(L-R): Deer Tick guitarist Ian O'Neill, drummer Dennis Ryan, frontman John Macaulay, keyboardist Robbie Cowell, and bassist Chris Ryan try to relax after a job (or three) well done. (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
The guys in Deer Tick might be full-grown men who act like kids, according to Divine Providence opener "The Bump," but at least they were in good company for their Newport Folk Festival after-parties this past weekend. After their inception last year, the three nights of band-curated shows at Newport, RI's Newport Blues Cafe have attained something of a legendary status, selling out all three nights three hours after the tickets went on sale (fitting, given that this was the first time in history that the Folk Festival completely sold out all three days). All proceeds from these benefit shows, sponsored by ASCAP, go to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. In return, Deer Tick delivered an outstanding lineup of special guests, copious amounts of booze and expletives, and a perfect finish to the weekend.
On Friday night, Providence-based musician Ravi Shavi kicked things off, followed by fellow Rhode Island alt-country outfit Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, who were scheduled to play the festival the following day. After joining Fletcher onstage for their final song -- a trend that continued through Saturday and Sunday's onstage games of musician musical chairs -- Deer Tick frontman John J. Macaulay brought his band onstage. They launched into the opening bars of Blink-182's "Dammit" before stopping, excusing the tease with, "This is a folk festival, not a pop-punk festival!" Despite a somewhat subdued feel, Deer Tick powered through fan favorites like "Ashamed" off War Elephant (which they would play in its entirety on Sunday night) and "Clownin' Around," with an obligatory cover of The Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)" thrown in.
Country singer Jonny Corndawg gets in character with comically oversized jeans and a Harley Davidson T-shirt. (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
Despite torrential downpours on Saturday that closed down the Festival a half hour early and threatened flash floods (and put Macaulay in the awkward position of sharing five folding chairs with twice as many musicians to keep their feet dry), the after-party raged on. Most of the excitement revolved around Middle Brother's rumored set. Featuring Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith, whose band performed that day at the Festival; Macaulay; and Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez (who was scheduled to play a mysterious "acoustic set") that night, the supergroup never made plans to follow their beloved, critically acclaimed 2011 self-titled debut.
But first, country singer-songwriter Jonny Corndawg provided more than a welcome distraction, to put it mildly, by taking the stage in a pair of comically oversized pair of jeans and a Harley Davidson T-shirt that read, "If you can read this, the bitch fell off!" Vasquez, also ridiculously clad in a poncho and mustache, joined him for a rendition of "Red On the Head" off Down on the Bikini Line.
(L-R): Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith strikes a pose with Newport Folk Festival producer and noted photobomber Jay Sweet and brother Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes' frontman. (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
During Sharon Van Etten's ensuing set, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James and this reporter bonded over our various crushes on the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, whose stirring rendition of "Serpents" somehow managed to shush the unruly crowd -- which also included Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, who performed at another afterparty with Dawes on Friday night -- one of whom briefly harassed Van Etten onstage.
And then, the moment we had all waiting for: Goldsmith showed up, joined his brethren onstage, and lit into "Blue Eyes" off Middle Brother. The crowd exploded in sing-along ecstasy, almost drowning out the short set, including "Theater" and "Middle Brother". Only Deer Tick could have topped a reaction like that: With Vasquez on vocals, the boys busted out Nirvana cover band Deervana, another Macaulay project that had supposedly been retired, for some gut-busting cuts off their 1989 debut Bleach. In the pleasantly damp early hours of the morning, the audience -- including Big Hassle publicist Shira Knishkowy; ATO Records product manager Paul Dryden; Bryan Dufresne of Diamond Rugs and Six Finger Satellite; Refinery29 photographer Nina Westervelt; Partisan Records' Ian Wheeler; and the bands themselves spilled out into the streets, with no rain in sight.
Country singer-songwriter Robert Ellis plays pool one-handed while Ian O'Neill, Jay Sweet, and Partisan Records' Ian Wheeler converse in the background. (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
But it didn't last: The rain returned on Sunday just in time for Jackson Browne's headlining set of the festival, jamming traffic off Fort Adams and contributing to the after-party's late start. Despite admittedly feeling the burn after three days and nights of nonstop partying, the crowd topped their response to Middle Brother with sheer adulation ("I'm totally tripping right now," said Deer Tick keyboardist Robbie Cowell) for the veteran country singer. Browne began with "Redneck Friend" and Warren Zevon's "Carmelita", switching to keyboards as Goldsmith implored, "Turn that sh-- u-u-u-p-p-p!"
Jackson Browne wows an audience with pipes that haven't aged a day in nearly five decades as a performer. (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
"This is for everyone that has to work tomorrow," Browne said before pounding out a rousing rendition of "The Pretender", aided by folk musician Jonathan Wilson and Dawes keyboardist Tay Straithairn. When asked what it was like to share the bench with Browne, Straithairn smiled wryly and said, "It's not something that happens everyday." After that, the mood backstage was positively giddy, with Newport Folk Festival producer Jay Sweet mugging for the camera and talking up a documentary about festival tattoos with Robert Ellis, who showed off his one-handed pool moves for the rest of Dawes' traveling entourage. Titus Andronicus bassist Julian Veronesi was also hanging out with Deer Tick guitarist and his good friend Ian O'Neill, who brought him out onstage after the band finished a flawless run through War Elephant.
By the end of the night's traditionally beer-soaked closer "La Bamba," it was clear who won the title of "hardest working band in Newport," the band's announcer screamed: "F---ing Deer Tick!"