I went last year to my first Newport Folk Festival and it met and exceeded all expectations I had for the legendary music festival. I vowed never to miss another one and I kept my promise, at least for one year. The lineup didn’t seem as strong to me when it was finally completely announced, but as the weekend wore on, the amazing collaborations and wealth of music that was being given to everyone in attendance reversed that thought. I will never make that mistake again when looking at Newport’s lineup.
The first day started off innocently enough with Jay Sweet saying happy new year and let’s get this show on the road. The happiness that he shows throughout the weekend is beautiful to watch. He introduced numerous acts and walked around the festival in full view of everyone. We should all be thankful that he took over the reins at Newport, as he as has done as perfectly a job as you could hope for. The first two acts were talented singer-songwriters, with Matt the Electrician playing a straight ahead folk set while Joshua Hedley brought a little bit of country to the grounds. The first act to turn some heads though was Aaron Lee Tasjan. Aaron as an absolute ripping guitarist and his band is second to none. He was having a ton of fun on stage and he might have been smiling for the whole set. I have seen him a few times before, but he seemed to go for it just a little more at Newport.
The Wild Reeds followed him up with an equally amazing set. They played the smallest regular stage at the festival, but could have easily commanded a larger crowd. With perfect harmonies and fantastic guitar work, they won over the crowd with ease. The constant music high kept going with sets from Seratones and L.A. Salami. Seratones came on stage ready to rock and took care of business. The young four-piece band had the crowd continue to grow during their entire set. They were having a blast on stage, but also were hanging out all weekend, taking in all of the vibes at Newport. L.A. Salami brought some blues infused rock and roll to the festival and had the crowd up and dancing at times. He’s a fantastic talent and seeing his name pop up everywhere soon would not be a surprise.
Big Thief are a tremendous band with so much talent, but their set was a slight let down. The energy didn’t seem to be there as a whole. The music was fantastic, but it wasn’t as captivating as I had hoped for. Hurray for the Riff Raff had all of the energy in the world. Frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra jumped and danced all about the stage while commanding the crowd with ease. She showed up throughout the weekend and clearly has a love for the festival, as many of the artists do. Carl Broemel did what he does best on the smallest stage at the festival and tore through his guitar. Having Steelism back him didn’t hurt either. The set was beautiful and to see such a skilled guitarist in a small setting is a dream.
Alone & Together brought Joe Russo, Kevin Morby, Sam Cohen, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman for a set that celebrated one another’s music. Kevin, Sam, and Eric took turns singing each other’s songs and it was fantastic. I later learned not much practice had gone into the set due to scheduling, but you would never have known it. From there Ben Gibbard played a surprisingly amazing set, opening with the unexpected “Such Great Heights” from The Postal Service, that really set the mood for the rest of the set. He sounded great and looked every part of being a traveling singer-songwriter who just happened to duck into Newport. The Head and the Heart followed and did what they have been doing every festival, rocking their stage with their brand of indie-folk rock. The crowd was loving it and gave them as much energy back as the band was giving on stage.
With an introduction by Nick Offerman, who took a moment to ask about the meat cooker at the back of the tent, Nancy and Beth, better known as Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt, took the stage in a heap of glory. Part comedy part punk-rock, this wonderful vaudevillian throwback had the crowd in stitches the entire time. I believe Offerman, as well as Shakey Graves, came out to join them near the end of the set, but being a festival, you can’t catch every moment, such as the entire three-hour set The Ballroom Thieves brought to the Museum Stage. They had help throughout, but the band tore through a 30-song set to a packed house the entire time.
Regina Spektor closed down the Harbor Stage with a stunning set. Her voice is always amazing and her piano skills are second to none. She was a bit frazzled as her tour bus had literally just pulled up, but she settled in quickly and gave a performance for the ages. Fleet Foxes were the day one headliner, and the recently reunited band gave the crowd everything they wanted. The band sounds great, especially with this being only their second US show of the tour, and are not to be missed. You never know how long these reunions will last, and with everything going on in the world today, if you have a chance to see a band you love, just go for it.
Stay tuned for coverage from Saturday and Sunday.
Article: Bryan Lasky