The biggest names at the 55th annual Newport Folk Festival, July 26-28 at Newport, Rhode Island’s Fort Adams Park, are headliners Beck, the Avett Brothers and Feist, but throughout the event’s history artists lower in the bill have created the type of buzz that brings a career to another level.
As part of the Saturday showcase, “Joe Fletcher’s Nashville to Newport,” bluesman Patrick Sweany could be a candidate who leaves the crowd electrified by his no-holds-barred roots ‘n’ soul performance.
In a recent interview he discussed his approach to a festival appearance. “I try to cover what I feel are my strengths song-by-song — uptempo boogie first, hard soul singing second, ballad next, flashy guitar stuff next. You have such a short time to grab a festival audience, most of whom have never heard or heard of you. You have to give an audience all your best all at once. Newport is such a tastemaker festival.”
Despite this being Sweany’s debut performance at the historical festival, it’s been an integral part of his musical existence. “I learned to play guitar from the “Blues at Newport” album. It was my first exposure to Mississippi John Hurt, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James, Jesse Fuller and John Hammond Jr. It was the bedrock for all my greatest influences.
“I couldn’t be more honored and pleased to be included [this year]. Overwhelmed, actually.”
The Ohio-bred, Nashville-based musician just released his sixth album, “Closer to the Floor,” which acts as a cathartic take on a period of grief and examines his hard-touring ways and the life of a struggling musician. The 10 tracks rely less on woe and more on his gritty voice and never-give-up attitude.
“The move to Nashville has pushed me to make my music more personal, more honest and reiterated my fear of clichés and lazy language. I have to be the best Patrick Sweany because everyone in Nashville is better at everything else.”
Sweany is part of Newport’s 2013 lineup that includes Jim James, Andrew Bird, the Lumineers, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Old Crow Medicine Show, Colin Meloy, Father John Misty, Amanda Palmer, Justin Townes Earle, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, the Mountain Goats, Jason Isbell, Beth Orton, Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, Phosphorescent, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, Shovels and Rope, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, JD McPherson, Michael Kiwanuka, Black Prairie, Lord Huron, Iris Dement and Houndmouth.
For more information, visit, http://www.newportfolkfest.net.
For those who can’t make it, there livestream performances from the Newport Folk Festival here, http://www.npr.org/event/music/155839092/newport-folk-festival.