Driving through the town of Newport, Rhode Island to get to Newport Folk Festival a feeling washes over you that all is right in the universe. Newport Folk Festival is one of my favorite weekends of the year. The family friendly environment is great, all of the artists are there to play and enjoy the music, and there is a sense of everyone being on the same page, no matter what background you come from. If the world were perfect, we could all just have the feeling of this festival every day instead of once a summer. This was my third year attending and it certainly will not be my last.
Once Jay Sweet, the executive producer of the festival, opened the gates, people moved quickly to mark their spots for the day in the tents and the lawn. They had to act quickly as the music started soon after with an exceptional set from the quartet Darlingside. Hovering around a single mic, the group spun harmonies and jokes for the packed Harbor Tent. These guys never disappoint and were a perfect start to the 2018 edition of the festival. Following them we got some folk laced jazz from Tuck & Patti. This duo has been doing this since the early 80’s and it was great to see the crowd get into what they were throwing at us.
Opening the main stage at the festival was a wild rock and roll set from Fantastic Negrito. The man has so much energy and the band and crowd were right there with him. I know this is a folk festival but man a good shot in the arm of rock and roll to start the day is never a bad thing. Going back to the folk half Courtney Marie Andrews played an absolutely beautiful set of songs with just her voice and a guitar at the Museum Stage. A little while later Erika Wennerstrom played in a duo setting and sounded just as aamazing. Seeing bands in the Museum is always amazing and is the most intimate setting at the festival. There are usually lines to get in, but the wait is always worth it.
Amanda Shires put on an easy going set and got a hand from her husband Jason Isbell to close it out while Sidi Toure played his version of the blues with his band. While both of those were happening, JD McPherson did his best rockabilly on the main stage. The only problem with Newport Folk is that there are too many options and genres all happening at once. While this isn’t really a problem for music lovers, it does get tough to watch full sets from any one band. The amount of music you can see throughout a weekend is second to none though.
This is the Kit took over the Harbor Stage next were as impressive as they have been all year. They can really turn it up when they want to, and this set had that extra punch to it. Tyler Childers brought the first bout of country music to the weekend and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Like the other country, or Americana artists, on the bill, the music didn’t feel like typical country music. Margo Price is a little bit of everything. She rocks, she plays a mean guitar, keyboards and drums, she can belt out songs, and she has a sense of humor. All were on display during her set, including a sit in from the legendary John Prine for “In Spite of Ourselves,” and she is basically part of the yearly acts that you can count on to show up on the grounds.
It’s taken me a long time to see Moses Sumney and he did not disappoint. The man is an absolute treasure and should be seen immediately if you have not yet. His voice and guitar work are second to none. Hopefully I can see him again sooner than later. From there it was the first special set of the weekend with Glorietta. This all-star crew of Newport regulars played a lot of material from their soon to be released album. The songs were amazing and they were having a blast playing them.
Speaking of Newport Folk regulars, Lucius took to the stage next and put on a special set for the festival. Throughout the set they were joined by The Seaweed Sisters, who did some amazing interpretive dancing and had everyone smiling from ear to ear, including the band. Lucius were also joined by a number of artists including Brandi Carlile, Nicole Atkins, Bedouine, Sharon Von Etten, and others. Near the end of the set they played a tribute to recently deceased musician and producer Richard Swift.
Racheal & Vilray were doing their stripped-down duo set during all of that to a packed tent, while over on the Quad Stage Ben Harper & Charlie Musslewhite played their highly anticipated blues set. Watching Ben and Charlie interact with one another was such a joy and the respect they have for another was palpable. Country was up again at the Fort Stage, but to be honest Sturgill Simpson is not a country artist. This man is straight rock and roll and the band he has can jam with the best of them. No one walked away from that set unhappy with what they had just seen.
The Wood Brothers did what they do best and burned their stage to the ground with music and some humor. They have had quite the past year or two and are on such a roll right now it’s not fair. Watching musicians who know they are just on fire is such a joy. With that being said the next set was the Quad Stage closer St. Vincent who brought Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett with her, like she has done in the past, for an amazing acoustic set of music that had the audience in complete awe. She was one of the most talked about bookings of the year and she did not come in empty handed. Her 13-song set was made of the songs she has been playing with her band on the latest tour, but seeing them stripped down was just mind-blowing. For an extra little kick, they performed Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark.” This set will go down in Newport history as one for the books.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit closed down day one of Newport. To be honest it was a pretty subdued set of music for a headliner. This is nothing against the Jason or the band as they are amazing musicians and the songs are great. The set just felt like it needed more overall. What was not subdued was the special guest that helped close the set. The one and only David Crosby appeared on the stage to grace Newport with “Wooden Ships” and a blistering take on “Ohio”. Crosby sounded amazing on both songs and the entire band could be seen smiling at one another, almost pinching one another that this was happening. The audience loved it and the first day of Newport was over.
Images: Bryan Lasky
Article: Lauren Byrnes