In addition to headliners like John Prine, Fleet Foxes and Wilco, Newport Folk 2017 was a moment for new artists to shine. WhatsUpNewp sat down with three bands who were making waves at Newport – The Seratones, L.A. Salami, and Mt. Joy. Their enthusiasm was palpable.
On Friday, the Seratones were one band relishing their Newport experience. They’re a rock and roll outift featuring powerhouse AJ Hayes on vocals and guitar. Hayes was joined by veteran players Connor Davis on lead guitar, Adam Davis on bass and Jesse Gabriel on drums.
The Louisiana band, on tour with the Drive-By Truckers, weren’t troubled by the fact they were on the Quad stage early – 12:30PM to be exact.
“Screw that, we can rock it anytime,” declared lead singer A.J. Haynes. The group came together in the busy Shreveport, Louisiana scene, where traditional clubs mix with the finest “unofficial” establishments, like juke joints and roadside bar-b-ques like “Big D’s”.
The band mixes rock, punk, R&B and soul for a sweet blended sound. Hayes spoke to her influences, “I listened to a lot of jazz singers growing up, and grew up singing in a gospel church.” And while he sang on a stage in the background, she noted “I love Ben Gibbard as a vocalist, he has such clarity. “Jazz, heavy metal, punk rock, that’s it,” added drummer Jesse Gabriel.
“We met on a spaceship,” joked Wright as bandmates corrected her noting they were all playing in different bands around the city. “Between the four of us, we played in about 10 different bands before we got together,” explained guitarist Davis.
Davis spoke highly of Shreveport. “It’s a big city with a small “c” and a major music scene. There are so many different genres of music and art that are going on at the same time and they all support each other which is somewhat rare in bigger places. Metal guys go to coffee shops, Its pretty esoteric.”
The Seratones were certainly well received in Newport, with many in attendance proclaiming them as their favorite new band.
L.A. Salami was positively enjoying himself at Newport Folk on Friday. We met the singer-songwriter from London as he was sipping his first Del’s lemonade – out of the cup, like a true Rhode Islander. It was a nice way to cool off on a warm muggy day after his set on the Harbor Stage.
Salami was just getting used to the Newport experience having played a bunch of dates around the NYC area, “an Englishman in New York,” he noted. A Londoner, he also grew up “simultaneously” in Ramsgate, a coastal town in the UK.
He broke out as an acoustic singer-songwriter with tunes like “When the Poet Sings,” but has also played with a full band as he did at Newport. His song “I Wear This Because Love is War,” from Dancing With Bad Grammar, (an album hailed by NPR’s Bob Boilen as one of the top 10 of 2016), brought him widespread attention. He’s been recognized for his penetrating and visionary songwriting. “The band sound has always been there, the music I’m doing now has always been around, I’m just trying to get it out,” he remarked.
Salami is a multi-talented artist, who sees visual arts as equally important to his music. “The music is more of an art thing, I’ve wanted to make films as long as I remember, to me, film is the amalgamation of all the classic art forms like fine art, poetry… all those elements make up what film is. Music has always been as important to me as writing, as painting. I like doing all those things and am willing to have my own identity. By the time you put something out, you’ve already moved on, years ahead of yourself.”
His Newport performance held the crowd spellbound. Look for more from him in the future.
Mt. Joy was likely the “newest” group at the Festival having only formed last Fall. Co-founders Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper (both grew up near Mt. Joy in Pennsylvania) brought their folk-rock vibes to Newport where they played a first-rate set, yet still seemed a little awed to be backstage at the venerable Folk Festival.
Mt. Joy is so new, they’ve only released three songs, with an album due soon. Their first hit, “Astrovan,” a smartly penned tune with a funky laid-back sound, got over 4 million hits on Spotify. So did “Sheep,” a modern day protest song the band played at Newport.
“The song was written after the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (Lyric: ‘There’s blood on the streets of Baltimore/Kids are getting ready for a long war.’) That continued to happen in cities nationwide and became somewhat of an epidemic. Mt. Joy happened right at that moment and I had this idea and we sort of spun it to make it a little more relevant to today,” explained Quinn.
Matt Quinn knows how special it is to play the Festival. “There’s a lot of history here – it’s a beautiful place. When we found out we were put on the Festival, Sam and I got super excited. We’re big fans of Bob Dylan and all the people who have played here before. We watched a video from 1964 when Dylan comes up and sings ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ it just felt like a singular moment in music history.”
“It’s been a weird ride, it’s been a great ride, it’s been a crazy ride,” explained co-leader Quinn. “We’re just hanging on, enjoying it.”
As far as influences, Quinn and Cooper look to The Beatles, Dylan and The Grateful Dead as well as 2017 Festival bands like The Wild Reeds and Jim James. “We’re big My Morning Jacket guys, so Jim James being here, we’re really excited to see him. Of course, Wilco is tonight, Michael Kiwanuka tomorrow, we’re huge fans of his,” gushed Cooper.
They went on tour with The Head and the Heart (who also played the Festival) and look forward to touring with Lone Bellow in the Fall.
Check out videos of all three bands below.