Newport Folk Festival: New Multitudes

Jim James made yet another appearance on the concert ground at Newport the day after playing with his main squeezes in My Morning Jacket, and this time he was with Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, and Anders Parker to form the Woody Guthrie tribute New Multitudes, a project initiated by Nora Guthrie, daughter of the man, myth, and legend himself. They took the Quad stage on Sunday afternoon and performed the original music they had created to go with the written lyrics of Guthrie’s extensive song catalog. The group came together in time to release and perform these songs for Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

New Multitudes opened their set mightily with “Hoping Machine” and finished up the song just as the sun poked through the grey sky that had cast itself over the festival for the most part that day. They followed this up with the gentle rock and roll tune “Fly High” and then “Revolutionary Mind”, which began with a slow tempo and then shifted into the band tearing it up, with Jim James banging his head as he faced the drummer, looking completely in his element. It was a great spectacle, watching four unique and multi-talented musicians re-imagining the works of a legendary songwriter so far after his lifetime. Taking a step back from the performance, the whole basis of the band is an intriguing one, especially considering both the freedoms and responsibilities that taking on such a creative endeavor would entail.

Will Johnson left his drum set to sing and play guitar on the song “Chorine My Sheba Queen” which was a tender effort between him and the other three. The band also performed “Careless Reckless Love”, and later on some fuzzy guitar effects were introduced during the song “No Fear”, which ended up getting the audience to dance.

Jim James took the lead in “Changing World”, in which he sang “Change your makeup, change your clothes / Change the ways of this changing world”. Many of the songs they performed gave way to extended instrumental jam sessions which took the audience for a whirl for a few minutes, and some of the songs felt as if they lasted nearly ten minutes long. Which isn’t a bad thing — it was just fine for everyone that they let their music wander. As the set wound down to its last song, the fans got to their feet. For “New Multitudes”, Farrar’s quivering, authentic voice took the lead, closing the set out with lyrics that provide a lasting message of building a world filled with love and peace.


By Sarah Ruggiero

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