Saturday at Newport has so much going for it. It’s the middle of a three-day festival so that part is obvious to even outsiders of festival. There’s also the added electricity that comes with Newport itself. This year was no different. The energy was palpable in the air when you stepped through those gates to get into the illustrious fort.
Low Cut Connie kicked things off on the Quad Stage with a performance that matched the feeling all around. Everything about this rock band from Philly was the perfect way to kick off the day. Adam Weiner gave it all to the crowd from the opening notes to him literally running backstage during a cover of Prince’s “Controversy” to end the set. While that was happening Caamp was having their own wild opening with some power foot-stomping indie folk-rock and Curtis Harding brought some raw soul to the Fort Stage. Day two of the festival certainly started strong with these three acts and never seemed to let up.
Bedouine might not have been as high energy as the acts so far in the day, but her amazing song-writing was right up there with everyone else’s at the festival. She has just an astounding way with words and you could hear a pin drop throughout her set. The energy went right back up though with a rousing set from Hiss Golden Messenger. They were in an amazing mood and had some extra punch to their set. I’m sure the Beneath the Sacred Mountain set had a little to do with their excitement, but they were in all killer no filler mode.
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real undoubtedly lived up to the promise in their name. There was nothing but sensible old-fashioned country rock from Willie Nelson’s son. Tradition in Newport is important and having a Nelson on the Fort Stage was a good nod toward that. Now the band, is of course, heavier than the music Willie plays, but they fit right in with the energy of the day. They got some help throughout the set with sit-ins from both Lucius and Kam Franklin of The Suffers, which again is another great tradition of Newport.
In the Museum, Nicole Atkins was joined by a number of guests including The Watson Twins, Davey Horne, Indianola, and Dancey Jenkins. They all shared the spotlight and the packed room was loving it. Daniel Norgren was pure country via Sweden and sounded absolutely stunning. He and his band are not to miss as they come around the states.
Tank and the Bangas were up at the Fort Stage. They opened their set with a rendition of Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” with the saxophonist spending the song on his knee. The feeling created there kept up through the set that ended with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Next on the Quad Stage was Beneath the Sacred Mountain, a quad of folk musicians joined by special guests throughout their set. They started with a cover of The Byrds’s, “Wasn’t Born to Follow.” Bedouine joined them on their third song, “Easy From Now On” an Emmylou Harris cover. Next up were The Watson twins on “Sin City” who were then joined by Matthew E. White on “Life’s Greatest Fool.” They all left for the fifth song but were joined by The Shins’ James Mercer for “The Christian Life” and “Cathy’s Clown.” The Watson Twins once again joined the group for “Helpless,” a Neil Young cover. They all left for a song but everyone came back plus Laura Veirs for “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” They finished with the addition of Lucius to the set and “La De Da.”
Shakey Graves did what he does best and tore through his set. He has never disappointed the Newport crowd before and this set continues that streak. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for him and his band to have a bad show. Colter Wall brought his deep country singing voice to the Harbor Stage and enraptured the crowd with it. While it was a drastic change coming from Shakey Graves, the magic of Newport is somehow it all works. Jenny Lewis, with The Watson Twins in tow, had the stage literally set for a spectacle. Coming out in her brightly colored fringe jacket, her and the band wasted no time in their hour long set.
Over on the Fort, Courtney Barnett took the stage as the preamble to the Fort’s big finish of an unannounced headliner. As expected, her set was on fire. She took to the stage and got everyone pumped up. Her fourteen-song set was absolutely a highlight of the day. It was absolutely needed with what was starting on the Quad stage. Before getting over there though, Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam were putting on a rare set together. The smiles they were sharing across the stage were wonderful to witness. From there it was onto the Quad Stage.
Cheech and Chong was an oddball choice for Newport that never should have been. The men opened with one of their best-known bits “Dave’s Not Here” with a warm welcome but it went drastically downhill from there. Tommy Chong’s wife Shelby emceed for them, much to the chagrin of the audience. Her jokes were tasteless with no sense of what is going on in the world. The topics ranged from a bad night ending with waking up next to Bill Cosby to her pretending to be “a retard” in order to escape arrest while high on acid. When she came on stage, the crowd left in droves. If that were not bad enough, the duo eventually spilled the beans on the headliner being Mumford and Sons driving away what was left of their meager crowd.
Now if you knew what was going on in Newport, you heard Mumford and Sons had played the Jane Pickens after-show the previous night. They were the band for the much discussed unannounced headline set. Now rumors had run wild that it was Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, hopefully either one or both will play one day, but with it being Mumford and Sons some were let down. Honestly from crowd reaction you wouldn’t have known it. The band’s first 2018 show was guest filled and no filler music wise. Jerry Douglas played a few numbers with the band as did Brandi Carlile and Maggie Rogers. Brandi’s versions of The Boxer and Kansas City had the crowd in fits, while Phoebe Bridgers came out for a take on Radiohead’s “All I Need.” The big secret of the set was everyone came out, including the legendary Mavis Staples for a set and day closing rendition of “The Weight” and brought the festival to a roar. While it didn’t meet some rumored expectation, you can’t fault the band who put on a great headlining set.
Article: Lauren Byrnes
Images: Bryan Lasky