Friday, August 21, 2009

More videos from the Newport Folk Festival

Avett Brothers playing backstage:

Gillian Welch performing "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll":

More photos here.

Review: Newport Folk Festival Day 1 Bridges Two Generations of Folk

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Newport Folk Festival, this year’s line-up aimed to bridge a gap between two generations of folk and folk-influenced music. Officially titled “George Wein’s Folk Festival 50,” the festival took place on August 1 and 2 in Newport, Rhode Island; the first day featured older folk legends like Pete Seeger and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott along side younger folk-influenced indie bands like Fleet Foxes and The Decemberists,

“This year we tried to present a mix of the old and the new,” explained festival producer Bob Jones in a phone interview with WTBU. “There are the indie artists, like Fleet Foxes and Elvis Perkins, and there are also performers who played at the first festival, 50 years ago.”

The full line-up for the first day of the festival also included Mavis Staples, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, The Avvett Brothers, Ben Kweller, Gillian Welch, The Low Anthem, Iron & Wine, Tim Merritt, Tao Seeger, Langhorne Slim, and Brett Dennen.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was an appropriate opener for the day. A true veteran of the Newport Folk Festival, Elliott played at the first festival in 1959.

Ramblin' Jack Elliott performing "Freight Train":

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad time here at Newport,” Elliott told the crowd. In between playing old traditional songs (he played renditions of songs by the Carter Family, Elizabeth Cotton and others), Elliott recalled stories like meeting Woody Guthrie at age 19, and sharing guitars with legendary blues singer Mississippi John Hurt.

Ben Kweller and The Avett Brothers both shouted out to Elliott from stage, calling him a major influence on their music. Fleet Foxes also noted other festival artists as influences.

“It’s a huge honor to be here. Gillian Welch is a big hero of ours,” Fleet Foxes singer Robin Pecknold said from the stage.

Fleet Foxes stood out from the days’ other young acts. Playing songs from their acclaimed 2008 self-titled album as well as their 2008 Sun Giant EP, they are a band that does more than just emulate nostalgic folk sounds. Their haunting harmonies and lyrics set them apart as a band of innovators who have absorbed their folk influences and interpreted them in original, lasting ways, while still keeping their traditional influences clear.

As expected, social and political commentary spewed from the stages throughout the day. Before performing a song about the space race, Billy Bragg commented: “I think universal health care would be more impressive than putting a man on the moon.” And during his solo set, Tao Seeger questioned, “Obama’s our president, so now all of our problems are going to be solved? I guess not. If we want to see change, it’s going to be up to us.”

During Billy Bragg’s set, the British folk/punk singer performed a memorable version of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore,” explaining that bringing back Guthrie’s songs is suitable for these “troubled times.” Bragg also played songs off of Mermaid Avenue, his album of Woody Guthrie songs that he recorded with Wilco in 1998.

Billy Bragg performing "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key":

“I don’t usually play acoustic,” Billy Bragg told the crowd during his set. “I’m more of a punk rock guy, but it seems lately the folk singers have joined the fight against fascism, so I’m gonna sing some folk songs for you.” Bragg wore a t-shirt that read “Folk Against Fascism.”

After plugging in for a few electric songs, Bragg joked to the audience, “Here’s your chance to shout Judas, if you want.” He urged confused audience members to Google “Dylan + Electric.” This was only one of several references to Dylan’s 1965 performance that were made from the stage throughout the day.

During the Decemberists performance, the band members performed a lengthy skit depicting the scene of Bob Dylan going electric at Newport in 1965. Despite fact errors in the skit and the bands’ overall sound not really fitting in with the general aesthetic of a folk festival, their set was well-received by an enthusiastic crowd that sang along throughout the set.

“We have a lot of people who would say we're really not a folk festival because we've had artists like The Decemberists play,” festival producer Bob Jones told WTBU in a phone interview. “We take some criticism, but we do make sure to have artists play who are influenced by the folk traditions, which basically maintains our status as a folk festival.”

The Decemberists were chosen to play the folk festival because as a band they are restoring and preserving the folk tradition of storytelling, Jones said.

Ben Kweller kept the storytelling traditions alive as well, singing about listening to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on the bus and playing at the Newport Folk Festival. Kweller’s performance of songs from his new album Changing Horses (which seemed kind of gimmicky on the recording) sounded natural when played live, making Kweller’s set one of my favorites all day. His enthusiasm to be playing the festival pervaded his set, and spilled over to the finale as well.

The day closed out with a epic, momentous sing-a-long led by Pete and Tao Seeger. After recalling stories about Alan Lomax, factory worker strikes, farmer’s unions, and Martin Luther King Jr., the Seegers invited all of the days’ performers on stage for a sing-a-long that’s awesomeness can only be explained through video:

Pete & Tao Seeger performing "This Little Light of Mine" with Ramblin Jack Elliott, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Ben Kweller, Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists, the Low Anthem, and more:

The bridging of generations occurring on stage was living proof that George Wein’s Folk Festival 50 was an overwhelming success.

“The Seeger’s never gives up hope that the world can be a good place,” Wein said when he took the stage at the end of the set.

I was unable to attend the second day of the festival, and I couldn’t catch every artist on the first day, but full streams of all Folk Festival 50 sets are available at Check them out here. Read my full Q&A with Newport Folk Festival producer Bob Jones, here. Check back soon for more pictures/videos, plus my interview with The Low Anthem.

- Liz Pelly

Sunday, August 16, 2009

WTBU DAY 2009!

WTBU is pleased to announce the fall lineup for WTBU DAY at BU Central this fall on September 11th:

Magic Magic
Pretty & Nice
You Can Be A Wesley

All three bands have acquired national attention and include BU alums!
The show starts at 8 P.M. with live DJs. Admission is free for all BU students/$5 for non-BU students.

What's This I Hear About Another Tribute Show?

WTBU is teaming up with BU Central to bring Boston University its own Michael Jackson tribute concert! The show will be October 2 and will include acts from around the Boston area. If you or bands you know are interested in playing at the show, let us know! Contact us at!

Lonesome Vince's Grand Ole Hoot

It seems these days that every local show under $10 follows the same format: You go to the venue of choice, you watch the 3-4 band lineup, you tap your foot, drink a beer, catch up with friends, perhaps meet someone new, and then the show ends and you leave. But how do you feel when you leave? Has your mood changed? Was the show worth its price? Were you entertained? People need to ask themselves such questions in order to assess the quality of the shows they attend. People should expect talented performers and an energized atmosphere that is unique to each show. Local shows sometimes lack such characteristics, and instead feature familiar bands and audiences on weekday nights when less is happening. The “wow” factor is lost and so are expectations.

Lonesome Vince and his folk friends will bring you something more.

On September 10, the Central Square YMCA Family Theater will house a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, mouth-humming, body-rocking, and entertaining event. Lonesome Vince, a Boston University grad known for the monthly clandestine hootenannies he hosts in his Allston attic, is grouping together an eclectic mix of folk artists from Boston to host a different kind of show. It will incorporate musicians from Mama Bird Recording Company, a record label Vince recently started with some of his favorite Boston folk acts including Vikesh Kapoor, Barna Howard, and Old Hannah. Spitzer Space Telescope, a current BU student, will also be performing.

The show is an attempt to revive the notion of an event as a spectacle, and the YMCA Family Theater is the perfect place to do so, as it boasts wooden chairs, chandeliers, and an old-fashioned box office. The tickets and fliers are handmade and silk screened in classic western font, adding to the show’s aesthetics. Vince will host the show while joining some of the musicians on stage between sets. He wants the event to evoke a feeling of “old-time radio,” reminiscent of Garrison Kiellor’s live broadcasts in the 1970s. He’s even including cornbread and lemonade to accompany the folk feeling.

“It’s about making an experience. It’s more than just watching people on stage—it’s participatory.”

Vince and his friends are moving to the west coast in the fall, so the Grand Ole Hoot will be one of the last opportunities Bostonians will have to "participate" in one of Vince's spectacles. Tickets are $5 in advance and 7 at the door. The doors are at 7 P.M. and seats are first-come, first-served.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

24 HOUR WTBU & (RED)TM O.A.R. VIP Ticket Giveaway Closed

Thanks to everyone who entered! A winner has been chosen, but we'll be holding more VIP ticket giveaways with (RED)NIGHTS this semester, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

24 HOUR WTBU & (RED)TM O.A.R. VIP Ticket Giveaway!

WTBU & (RED)TM are giving away a pair of VIP tickets to O.A.R.'s (RED)NIGHTS show at Bank of America Pavilion on August 13th. As a VIP, you'll get to meet the band, score some (RED)NIGHTS goods and check out the concert.

The first WTBU fan who answers the following question correctly in an email sent to by tomorrow (Wednesday, 8/12) at 12:30 p.m. EST, along with your name, age, and contact number, will win! The question: AT WHAT UNIVERSITY DID THE 5 MEMBERS BECOME O.A.R.?

Good luck, WTBUers! The contest winner will be announced tomorrow, Wednesday, after 2 p.m.
(RED)NIGHTS is a concert series that saves lives. A portion of the proceeds from every (RED)NIGHTS show goes directly to Africa to help those affected by AIDS.

Must be 18 or older and a legal resident of Boston or the surrounding areas (within 75 miles) to win. Please click here to view official (RED)TM sweepstakes rules.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Off the Hook in '09 & Overlooked in '08

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (2009)

"Isn't life under the sun just a crazy, crazy, crazy dream?" asks Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors in "Stillness Is the Move," the first single off Bitte Orca. If music can sound this crazy good all the time, then I think it must be.

The Dirty Projectors have finally cleared the hurdles of over ambition and lack of cohesion. Bitte Orca pulses with life, a full out celebration of everything under the sun. Mind blowing arrangements of vocals and all instruments take flight over grooves you'll swear were inspired by your heart and soul on your best day. If David Longstreth's impulsive YEAH!s won't get you, the African beats and queer harmonies will.

All female vocals, precise to the point of sounding alien-like at times, show auto-tuner what's up and then some on "Temecula Sunrise" and "Stillness Is the Move." A seamless transition into "Two Doves" follows, a love song with a gorgeous hook. Love seems to be the order of the day on Bitte Orca, and you will feel it all over; it's impossible to sit still when the electric finale of "Useful Chamber" hits and breaks you into a million happy pieces as Longstreth shouts, "Bitte orca, orca BITTE!" over raging guitars. Even darker lines such as, "... beckoning everyone in for the good news that / no one has any good reason to live!" heard on "The Bride" are delivered as a cause for rejoicing in a big way.

Bitte Orca makes me want to run out into the streets, conjure up an impromptu cultural festival in a major metropolitan area, and then embrace all parties involved under a blazing setting sun. Take that as you wish, but if you give any album a chance this summer, please let it be this one.

Other Top Contenders:

St. Vincent - Actor : Annie Clark is back for another round of weird fantasy meets tragedy storytelling on her sophomore effort, and she's now even harder to pin down. Rock "Marrow" at your house dance party or bring on nightmares with "The Neighbors."

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest : Another harmony and unorthodox instrument party. See review.

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line (2008)

I'm not sure why I slept on Ra Ra Riot's debut full-length release, but after seeing them live, it's sure got my attention (and love) now. Wes Miles' vocals are disarming, sad but sweet, while violin and cello accompaniments class things up with a gravitas you don't often find in young bands. Their wise-beyond-their-years vibe may very well be rooted in the tragic death of band member John Pike back in 2007. Standout tracks such as "Winter '05" and "Dying is Fine" are given new weight as a result: "If you were here / Winter wouldn't pass quite so slow...."

Still, with the heavy-heartedness comes a bright and steady light of optimism that permeates the album. "Oh, la! / We've got a lot to learn from each other, we have got to stick together," pleads Miles on "Oh, La." The sunny "Each Year," inspired by literary children's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, can sum up the spirit of Ra Ra Riot: innocent but mature, hopeful, and well-meaning. The infectious "St. Peter's Day Festival" is instant favorite material while album closer "Run My Mouth" sports a bridge that will earn repeat listens for days.

The Rhumb Line succeeds because it works on so many levels. It can be poignant and emotional or uplifting, heels-a-clicking fun. It can keep you company in the dead of lonely winter or spring you back to life for summer. Either way, there is not one throwaway track on here.

Also worth checking out:

The Kills - Midnight Boom:
Lead singer Alison Mosshart is dangerous (irresistibly so), and she will take you for a ride on her crazy train. "Tape Song" and "Cheap and Cheerful" showcase the album's gritty, sexy and so very rock & roll attitude.

- Jessy Bartlett