Update from Justin: he’s no longer “a bitchy jet-lagged mess,” and he’s putting a more positive spin on his coast-to-coast travel with an encore that pays homage to his love for “Wanderin’”
David Wax and Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum sat down with Rolling Stone for an exclusive interview about the wild year they’ve been having.
Last year you were here as a couple of unknown contest winners. This year, you were invited to perform on the main stage. Does it feel a lot different?
Suz: Both years have been incredibly exciting, but this year definitely feels like an amazing honor to be sharing the stage with some of our musical heros.
David: Well, I think it’s less terrifying this year. Last year, I’d never been to a msuic festival before, and I didn’t really know what to expect, so it was an overwhelming experience. Since last year we have been playing a lot, and we have a lot more shows under our belt, and it feels really comfortable to be coming back here. It feels like a real homecoming show for us, because much of our Boston community of fans has been here at the show.
How have things changed for you since last year’s festival?
S: Since last year we’ve gotten a booking agent and a manager, and worked with a publicist, so our team of support has grown significantly. That’s allowed us to really focus on the touring and the performance and the music.
Did you feel like the expectations leading into this year were a lot higher?
D: Last year there were no expectations at all, the bar was set very low. It feels like an internal thing, just the pressure to really step it up and play a show that can fill out the main stage. But we didn’t approach it differently than other shows we’ve been playing. We’ve been playing almost every day for the past month, so I feel like we’re prepared musically.
S: It’s nice because Newport is so close to where we got started in Boston, so we could really look out and see a lot of our friends and fans. My parents are here from Virginia, and we’re actually opening for the Avett Brothers in Charlottesville this September.
I detected some pointed lyrics in your music. Since this is a folk festival, how would you characterize your political message?
S: I don’t feel like our music necessarily has a political message, but more of a social one. I hope that our fans can see what a good time we’re having and that we’re doing something that we love doing, and we hope that other people can also pursue something that gives them as much joy as the music that we play does for us.
D: I think that [“The Great Unawakening,” our encore song] has more social commentary. I try to write songs that capture something about my experience of the world, and I think part of that is political. We follow the news and we care about what’s going on in the world, but we’re not trying to connect the dots for people. We leave it for people to connect the dots the way they see fit.
What were the best acts you saw this weekend?
S: For me seeing Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was the high point. I’ve been following them and listening to their music for over a dozen years, so getting to see them from backstage was a real treat.
D: That was incredible. And I caught the end of the Decemberists’ set, and I hadn’t seen them for probably 8 years, and I was impressed with how they stepped up their act. Not that they weren’t good before, but it was impressive to see how they engaged the audience. I learned a lot from them.
RS: Anything else you’d like to add?
D: What’s been interesting is that we’ve been able to mark the passage of time in this year by Newport, because it was such a turning point for us to win the contest like that. We had such a large group of people supporting us to help us win the contest, and that group is still supporting us. I hope it felt validating for them that we were invited back here; it’s a real honor to have earned that place.
Found a shady place to sit where we can hear The Cave Singers coming from one stage and Trampled by Turtles from another…sometimes you can’t commit to just one!
Even after yesterday’s craziness, 11:30 am isn’t too early for the many fans who got here in time to see David Wax Museum open up the main stage, including those who discovered them at last summer’s festival and led the campaign to get them back today. The band itself is treating the gig like a headlining event. Perhaps they’re trying to live up to their title of Boston’s Americana Band of the Year, but you can literally see random passerby getting drawn in as new converts to their Mexican-inspired sound. Those closest to the stage are being given plastic kazoos, while David leads everyone in the wave- gimmicks that are adding to the fun and doing nothing to overshadow the onstage horns and the donkey jawbone wielded by Suz.
Delta Spirit wants their fans to know that it’s okay if they decided to sit, but they’re about to launch into more rock ‘n’ roll, so they’re suggesting we all stand up. Tucked away from the water and guarded by the fort itself, the Quad Stage is attracting the best crowd of the day, due in small part to the Magic Hat tent at stage left and in large part to Delta Spirit’s, well, spirit.
It’s tranquil and sunny right now in Newport, Rhode Island, a situation that’s sure to change as folk fans come swarming in droves via water taxi and bicycle, lawn chairs and coolers in hand, to Fort Adams for the Newport Folk Festival. Last night—and well into this morning—Providence favorite Deer Tick, led by frontman John McCauley, rewarded early arrivals at the Newport Blues Cafe with an “after party” that bodes well for the the festival to come, sold out in advance for the first time in its over 50 year history. Keep checking back here throughout the weekend for news and updates from Rolling Stone, and if you’re joining us out here, let us know what we need to be sure not to miss.