Alt-Nation: Newport Folk and Arc Iris

Newport Folk Fest

July is the best month to live in Rhode Island for so many reasons — the annual Newport Folk Fest is just one more big one. The festival once again sold out before people knew who was on the bill. My picks to click for Friday are Seratones, Shovels & Rope and Big Thief. There is some white-dude-in-sandals fluff on Friday with the likes of Fleet Foxes and The Head and The Heart, but nobody will ever describe Seratones as fluff. Seratones can veer from garage thrash to soulful alternative that isn’t far from bands like Banditos and Alabama Shakes. The husband and wife duo of Shovels & Ropes mix country and rock, but what makes them so compelling is the characters who come to life through their songwriting. Big Thief’s tunes are notable for having a haunting ethereal vibe reminiscent of Mazzy Star. It will be interesting to see how that projects under the Newport sun.

Saturday, my three picks to make your heels click are Angel Olsen, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry and Jalen N’Gonda. I’m stoked to see Angel Olsen, an indie singer/songwriter who just has these insanely catchy tunes. She must be pretty well-known because my dad asked me to get her album. Speaking of well-known, Billy Bragg is certainly well-known in folk punk circles. I haven’t heard his project with Joe Henry, but just seeing Bragg is catchy enough for me. Jalen N’Gonda is an upcoming soul singer.

Sunday picks to click are John Prine, Sunday Groove with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Michael Kiwanuka. John Prine is a bona fide folk legend and one of the greatest songwriters in history, so there isn’t really too much more to say about him. Preservation Hall Band is always money for bringing the spirit of New Orleans with them. Michael Kiwanuka is a soul singer who should help make Sunday shake at the festival. In addition, on Sunday there is a Chuck Berry tribute and indie rockers Dr. Dog rounding out a stacked bill. As always for the lucky few who can get tickets, Deer Tick will be doing their Folk Fest after-parties at the Newport Blues Café all weekend.

Newport Folk Fest will return to Fort Adams State Park in Newport from July 28 to July 30.

Arc Iris Re-imagines Joni Mitchell’s Blue

After last year’s adventurous sophomore album, Moon Saloon, Arc Iris are going on a summer tour where they’ll be covering Joni Mitchell’s seminal Blue album. A few years ago, Arc Iris did the same thing to Bowie’s Hunky Dory and what really struck me was how they made it their own. Blue is more of a sparsely arranged folk record than Hunky Dory, so I’m curious to see what Arc Iris does with it. I spoke with Arc Iris’s front-woman/multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams to find out more about the process of re-imagining Blue, and that interview is below.

In addition to the music, this night will also be the gallery opening for Jess Rosner’s “Ulysses Glove Project.” For the exhibit, Rosner has transcribed James Joyce’s “Ulysses” on yellow rubber gloves that will be hanging from the ceiling. For those who haven’t checked out POP yet, in addition to the gallery/performance space, it is a relatively new antique/collectibles store in the Smith Hill section of Providence.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): What is your favorite part of the set when it comes to bringing Joni Mitchell’s Blue to life and why?

Jocie Adams (Arc Iris): My favorite part about performing this record has been bringing excitement not only to the people who have a deep-seated connection to Joni Mitchell’s music, but also to people who have never heard her music before. We didn’t realize that we would have the opportunity to bring awareness to her songwriting when we began arranging Blue. It is such an honor to have had and to continue to have the opportunity to bring joy to people and awareness to Joni Mitchell.

MC: How challenging was transforming arrangements to fit the sound of Arc Iris?

JA: To arrange this record we went through the same process as we would go through for our own songs. Our music has, thus far, always started with the song, so the transformation process was already very familiar and comfortable.

MC: Did you learn anything about Blue in re-creating it that you never noticed from listening to it all these years?

JA: I guess I never realized how journal-esque Joni Mitchell’s writing is. Although on a surface-level I knew it was, I never really thought of her writing in that way until diving into this full album with great intensity.

MC: Is there anything you look for when choosing an album to cover?

JA: Perfection! Every song on the album has to speak to us and be great! This is outstandingly rare, believe it or not. It’s fun to make lists of perfect albums. Of course, it’s only in your own opinion. Music is not really “right” or “wrong.”

MC: What is next after this run of shows doing Blue?

JA: We are gearing up for our third album. We recorded it over at the Columbus Theatre with Andrew Nault. I really couldn’t expound enough on how wonderful our experience was. Brian Webb, the songwriter in Geraldine, was the studio technician for the session, and it was a joy seeing him come through the studio while we were working out our recording process. Brian’s band, Geraldine, is excellent and we are very excited to have them on the bill with us for this special event.

Arc Iris re-imagines Joni Mitchell’s Blue at POP, 219 W Park St, Providence on July 21.  The show also coincides with a gallery opening for Jess Rosner’s exhibit “Ulysses Glove Project,” which will be displayed in POP’s performance /gallery room. Geraldine will open the show.

Quick Hits:

Ruth Ruth

Ruth Ruth reunited last year after several years away from the game, and they’re coming to the Columbus for a pop-punk party. This is a strong bill buttressed by the presence of local indie rockers Tall Teenagers and garage rockers Eric and The Nothing.

Ruth Ruth, Tall Teenagers, and Eric and The Nothing rock the Columbus Theatre on July 22.

Supersuckers/ The Upper Crust

This is a stacked bill with the self proclaimed greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world in the Supersuckers and the AC/DC via 18th century French aristocrats of The Upper Crust. I was disappointed with the Supersuckers the last few times I’ve caught them. They have a lot of great rock songs, but seemed determined to play mediocre country songs and complain about people talking to them at their merch table. Still this show is way too fierce not to list and local openers Skinny Millionaires are no slouches.

Supersuckers, The Upper Crust, and Skinny Millionaires rock the Café at the Parlor in Newport on July 26.

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