Newport Folk's Pink Floyd Moment

Connecting the folk tradition to Dark Side of the Moon, Roger Waters closed out the first day of the 2015 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam Kissick for NPR)
Connecting the folk tradition to Dark Side of the Moon, Roger Waters closed out the first day of the 2015 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam Kissick for NPR)

The most puzzling musician on the lineup at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival was easily Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. For me, Pink Floyd represents the antithesis of folk music, with the band's psychedelic pulsating landscapes and big rock drums and guitars. Out there and psychedelic, yeah — down home and folky, nope. But Waters' set at Newport not only connected the folk tradition with The Dark Side of the Moon, but turned watery skies into a sun that shone like a crazy diamond.

One of Waters' unlikely tunes was "Hello In There," a song by Chicago's iconic singer of sad and sometimes political songs, John Prine. When Waters sang the lyrics:

You know that old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder every day / Old people just grow lonesome / Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"

Roger Waters surprised the Newport Folk Festival by bringing out My Morning Jacket as his band for the evening. Lucius and Amy Helm (not pictured) also made guest appearances during the set.
Roger Waters surprised the Newport Folk Festival by bringing out My Morning Jacket as his band for the evening. Lucius and Amy Helm (not pictured) also made guest appearances during the set.

I heard the echoes of Pink Floyd from "Wish You Were Here":

How I wish, how I wish you were here / We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year / Running over the same old ground / What have we found? / The same old fears / Wish you were here

The connection to me is that both songs, despite how they're arranged, tell a story of time and the toll it takes. "Wish You Were Here" is a song about the human spirit with a story that a singer must tell to the listener — one of the bedrock traits of folk music.

Roger Waters performs at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.
Roger Waters performs at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.

Waters' band wasn't England's Pink Floyd, of course. but Kentucky's My Morning Jacket. Jim James seemed to be Waters' partner in crime, adding the female members of the band Lucius to fill the harmonies and backup singing. Amy Helm was also on board and was prominent when Waters covered a song her dad, The Band's Levon Helm, loved to play, "Wide River to Cross." (It wasn't the first time Waters played the song in tribute to the drummer.)

The sky was threatening at the beginning of the set and the rain came down for much of the show, but when Waters began to sing "Eclipse" (from The Dark Side Of The Moon), the sun was strong by the song's final lines:

All that is now / All that is gone / All that's to come / And everything under the sun is in tune

Roger Waters performs at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.
Roger Waters performs at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.

It was a magic moment only to be matched by the sunset encore, Bob Dylan's "Forever Young":

May your hands always be busy / May your feet always be swift / May you have a strong foundation / When the winds of changes shift / May your heart always be joyful / And may your song always be sung / May you stay forever young

It's another tune about time and a reminder to hold on to precious moments in life. Musical festivals are fun, but Newport is special and Roger Waters is one of the folk.

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Guitarist G.E. Smith performs with Roger Waters at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.
Guitarist G.E. Smith performs with Roger Waters at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.

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