Brandi Carlile at Newport: Best Friend, Confidant, Conscience

Dean Budnick on October 7, 2021
Brandi Carlile at Newport: Best Friend, Confidant, Conscience

Jay Sweet looks on as Brandi Carlile introduces ♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration


Brandi Carlile’s new album,  In These Silent Days, was released last Friday and it has already received rave reviews. As Chris William wrote in Variety, “ If you require any proof that Brandi Carlile is as gifted a singer as we’ve got right now in pop, folk or rock ‘n’ roll, one listen to her seventh album, In These Silent Days, should suffice.”

Carlile appeared on the cover of our July-August issue. In her feature article, Associate Editor Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta explores the new album, as well as tales drawn from Carlile’s memoir Broken Horses.

Here’s another perspective on the artist, shared by Jay Sweet, the executive producer of the Newport Folk Festival. This story touches on the relationship between Carlile, Sweet and the late, great Chip Hooper, who passed away in 2016 after a long battle with cancer.

Sweet recalls:

The way most agents typically operate is they say, “Here’s a link, listen to it and let me know what you think.” Others are like, “You should book this person, they’re worth X amount of tickets in your market.” But at the very beginning, Chip took a very different approach. He said, “Just meet her—go hang with her.” That is not how things are usually done.

So I met her in New York and kind of interviewed her; I didn’t hear her sing. Eventually, I decided to book her for my very first year with Newport.

That year, which was 2008, she came up to me at the festival. I’d compare this to the story of Tom Brady, the greatest football player of all the time, walking up to [New England Patriots owner] Robert Kraft on the first day of training camp after he was picked 199 and saying, “This is the best decision your organization has ever made.” Well, in 2008, Brandi walked up to me and said, “I’m going to be your best friend, your confidant and your conscience.”

And I can’t say she was wrong.

Ten years later, after she played Newport in 2018, we were on a boat together and she said, “You and I have to have a heart to heart. It took me a decade to headline this festival, but you’ve never done one of those collaborative sets with women. There needs to be more female headliners in the world.” I told her she was right and she responded “Well, give me the keys.” And I was like, “Here you go. Just tell me who to invite.” So that’s what we did [for 2019’s Saturday headlining set, which billed as ♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration].”

I trace that all back to Chip. It was so like him to say, “I’m not going to tell you to book her. I’m not going to send you any music. You’re an idiot if you don’t book her, but what I am going to demand of you is that you go have a beer with her.” And that was it. Then it just became a matter of saying, “Let’s figure out how we’re going to work together.”