Newport is one of the festivals I have been waiting to visit my whole life. It’s one of the most historic and classic New England events of the summer. When tickets sold out almost immediately in the spring, it seemed like a lost cause. Saturday tickets were $350+ from scalpers and that’s just nuts, even to see one of my favorite bands ever- My Morning Jacket. I was crestfallen about it for the last few months… Then as if by magic, two face value tickets materialized the day before the show! It was a festival miracle and we put on some preppy pink to head down to Newport.
Getting into this festival is a serious schlep – the traffic is extremely slow. The way to go is sail in, preferably on a luxury yacht, or at least park your car in Newport and ride a bike out to Fort Adams State Park. It is an extremely beautiful venue – a sprawling stone fortress on Newport Harbor filled with sailboats and yachts and panoramas of Narragansett Bay. When Jim James of MMJ played Newport solo in 2010 he told SPIN, “You’ve got the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair. It’s magical here… It’s just magical.”
It truly was, even on an overcast day. The Alabama Shakes played a sweet set of blues tunes that got rockin at the end. They are one of the coolest, most exciting new bands around even though their sound is so classic. Amazing that they are all only 23 or so. I couldn’t stop thinking about the My Morning Jacket show that evening.. and what to eat.
We set off searching and found some delicious little neck clams and oysters from the Matunuck Oyster Bar. They had little necks, shrimp, and of course Matunuck Oysters as well as lobster rolls. I even got a shucking tutorial from the nice guy serving up the oysters. I will definitely visit their restaurant the next time I’m in Rhode Island.
After a disappointing salmon slider we really wanted a cocktail, but the beer lines were insanely long. We grabbed a Del’s frozen lemonade and walked over to watch Dawes – on our way into the crowd a gentleman named Stephen said, “Hey do you need some booze in that drink?” Um well YES. This is a fantastic recipe I’m calling a Newport Margarita: Del’s Frozen Lemonade + tequila from a water bottle you snuck into the festival. It’s so refreshing and who doesn’t love an alcoholic slushie.
We headed over to see Iron & Wine and encountered Feel Good Food, a “solar charged mobile health kitchen” that cooks at festivals across the country including Burning Man. Feel Good Foods seeks to change people’s perception about fast food (or food made fast) and nutrition. Chef Jed makes healthy and tasty dishes such as a Organic Carne Asada Bahn Mi Sandwich. I had some vegan pozole that was perfect with their signature strawberry hot sauce. It’s made of simple ingredients with no sugar and is the perfect balance of hot and natural sweetness. Jed explained how the Mayans used to soak hominy in lime juice to make this delicious dish.
We finally got a beer and the Newport Storm Summer Hefe was absolutely fantastic with a great hop character. I will definitely seek this beer out again.
It was finally time for My Morning Jacket and the band took the stage wearing their Newport best – Jim had a white linen suit with pink shirt and tie. They started with sweet folk songs: Welcome Home, Golden, Wonderful. The rest of the band was dressed perfectly too- there was seersucker, plaid, vests. Pretty much everything except… just as I thought “Where’s the cape?!” Jim swooped out wearing it over his suit and Victory Dance signaled the rock and roll part of the show had begun. Jim also wore a DJ knob box around his neck, twisting to produce different sounds. This guys is a consummate showman- MMJ always brings drama to their concerts.
I was hoping for a sweet cover and knew we would get something special when Brittany from Alabama Shakes joined the band on stage. Jim said, “This one’s for Levon!” and the whole crowd sighed and cheered as they played a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of It Makes No Difference. Conor Oberst joined them for Smokin From Shootin as ominous rain clouds rolled in.
As they began to play I’m Amazed, Jim took the cape off his head and said, “Its such an honor and a thrill for us to be on this holy ground. We’ve dreamed of playing here for years.” They rocked out with one last jam, all of them head banging their very long hair in unison.
The rain held off just till the end of the song. He shouted, “The lightening is coming! It’s beautiful- enjoy it! God Bless you.” Then the clouds parted for an epic downpour. Just like Jim, I always dreamed of coming to Newport. Truly, it was magical. And Jim James knows every good magician needs a cape.