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

Watch Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Jackson Browne & More Cover Woody Guthrie at SXSW

What’s a Bruce Springsteen show without an all-star sing-a-long? Last night at SXSW, the Boss followed up a warmly-received keynote speech with a performance at the Moody Theater, accompanied by the E Street Band. At the end of his set, he brought a ton of famous friends on stage — Tom Morello, Alejandro Escovedo, Eric Burdon, Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne and Win and Will Butler, among them — to close with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land," one of the most "we’re all in this together" songs ever laid down. Consequence of Sound recorded some video for our viewing pleasure, which you can hit after the click.

Morello gets on the mic around the 4:00 mark and makes a bunch of dorky finger-pointing gestures, which is just great. The Guthrie-sharing spirit was all around at SXSW: The day before, The Flaming Lips and Jackson Browne covered Guthrie’s "Along Sun & The Rain," accompanied by some iPads. (It’s a weird world we live in.) Watch that one below, courtesy of Stereogum.

SXSW ends on Sunday, fun for everyone stuck at home following the coverage on Twitter. If you’re up for more man-on-the-beat perspective, remember to read the rest of Sara Romeo-White’s coverage for BlackBook as it comes through the wire.

Marianne Faithfull and Others Pay Tribute to The Rolling Stones

It’s been forty years since The Rolling Stones released Hot Rocks, their first best-of compilation which included their biggest hits from the years 1964 to 1971. The album is still the Stones’ biggest-selling to date, and includes enough material for a huge tribute concert. Such an event took place last night at Carnegie Hall under the supervision of City Winery’s Michael Dorff, who culled together an impressive line-up of classic rock ‘n’ rollers and a handful of revered indie acts for a mind-blowing concert in celebration of one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history.

Stand-outs included Steve Earle performing “Mother’s Little Helper” (“This is the first song he learned to play on guitar,” he announced, “which is probably why I’m so fucked-up”), The Mountain Goats with a toned-down piano-heavy version of “Paint It Black, a surprisingly bluesy and suble "Heart of Stone" from Peaches, Rosanne Cash’s sultry voice leading vocals on “Gimme Shelter” (she later joined Jackson Browne and Marc Cohn to perform “Wild Horses”), and actress and singer Juliette Lewis, who kicked off her sequined heels and jumped and jived across the stage during her rendition of “Satisfaction.”

Opening the show was Italian rapper Jovanotti, members of TV on the Radio, and the Young Audiences New York Chorus with a spirited rendition of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which actually closes the album but was performed first on account of it being a school night. Taj Mahal, who performed at last week’s Robert Johnson tribute, brought his daughter Deva Mahal to join him in a deep country rendition of "Honky Tonk Women." I shouldn’t even have to mention how amazing it was to see rock legend Marianne Faithfull in person, much less to hear her perform “As Tears Go By,” the song that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote especially for her. After the proper Hot Rocks line-up, Faithfull returned to the stage to perform “Sister Morphine,” which she co-wrote with Jagger. It was enough to cancel out the only low point of the night when The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard, who ended his cover of “Under My Thumb” with the chorus from Them’s “Gloria,” as if he decided that Van Morrison needed some representation.

Proceeds from the show went to charities Church Street School for Music & Art, The Pinwheel Project, Music Unites, The American Symphony Orchestra, Young Audiences New York, Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools, Midori and Friends, The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, and The Center for Arts Education.

Check out the video below for a short clip of the entire line-up performing “Tumbling Dice” from the seminal Exile on Main Street as the encore.

Photo by Bobby Bank

Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, & More Salute John Lennon

John Lennon fans filled the Beacon Theater on Friday night to watch over a dozen entertainers – including Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Keb’ Mo’, Shelby Lynne, and Martin Sexton – take the stage for the 30th annual tribute concert in honor of the late, great Beatle.

During the rousing three-hour celebration, the all-star lineup sang Lennon covers that varied from heartfelt to eclectic to plain absurd. For an example of the last, look no further than the version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that featured Joan Osbourne and Maura Kennedy on vocal duties, while Chris Bliss sent yellow glowing balls rapidly into the air in perfect tune with the song (his juggling routine for the Abbey Road finale has been viewed on YouTube over 60 million times).

While the divergent musical lineup gathered to honor the memory of Lennon, they also hoped to raise funds for Playing For Change, which builds music schools for impoverished children around the world. The 6-year-old organization announced that together with Theatre Within, producers of the annual charity show, they’re launching Power to the People, a worldwide “peace through music and activism” campaign. The charity has earned the rare blessing of Yoko Ono, who delivered a video message to kick off the concert, saying: “John would have loved what you are doing.” The endorsement of Lennon’s very private widow is not entirely surprising – one imagines if Lennon was alive today, he would be at the center of this kind of idealistic grassroots cause.

We caught up with the performers backstage and asked them about why they chose to perform the Lennon classics they did. Their responses, along with a photo gallery of the event by guest photographer Jeff Fasano, follows.

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Jackson Browne plays “Revolution” with Mermans Kenkosenki (right) and the rest of the Playing For Change Band, a globe-trekking band of musicians from places as diverse as Senegal, Argentina, New Orleans, Netherlands and New York. Kenkosenki, who grew up in the Congo, has lived in South Africa since 1998. He spoke to us after the show about performing with Browne. “Yaaw! He’s a very good guy,” said the always festive Kenkosenki. “We’re from the Congo so we don’t know much about American music. But he’s a lovely guy.”

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Among the most inspired renditions of the evening was Martin Sexton’s breathtaking acoustic cover of “Working Class Hero.” While too many artists were content to hang in the background along side the house band, singing behind music stands, a solitary Sexton sat on a crate in the front of the stage, guitar in hand, and then with the wry howl of a down-on-his luck troubadour on a Dublin dock, peeled the song to its most angry, defiant and heart-wrenching core. “It was an honor to sing that song, especially in these troubled times we’re living in now,” Sexton told us. “John said that was a song for the revolution, and I think it’s a wonderful song for a revolution because even though it has some cuss words, it means something.”

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Patti Smith delivered a subdued, utterly surreal take of “Strawberry Fields” before telling the crowd about the pain of losing her husband Fred Smith in 1994, and how Yoko Ono’s graceful strength and determination after John had been killed served as a model for her. “She taught me how to carry on as a widow,” Smith told the rapt audience before honoring her with a light, zippy “Oh, Yoko.”

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Eighties pop icon Cyndi Lauper, looking great in a black leather outfit, belted out “Across the Universe” over swelling digital strings, so that her distinct voice could be heard, well, across the universe. Lauper emailed us her reason for picking that song. “As a kid, when school or life as I knew it then became unbearable, that song made everything bearable.”

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By injecting his mellow, Delta blues style, Keb’ Mo’ rearranged the melancholy ballad “In My Life” into a joyous piece of remembrance. “John Lennon wrote it, so he’s in there,” Keb’ Mo’ told us after the show. “So what I do is kind of to represent his soul.”

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Joan Osborne lent her gutsy voice to a groovy rendition of Yellow Submarine’s “Hey Bulldog.” “It’s a great rocker,” said Osborne. “I love that aspect of John Lennon, but actually, years ago when I was a film student at NYU, I used it as the soundtrack of a short film of mine. The film I had made wasn’t that good but when I put “Hey Bulldog” to it, it made it ten times better. So I thought, this is all you have to do – put great music to a scene and you’re home free.”

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Among the highlights of the show was Shelby Lynne’s rendition of “Mother.” Hearing her universe-splitting quaver exposes the deep wounds that sent Lennon into “primal scream” therapy around the time he wrote this heartbreaker.

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Jackson Browne gives a faithful rendition of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Way.” We spoke to Browne before the show but he barely spoke above a whisper, and stared at me with such focused intensity whereby he put some kind of mind meld on us, rendering us and our digital recorder useless. After speaking to his road manager, among others, we learned it’s Browne’s m.o. not to look at you, but through you. Funny thing is Browne should have done a bittersweet countrified “Take It Easy”-like rendition of “I’m Looking Through You,” a song he could have connected with better than the one he chose.

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Just before intermission, Chris Bliss delivers a fresh, psychedelic spark with his oddly moving juggling routine to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

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Aimee Mann, who writes as good a Beatlesesque ballad as anybody around, delivers a solid if not exceptional version of “Jealous Guy.” We’ll stick with Bryan Ferry’s soulful, spaced-out treatment.

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The headliners valiantly try to perform the majestic epic “A Day in The Life.” To be fair, tough song to pull off without much rehearsal. To create some chemistry between the quirky pair, they might have joined for a sweet, heartfelt “Norwegian Wood.” Oh well, we can imagine.

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The show closed with the all-star lineup gathering on stage to remind concert goers of Lennon’s defining message: “give peace a chance.”