The Post-Newport Earthquake: Watkins Family Hour

WatkinsDid you feel it? That’s what everybody in Los Angeles asks each other whenever a shake or quake rattles and rolls through the valleys and flatlands. Sometimes there’s just a release of pressure beneath the crust, and other times it’s an up and down jolt that lasts only a second. And then you forget about it. Until the next time.

Sunday night there was a seismic shift. A movement of the tectonic plates. A tilting of the axis. Not in California, but here in Rhode Island.

Just hours after the 55th Newport Folk Festival had ended, several hundred people gathered together and laid witness to a roots music earthquake of significant proportion. A rolling thunder of music that may one day be noted as the moment when the old folk memories of the ’60s stepped aside and a new paradigm emerged.

Bringing their LA-based monthly residency Watkins Family Hour to Newport for an after-festival party, brother-sister duo Sean and Sara Watkins invited some friends to share the stage and create the most unanticipated and joyous musical experience that added three exclamation points to an already stellar weekend at Fort Adams.


Let’s see if we can get the order right:

Sean and Sara started it out with three songs, and then brought Willie Watson onstage for one together and two on his own, followed by…wait…damn. I’ll never get this right.

Let’s try it like this….here’s who else was performing as a single, duo, trio, or with a group, or in some cases just hanging out at the side, edge or behind whomever was at the mic:

Langhorne Slim

Willie Watson

Chris Funk

Aoife O’Donovan

Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra

Sam Doores from the Deslondes

John C. Reilly and Tom Brosseau

Milk Carton Kids

Pokey LaFarge

That’s the best that I can come up with for the moment, but there were even more. Pokey’s band, whose names I do not know, sizzled. Horn, clarinet, harp, percussion, guitarist, bass. And there was a piano player who sat in all throughout the night, who pumped the living daylight out of the house upright. Hot guitarists, clawhammer banjo, fiddle, slide, harmonious vocals.

Some musicians brought their own songs or favorite covers. But, running through it all were mostly old time classics pulled out of hats like magical rabbits. At the epicenter of the magic was Sean and Sara. The Watkins kids not only put this party together, they kept it rolling on the fly with enthusiasm and talent, well-learned skill sets, and deep musical knowledge; and a sense of humor, and a welcoming invitation to come on in and join in the fun.

A new Grand Ole Opry for the under-35 beard and flannel set.

I was just thirteen (you might say I was a musical proverbial knee-high) when Dylan came to Newport and shook it up by plugging in his Fender. Like you, I’ve heard this story many times as it was passed down, and it’s become one of the many Newport legends. This festival is just full of ghosts and spooky stories runnin’ around.

The Watkins Family Hour? Seems like I’ve been waiting all my life to see and hear something like this. Pete can rest easy…the kids did more than alright in Newport this year. They stole it back from the ghosts.

The finale…you might hear my voice deep in the background.