There was a whole day at Newport Folk Festival on Sunday, but really two of the sets stole the show and the entire weekend. At a festival that prides itself on surprises, pop up sets, special guests, and amazing talent all weekend, Sunday really drove all those things home. Jay Sweet and his team really outdid themselves and how he tops this next year will be interesting to see.
The day started with laughter and sing-a-longs with Choir! Choir! Choir! and plenty of dancing with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who would be around the rest of the day helping bands left and right. C.W. Stoneking brought some dirty bluesy grungy rock and roll while Steelism tore up their stage with special guest vocalists Ruby Amanfu and Nicole Atkins. The first tribute of the day didn’t pan out as planned and seemed slightly under-prepared. The tribute to Chuck Berry saw plenty of guests including Kam Franklin, Shakey Graves, Jim James, Nathaniel Rateliff, and part of Deer Tick, but it was sloppy. The Texas Gentlemen and Charlie Sexton did a good job being the band, but I personally wanted more from the set. Before this tribute though the first surprise of the day came on the Museum Stage with Nick Offerman coming up to do four songs full of humor. He was fantastic and the stage had standing room only and even stopped letting people in before he had started.
Pinegrove brought the funk and good vibes to their set and right after Margaret Glaspy absolutely wowed the crowd with her beautifully crafted songs. Her voice sounded tremendous with a crowd that was as silent as could be to listen in to every second of her set. It was back to some funk with Whitney, who despite only having an album that is 30 minutes long, played a 50-minute set to the delight of the packed tent. The unannounced set seemed to be known by everyone to be Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. The crowd was wild for the band, who had played the main stage last year. Rhiannon Giddens, with festival founder George Wein watching, put on a clinic of a set while on the other stages John Paul White and Dr. Dog were also doing fantastic work. A little later Suzanne Vega sounded great and had the crowd whipped into joy, but unfortunately for her, her set was between Speak Out! and John Prine. The crowd wasn’t big, but everyone who was there was loving it.
The Speak Out! set had been a big question mark on the bill. No one knew for sure what was going to happen, but with a band made up of part of My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, it wasn’t going to suck. Starting off with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowd was already on a high. What happened next might have been the festival highlight, if not for John Prine, was Kyle Craft belting out a ridiculous version of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” With an amazing amount of passion, the lyrics poured out of Kyle. Following was Shakey Graves and Rayland Baxter coming out to sing a new song that poked at the current President called “I’m Better Than You” that the crowd was even singing along with by the end. The guests kept coming with Billy Brag, Sharon Van Etten, Jim James and Nick Offerman, Margo Price and Zach Williams, and Nathaniel Rateliff to close it out. Heads turned though when Lucius sang with the Berklee Choir. They were completely unexpected to be there and rumors began to float about quickly with what other surprises could be in store.
When The Saints Go Marching In, The Star Spangle Banner, Heroes (Bowie cover), I’m Better Than You, Why We Build the Wall (Anais Mitchell cover), Black Boys on Mopeds (Sinead O’Conner), Masters of War (Bob Dylan), Working Class Hero (John Lennon), I Am a Patriot (Little Steven), O-o-h Child (Five Stairsteps), Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Finally, the weekend came to the legend that is John Prine. Rumors were flying all weekend that there were more requests to sit-in with him than any other artist in festival history. To be honest, even if there weren’t the ridiculous number of guests that ended up coming out, John Prine’s set would have gone down in history. The man is a legend and still kicking ass. He joked throughout the set with the crowd about certain songs he was playing and how he got to playing them. The guests were numerous and began with Justin Vernon playing “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow).” The pure joy on the look of not just Prine’s face, but everyone in attendance was what live music is supposed to do. Next came Jim James to guest on “All the Best,” then the roll-licking “In Spite of Ourselves” with Margo Price, soon followed by “Sam Stone” with guest Nathaniel Rateliff. Finally, THE guest of the weekend came next with Roger Waters striding on stage to play “Hello in There” with Holly and Jess from Lucius in tow. The energy in the crowd was unbelievable. To see two legends play with one another just cannot be beat. Moments like this are what makes people come back to the festival year after year. The show ended with what seemed like every person who played over the weekend joining Prine on stage for “Paradise.” To say it was a perfect ending would be an understatement. Is it 2018 yet?
Article: Bryan Lasky