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You can’t have Newport Folk Festival without the folk legend-in-the-making Iron and Wine. Frontman Sam Beam returned to Rhode Island once again to play the music Newport fans love to hear. The set started off with the fan favorite “Naked As We Came”, a rather quiet and cozy song that can win over anyone. The song, off of 2004′s Our Endless Numbered Days, silenced the excited crowd immediately, eager to hear the charming track.
“Tree By the River” sounded wonderful as well. The relaxed energy was a perfect way to match the emotions of audience members. Everyone was stoked to see Iron and Wine but relaxed in their lawn chairs and blankets at the same time.
What was the best part about Iron and Wine’s set was seeing how far the sound has come. Starting from the bedroom sounds of a solo Sam Beam to its developing grooves with multiple layers, Iron and Wine have travelled far past the original sound of another acoustic sound with a bearded man singing. With everything from a flute to an accordion on stage, tracks included mandolin solos and saxophone lines like in “House by the Sea”. One song turned into such a jam session that the electric guitar duked it out against the saxophone to see who could wail in tune on the most notes in the scale.
At one point, Beam gave a shout-out to a bunch of bands who played earlier. “How many of you saw Alabama Shakes?” he asked, receiving a roaring response. “Man, has that woman got pipes!”
The sounds kept spirits high as fans either stood still, their happiness visible through their eyes, or danced with arms in the air, letting everyone see how happy they were through with their tribal dance moves; and nearly everyone was mouthing the words to their songs, even when redone to sound different.
Iron and Wine took the time to get someone to translate the lyrics through sign language on the side of the stage. Seeing this at a music festival made me stop and think about what it was we were all here for. Imagining what it would have been like to experience these shows, ones like Iron and Wine, without sound is important. Music goes beyond what we hear. There are the vibrations in our chest, through our feet, from each strum and yell; there are the smiles on musicians’ faces as they turn to their band members to hit the final note in unison; there is the feeling of your ticket in your hand as you wait in line to enter the venue, wondering if you should run to grab a spot by one of the stages or walk to look at vendor items.
Looking around at the crowd, it was easy to know why one would watch Iron and Wine despite being hard of hearing. Beam is perfect at communicating the emotion of his songs through his movements and expressions that most of us normally feel through the sound. As the set closed with “Boy With a Coin” off of 2007′s The Shepherd’s Dog, everyone was so caught up in the multiple sensory aspects of the music that they almost stopped dancing altogether, a unity celebrating not just sound, but experience.