This past weekend was supposed to be the weekend of the Newport Folk Festival, the historic event that started up in Rhode Island in 1959. Back in April, though, the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals were cancelled because of the pandemic. Instead, Newport staged a virtual festival this past weekend. Phoebe Bridgers, who’d originally been booked to play at the festival, took part in the virtual version, and she teamed up with Courtney Barnett for a very timely cover choice.
The country-folk great Gillian Welch originally released “Everything Is Free” on her 2001 album Time (The Revelator). At the time, Welch and Rawlings wrote the song about Napster, and about the difficulties that they foresaw in getting paid from making music at a time when everything was available to everyone for no money. The song has taken on extra resonance in recent years, with streaming platforms like Spotify paying fractions of pennies to artists, and it’s taken on extra extra resonance in the days after Spotify CEO Daniel Ek lectured musicians about how they’ll need to be a whole lot less lazy to survive in the future.
Phoebe Bridgers and Courtney Barnett have both covered “Everything Is Free” in recent years; Bridgers, in fact, played the song at the Newport Folk Fest in 2018. Performing remotely this past weekend, Bridgers and Barnett sang the song together, the two of them harmonizing closely over Barnett’s guitar. It sounded gorgeous, but you have to imagine that there was real anger behind it. Watch the performance and listen to Welch’s original below.