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It seems right for Sharon Van Etten to join the Newport Folk Festival. Given the slightly moody weather when she went onstage – warm winds, humid air, and clouds that were winking out tiny rain drops every few minutes – it was natural to hear music that has one foot in a wandering sadness and the other in a hopeful tilt. Playing with Etten were Doug Keiths, Heather Woods Broderick, and Zeke Hutchins (who make her “better than she sounds”) who helped out on her most recent album, Tramp.
When she took out her omnichord for “Magic Chords”, she made sure to explain to what it was to the crowd, seeing as how it looks like a child’s toy or an oddly-shaped keyboard. The heavy bass drum part was reminiscent of circus music which put up this faux front of happiness when she actually sang a more painful song, repeating, “You’ve got to lose sometime.”
It came as no surprise that Etten won the crowd over – well, those of whom she hadn’t already in past shows – with her awkward, shy demeanor that is begging to burst forward. “How weird is it that I’m playing this festival?” she said. Everyone cheered excitedly back at her. “I don’t know if that means it’s weird or not,” Etten half yelled, as if distraught. The crowd immediately yelled back “NO!” With a smile now on her face, Etten told the crowd to scream and just “let it out,” to which they again happily did. “There, don’t you feel better? We’re all in it together now,” she laughed. In a short twenty seconds or so, everyone was now on her side, supporting the musician and her subtly quirky self.
Etten included songs from her 2012 album Tramp in her set, including a very one of my personal favorites, “Leonard”. The song has a way of making the listener feel like he or she has lifted off the ground alongside her gracefully soaring vocals, fuzzy and soft. All the while in the background, a swirling stir on the snare drum and subtle guitar form for a very airy background that acts like a cloud, cuddling her voice to make the whole song like a dream. Fans cheering at the end caused another dorky Etten response of “Yay, cheers! Cheers are good. More cheers,” said in a mocking voice.
Etten is not only a talented performer, but someone who clearly makes for a good friend. Her joking attitude, attention to people’s shouts, and gentle nature make her seem like a good person to have by your side. All of this was only confirmed when she told the audience her parents were in the audience (after calling “Heyyyyy” in a slightly dramatic fashion) and said how happy she was they were here. She then chuckled to herself. “I’m sure he’s been telling everyone he’s my dad.” Honestly, I can’t blame him. If my daughter was as modestly talented as Etten, I would do the same.