The magic of Newport cannot be understated. As you arrive there is a feeling in the air that you’re on one of the most hallowed concert grounds in the country. The amount of legendary moments that have occurred inside the fort are mind blowing. The Newport Folk Festival had one of these moments on day one of the 2016 with a surprise performance of a musician who hasn’t been to the fort in 51 years. If this is how The Newport Folk Festival is run, it is no wonder that tickets sell out instantaneously the moment they go on sale, before a line up is even announced.
As you walk around the festival, at times it feels like you are just out for a day by the ocean. It is one of the most family friendly festivals I can ever remember going to. The kids who are there seem to really enjoy the music and are not just being dragged there by parents who want to get their summer festival in. The local vendors of both food and various nick-knacks also keep the festival close to its roots, and unlike many festivals now a days you do not see much sponsorship anywhere. Newport is a breath of fresh air from the usual festival scene that is happening today.
Another great aspect is how small the grounds are. Yes it may be a pain to walk from the inside of the fort, through a tunnel, around the outside stage and the vendors to get to the main stage, but it is a very short walk overall. Newport does not sprawl and it’s a good thing too because with the weather being extremely hot and very little shade to be had, it does not take that much out of you to do this over and over again. One more thing that stands out is the constant breeze from the ocean that passes through the fort. It literally cools down the temperature by a couple of degrees. There may be nothing better than standing in the sun and being cooled off by a big breeze coming off the Atlantic and seeing amazing music no matter which stage you are on.
Jay Sweet, the festival producer, came to the Harbor Stage in pure ecstasy to introduce the first act of the festival JP Harris, who played a strong set of honkytonk music for a grand kickoff. Wild Child had the pleasure of kicking off the Quad Stage shortly after. With their blend of indie rock and folk, they won the growing crowd over with ease. The last stage to have its first act of the weekend was the Fort Stage and Amasa Hines had the honor, wowing the crowd mixing psychedelic rock, blues, and soul. The horn section accentuated the music perfectly and got the fans dancing up a storm. With the festival in full swing, everyone was ready to enjoy the beautiful weather and great music for the rest of the weekend.
While Freakwater brought pure country to the festival, one of the absolute stand out performances of the weekend took place. Basia Bulat owned her time slot with a great set of dream pop numbers made all the better by her amazing voice and great band that kept the music tight. The sun was breathing fire down on everyone and the music was right there with it. Playing piano, guitar, and the harp, Basia showed how talented she is, and why Jim James helped produce her last album. Basia was clearly enjoying her time on stage as well with a constant smile as the crowd roared in appreciation after each number.
The energy continued to stay high with Fruit Bats and then followed shortly after by St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Business was per usual for both bands, delivering the goods to the adoring crowds. Both singers are a sight to see, especially Paul of St. Paul, who moves about the stage with such confidence, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. After St. Paul, Matthew Logan Vasquez and his band played with such vigor that it almost took the Quad Stage down. Following that were the punk rock veterans Violent Femmes who had not been to Newport since 1998 and were reveling in the chance to be back at the fort. A super group of bad ass women took to the stage next in Case/Lang/Veirs. The harmony in their voices during the songs was a beautiful thing to listen to. Each woman has done so much on her own and this group feels like a special short time experiment that should be seen if you get the chance.
Onto the beginning of some magic that took place this year. Walking towards Ray Lamontagne, who was being backed by four out of the five members of My Morning Jacket, The Museum Stage had a line out the door of the only indoor venue as rumors of someone special dropping in spread all over the fort. As I stepped inside it could not have been any hotter and every seat was filled with a large standing room crowd on both levels of the building. Shortly after Kelly Kristofferson and Andrew Hagar took to the stage, with Kelly’s dad Kris watching off to the side. They did a short four song set and soon Jay Sweet brought out Kris to the loudest ovation of the day and told the story of how Johnny Cash would not go on in 1969 until George Ween, the creator of the festival, agreed to put Kris on. It wound up being Kris Kristofferson’s first show ever and he had not been back to Newport since. He played a full set, during which you could hear a pin drop while he played, and nothing but thunderous applause and standing ovations the moment he finished a song. Though his voice was not in the best shape, it was an absolute honor to witness some of the magic this festival has and seeing a living legend in such a tiny setting. Kris seemed to be constantly taken aback by how much love he was getting from the packed room. He played everything you could have wanted him to and the set was the talk of the rest of the day from anyone who was able to get in.
The day ended with a double dose of outstanding acts that anyone would be happy to see just one on a regular evening. Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs closed down the Quad Stage with a wild set of psychedelic rock. The band is an absolute monster, with Dan showing off some of his most intriguing guitar playing yet in his career. As they have done much of the time The Arcs play a show, Mariachi Flor de Tolocahe came out to help show off how great the music is that this band created. As they were finishing up, comedy rock duo Flight of the Concords began their set. They have been one of the most anticipated reunions in recent years and they did not disappoint. Spinning a hilarious set mixing their songs with some of the funniest stage banter I can ever remember, they delivered on everything you would want from their set. I wish they had more time, but you can only play so late at Newport. The new material fits right in with their older songs seamlessly. From posing for everyone in their most rock star stances to playing a 15 minute song with the punchline telling a member of the audience to literally have sex with themselves, Brett and Jermaine had the audience smiling to close out the first day. The next two days of Newport Folk Fest have a lot to live up to after a perfect opening day, but with its history, that should not be a problem.
Article: Bryan Lasky