Monday, August 9, 2010


Here I go again: talking about music as if it were the only thing going on around here. It's not. Or as if I knew anything about it. I don't. There's just been soooo much endlessly compelling (to me) music in the past few weeks between Folk Fest, Jazz Fest and Bridge Fest (bridging folk and jazz weekends), not to mention the Music Festival (classical) and the Sunset Music Festival at the Yachting Center — and don't forget the bars from Billy Goode's to the Blues CafĂ© that one hears thumping 'til one a.m. when walking down the street with or without visiting dogs, who returned for an encore weekend, or from the comfort of one's cozy bed at home — that I can't not comment.

Also, if truth be told, Mr. Betty and I have an habitual interest in Newport Folk and Jazz because Super Son, for many consecutive summers, was on the stage crew. So while others stood with binoculars glued to their faces to see the artists, we stood with binoculars glued to our faces between sets to watch our son lug big black amps across the stage. "Look, there's our boy!"

SS's least favorite gig (as a stage crew-ist) took place five or six years ago, when Harry Connick Jr. arrived with two trailer trucks-full of staging that required setting-up like some sort of giant erector set, whereby each band member ended up with a different level (to each his own stage??) at the Casino. Cool!! But when they were all done, Harry told them it wasn't right. They had to take it all down and start over again, and then it poured rain throughout much of the performance.

Harry didn't mind; he was covered. The audience didn't mind. They (Mr. Betty and I among them) were enthralled by the music, and it was a warm enough night that getting wet — soaked, as I recall — didn't much matter. It added to the thrill/release, actually. And we could go right home afterwards and warm up ...

But the stage crew minded. When all was said/sung and done, they had to break down the twice-built stage in the continuing pouring rain and load it back into the trucks. It took hours. And one doesn't mind such things — that's the job! — as long as one feels appreciated, but apparently Harry wasn't appreciative. I know, I know: he's a big star. He probably simply paid them no heed (understandable), unlike the very young Jamie Cullum, who was the warm-up act for Harry Connick that year. I remember Super Son saying, all those years ago, how Cullum was such a cool guy. How he talked with them. Hung with them. Stood on the sidelines at various shows all-weekend-long appreciating & absorbing the work of other musicians.

And Cullum referred to that rainy Connick concert this year, this past Friday night, when skies were clear and starry and he himself was the opening act for the Jazz Festival with a very young (as in eighteen-year-old) artist by the naming of Grace Kelly opening for him.

Cullum also said — though perhaps it was just stage banter — that that particular concert when he opened for Connick in 2004 (the fiftieth anniversary of Newport Jazz) was such a huge deal for him, and he was so worked-up about it: "I had to call me mum."

I'm sorry, but that's charming. Especially when spoken with a British accent.

Which brings me to my point — to the extent there is one. I found myself wondering (or maybe worrying, as that's what mothers do best) during Cullum's amazing concert Friday night, when Mr. Betty and I were sitting somewhere in the middle of that tennis-court-turned-concert-arena, that the crowd wouldn't appreciate the somewhat-newfangled and all-over-the-map nature of his performance. He made insane musical jumps (bridges??) from Sinatra to current pop hits such as Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop The Music." He danced. He drummed. He took off his button-down shirt and tie (promptly). He stood on the piano. He stood aside and grooved to the solos of his band members. He grooved with abandon. He fell over — just for effect, I'm pretty sure. He called up Grace Kelly, the 18-year-old opening artist, and they had an intense musical conversation from piano to alto sax and back again. Again and again and again. Toward the end of the set, he even left the stage and wandered down with the band into the center aisle and sang for a while sans mic. The way he held his hand to his mouth in an attempt to project the music made it look like he was sharing a secret. I got a pretty good up-close glimpse of him over the balding pate of the guy in front of us ...

Honestly, there was (is) some sort of changing-of-the-guard going on ...

And, when it was over (or is it just beginning??), Jamie Cullum got a huge standing O ...

P.S. That was the opening number. But here's a clip that's WAY better than mine, if you want to see/hear/feel the energy as the night wore on: CLICK.