Friday, August 26, 2016

Music Festivals: Newport Folk Festival 2012-Dawes

Dawes: A Little Bit of Everything (Live from Newport 2012)
[purchase the album that this song is on]

I have written about the trip that my wife and I took to the Newport Folk Festival back in 2012 a few times. It was our first time there, and it was a great experience, despite the fact that we got rained on both days. At a festival often identified with Bob Dylan, it was fitting that a hard rain did fall, and we unsuccessfully sought shelter from the storm, as we waited for our ship to come in and take us back to our hotel.

But I haven’t written about the moment at the festival that I remember most strongly. It was not a pleasant moment, and I’m willing to bet that my wife will be surprised when she reads this.

I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, and for a while before our Newport trip, I had not been happy at my job. Despite that, I stuck through it, because the pay wasn’t bad, and I had settled into somewhat of a rut—sort of like the one that Nick Lowe wrote about in “Rocky Road” (“The rut I was in had once been a groove”). By the time we went to Newport, the end was in sight, and I was looking for a new gig. I actually spent a good portion of my post-festival Newport vacation reviewing deposition transcripts using the Panera Bread’s free wi-fi (which was better than the hotel’s) for a summary judgment motion to try to stay in the senior partner’s good graces, to keep the paychecks coming in. I did a good job, I think, and I ended up creating a 45 page statement of undisputed facts from my Newport work. We lost the motion, and the trial (which I helped prepare for, but which took place as I was basically out the door.) So, as we were enjoying our time in Newport, I was very uneasy, because I didn’t know how long I would be staying at the firm, and had no alternatives, other than the risk of starting my own law practice.

One of the bands that I was excited to see at the festival was Dawes, a band that seems to have recently evolved into essentially the Newport Festival house band—supporting other musicians who don’t always travel with backup musicians, and often having other performers sit in with them. In fact, that is one big way that Newport differs from the other festival that we have gone to (and which I have written about), the hopefully-returning-in-2017 Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival. Although it does happen at Clearwater (seeing Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood sit in during each other’s solo set was a highlight, and there are other examples), it seems like more of a regular thing at Newport for people to play with each other. This adds a feeling of camaraderie and friendship to the music, and you get to hear interesting, often unique, combinations (like this great version of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” by My Morning Jacket, with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, from the 2012 festival, that I missed waiting for a ferry to get us out of the rain).

Dawes’ sound is often compared to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1970s—CSNY, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, etc., with a bit of Band thrown it. And I also have to believe that they also were influenced by the Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt/Jayhawks alt-country sound and artists like Ryan Adams. In keeping with their debt to the great confessional singer-songwriters, their lyrics often plumb emotional topics, which is certainly true about one of my favorite Dawes songs, “A Little Bit of Everything.” The song has three vignettes: the first, focusing on a man planning to jump from a bridge, not for any one reason, but for an accumulation of things, the second about an older man in a buffet line, musing over his life’s disappointments while deciding what to eat, and the third features a woman writing invitations to her wedding, and explaining to her fiancé why she was working so apparently humorlessly on the wedding planning. As the song’s writer, Taylor Goldsmith, explained in an interview, “each verse would provide the phrase with new meaning. In the first verse, it’s used to describe why life’s unlivable, in the second, what it takes to forget, and finally, what matters most about love.”

So, I’m sitting there, watching Dawes, getting toward the end of a great first Newport day, very much enjoying their set, when they launch into “A Little Bit of Everything,” in the version you can hear above. And the next thing I know, tears are streaming down my face. Was I identifying with the suicidal guy who was feeling overwhelmed? With the old guy at the buffet thinking about “when his bright future had left him”? Or the woman who reassured her fiancé about the power of finding the person you truly love? Clearly, it was a little bit of everything, but it affected me so profoundly.

I recovered, though, both at the festival, where we went on to see Amy Helm, Patty Griffin and the beginning of My Morning Jacket before we evacuated, but also professionally. I played out the string at my old job, and in March of 2013, I opened up my own practice. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been struggles, but I’ve learned an enormous amount and have never enjoyed being a lawyer as much.

That all being said, I still get emotional when I hear this song, which, I guess, shows that Mr. Goldsmith knows what he is doing.

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