote with countrywoman Feist. — Alison Powell

Laura Marling, Alas, I Cannot Swim (Caroline). On her debut album, this British folk prodigy carries the torch of Sandy Denny and Beth Orton — and does them proud. A natural storyteller, Marling uses her clear lilt to sing of an elusive unnamed “he.” The guy may have gotten away, but she has a firm hand on the weft of guitars, strings, tiny bells and a gently brushed drum. With songs titled “Crawl Out of the Sea” and “Captain and the Hour Glass,” the 18-year-old native of Berkshire, England conjures the 1800s in a briny nostalgia. But make no mistake, these shanties were born for the rough seas of the present. — A.P.

Ratatat, LP3 (XL). Ratatat’s third album is far more imaginative than its title. The Brooklyn instrumental duo’s previous releases proved sonically idiosyncratic yet strangely beguiling, percolating with heavy metal soloing, symphonic flourishes, experimental clang and hip-hop beats. LP3 largely replaces Ratatat’s trademark wall of guitars with keyboards and varied instruments to add more nuance and atmosphere. It ultimately proves more Morricone than Iron maiden — a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. — Matt Diehl

Lady GaGa, The Fame (Cherrytree/Interscope). “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick,” declares 22-year-old Lady GaGa on her sequined debut album. A roughshod Kylie, she oscillates between power wails and falsetto, not unlike, say, Gwen Stefani. “Poker Face” features spoken word that solicits obvious — but apt — comparisons to Peaches. — N.H.

Stereolab, Chemical Chords (4AD). The poster children for post-rock, Stereolab get playful on their first full album in four years. In the ’90s, the London collective pioneered bringing Krautrock “motorik” rhythms and Velvet Underground drones back into musical fashion. Chemical Chords, however, rewires vintage pop hooks into something new. Songs like “Falcon Jab” mutate happy Motown girl-group sounds with tinny drum machines, while “Mi Viejo” sounds like Wu-Tang scoring a Godard film. Odd, but gleeful.— M.D.

Juliana Hatfield, How To Walk Away (Ye Olde Records). Juliana Hatfield has shucked the trappings of alt-rock for her latest. Without the requisite snarl and angst, the set is simply a milquetoast assortment of AC radio friendly fillers. Though consistent, Hatfield’s cooing on songs like “So Alone” and “Shining on” sounds undifferentiated and bland — excusable for a novice, but not this indie vet. — Rohin Guha