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Playing the Newport Folk Festival can be a career-defining moment for any artist. Some musicians use the exposure as a steppingstone, others mark it as a career-high point. Either way, everyone who’s played Newport understands the historical significance of the event.
Last week at “Folk On,” I spoke with several young artists who are making their way in the music world. For many, just knowing their music has been recognized by the Festival is an honor that can be a little overwhelming.
“I’ve been a massive fan of the Festival for as long as I can remember,” explained Elijah Wolf, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, NY. “For Jay (Sweet) to reach out and be excited about my music is like the coolest experience of my life. I feel like I’m dreaming today.”
Wolf shared a little bit about his background.
“I grew up in Woodstock, New York listening to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. I was brought up on this, that’s probably why I’m such a fan of Newport. I live in New York City now, and in February, my first real record came out. It was produced by Sam Cohen and features Nels Cline of Wilco on guitar.”
“That was the first record that people responded to, and I’m getting invited to do stuff like this and it feels totally surreal. To be booked at real festivals and to see my friends here playing – there’s no words.”
He was particularly excited about his new album being released on vinyl. “I collect vinyl, so to get to hold it in person was the most emotional experience of my life,” remarked Wolf.
Wolf is touring around the Northeast this summer and heading to Europe in late August. “I fly to the UK to do my first UK tour, I’m playing some clubs and festivals.”
I also spoke to the husband-wife band known as Ida Mae just after they performed an impressive set on the Lawn Stage. The band has an organic connection to the Festival – they are named after a song by Sonny Terry, a blues artist who played Newport in the 1960s.
“It feels less nerve-racking now that we’ve done it. Now that we’ve done it, it feels great,” duo member Stephanie Jean described after their first performance at Newport.
“It’s a huge honor, we’ve been fans of this Festival since we were 15 years old, and have known these bands, these artists and the importance that it has. To know that our music is a tiny bit of that this year, part of the fabric of this year’s lineup, is a dream come true,” added Chris Turpin, the other half of the talented duo.
Originally from the UK, Ida Mae has spent the past two years in Nashville, working their craft, and recording a new album. Turpin shared what they’ve been up to during the pandemic.
“We actually tracked our record, Click Click Domino, it worked out quite well, we ended up turning our house into a studio. We were gonna do this location recording and fly people out to a studio.” Instead, “all of our touring buddies, people from Gretta van Fleet, and Marcus King were able to come over and guest on the album. We made it on our own – it was great.”
I wondered about the origin of the band’s name, Ida Mae, borrowed from an old Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee song.
“We wanted to do a bit of a nod to those artists today – in the UK growing up with Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin, but also listening to bands like The White Stripes and the Black Keys. It was really easy for me to discover the blues, I was a bit of a geek and wanted to go back to the source. I realized very quickly that those Newport recordings had a lot of those artists like Reverend Gary Davis and Fred McDowell. All of those guys had a huge influence,” explained Turpin.
It just so happens that the first song we learned to sing together was “Ida Mae” by Sonny Terry. It’s a name that has German and Irish roots, we played a lot in Germany when we first started. We thought it would be a romantic way to pull everything together,” Turpin added.
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