Sloan Wainwright--Best in Family!

New Bedford Summer Fest
July 2-4, 2010

It’s a great mystery to us why New Bedford Summer Fest continues to be unknown to most people more than an hour from Boston—it might well be the very best music festival in all of New England, and just $15 per day gives you access to a lot of the same people you’d spend well over a hundred bucks to see at Newport. It’s better run than Falcon Ridge, more creative than Old Songs, more diverse than Champlain, and easier to get to than the Boston Folk Festival. What is it? New Bedford?

If you’ve never been to New Bedford, give it a try. Think Gloucester without Moonies or Yuppies. It’s an old whaling town and is gritty in places, but the downtown, where Sumer fest is held, has been redone with cobblestone streets, small museums, galleries, and cafes. The town’s jewel is the Whaling Museum operated by the National Park Service—with more than you ever wanted to know about the leviathan hunt days of yore.

As for Summer Fest, it’s seven stages dispersed among vendor-lined streets. The July 4 weekend was clear, bright, and low humidity, the latter a rarity this summer. Lots of festivals have multiple stages but obvious choices as to who needs to be seen at what time. That’s not the case at Summer Fest; the lineup is so impressive that you have to make hard choices. Here are our highlights, though we didn’t even get to see some old favorites such as Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert, Little Johnny England, or The Kennedys.

Jack Amerding is a name to know, a talented guy who’s like a younger version of John McCutheon. Amerding dazzles on fiddles, frets, and vocals with a repertoire that runs the gamut from bluegrass to Celtic.

We had not heard Caroline Aiken very much before and man does she sizzle! She reminds us a bit of Bonnie Raitt in her blues personae, Janis Joplin when she airs it out, and of a white griot when she tells tales of her Southern girlhood

We laughingly call Benoit Bourque “the happiest man in folk music.” Check out his clogging, his perpetual smile, and his good-time Quebecois repertoire.

John Gorka was once the goofy rising star—now he’s the consummate pro. His rich baritone voice, smart songs, and trenchant observations make him a must-see no matter who else is on the bill.

Anne Hills was on hand to remind us of folk music’s link with social change, the joys of group singing, and the pure magic that comes from one guitar and one clear-as-a-bell voice.

Had it with stupid people and dumb songs? Check out old friend James Keelaghan, a poetic voice from Canada who writes some of the smartest lyrics around. Very few people can put tale to song like James.

We've only been mildly moved by the recordings of Peter Mulvey, but he sure does put on a heck of a show, one that traipses through Tin Pan Alley, dresses up in some blues, and waltzes around the Americana stage.

One of the promising new lineups coming out of Scotland is The Paul McKenna Band. McKenna’s tenor voice has unique light qualities and he and his band studied with Brian McNeill at the Royal Scottish Academy, so you’ll hear echoes of early Battlefield Band.

Po’Girl is a real mash-up—four members and a stage full of instruments that run from the expected (acoustic guitars, dobro, piano) to the say-what? (clarinet, glockenspiel, gutbucket bass, bicycle bell). Think folk with a gospel feel, some blues, and bohemian sensibilities.

The brightest star in the constellation? That would be Sloan Wainwright, who delivered killer sets everywhere she appeared and with everything she sang. If you’re going to cover Marvin Gaye, you’d better have chops. She has ‘em, alright. Talk about your family trees! She’s the sister of Loudon Wainwright III, the sister-on-law of Kate McGarrigle, her nephew is Rufus Wainwright, and her nieces are Martha and Lucy Wainwright. Believe us when we say that Sloan is more talented than any of them! She does it all—soul, pop, acoustic folk, jazz, rock…. and boy does she get into it. If you don’t know her you might be tempted to say that she’s stagey, but it’s genuine—the woman simply loves to sing. And so would you if you had a contralto voice like hers. Imagine what Celine Dion would be if she know how to sing. She still wouldn’t be as good as Sloan Wainwright.


Joan said...

You are right-on about Sloan Wainwright. I love all the talented Wainwrights, they are remarkable each and every one. But there is something special about Sloan. She brings a presence of warmth, love, and joy along with her astonishing voice.

Katherina said...

When Sloan was over here in London last December, she played the Albert Hall with the rest of the family. We loved her heartfelt, gutsy performance - so unexpected! She nearly brought the house down.

AdamH said...

Sloan's awesome. Saw her at FRFF 2005 (I think it was) and was immediately enraptured by her voice.