Newport Folk Festival: Punch Brothers

Progressive bluegrass band, Punch Brothers, were introduced as the final set of the night and festival for the Quad stage inside of Fort Adams as “a band that has great songwriting skills or just a band that can really play their instruments.” Vocalist and mandolin player Chris Thile was accompanied by his band: Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Chris Edlrger Dorchester, and Paul Kowers on upright bass. The five-man band released a new album Who’ Feeling Young Now earlier this year.

As the band took the stage, they stayed huddled together towards the center of it. With no percussion or drums, the center was clear and void of any major setups and the whole band was dressed sharply in collard button-downs and dress pants – but don’t let their outfits fool you, the Punch Brothers were here to get down with the crowd.

The band opened with a song we’ve had in rotation here on WERS for a while, “Movement and Location”, before swiftly segueing into the title track of Who’s Feeling Young Now. At first the audience sat comfortably in their seats enjoying the instrument mastery displayed by each member, but frontman Thile was not content with that arrangement. “Come on! Dance with us now!” Thile shouted. “Yeah, get up, that’s what we like to see!”

And with that, Thile began to playfully waltz around in a circle in front the rest of his band while strumming his mandolin. I adored Thile’s carefree attitude that he brought to the stage that contrasted with his suit and tie. As an incredibly talented technical musician, he still knows how to let loose and bring a little goofiness to the show. Next in the set came “Next To the Trash” off of the Punch Brothers’ 2010 release Antifogmatic. Also featured was “Hundred Dollars” off of Who’s Feeling Young Now that Thiles comically explained was a, “commentary and indictment of city folk… which includes each one of us here on stage.”

Thiles took a moment to begin to introduce his band mates but after merely naming Kowers on upright bass and egging him on to do a little solo, the whole group broke out into a ten minute impromptu jam session. As a band that is critically acclaimed for stellar musicianship and technical skill, they proved it tonight at the Quad. The crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheering and dropped jaws at the display of talent and comradery. With such a warm reception from the crowd, this will certainly not be the last time the Punch Brothers hit the Newport scene.

By Jeeyoon Kim

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