The last day of a festival has a lot of weight on its shoulders. The last day of Newport, however, has some of the heaviest weight amongst festivals. There’s always something that you’re going to find, there’s also something you’re always going to miss. It’s just the nature of the festival. Amazing things tend to happen as the fort closes down (until Jazz Fest, that is).
The day started off with a big help from The War and Treaty. This gospel influenced folk band had the audience at the Quad Stage, not only captivated, but absolutely breathless from the start. They raised the bar on what to expect from Newport Folk Fest on Sunday without a doubt. While they were rocking the stage all over, Twain was playing a beautiful folk set through and through. Though it seemed there wasn’t as much of this at the festival this year, every tradition folk set was perfect.
Next, to open the Fort stage, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band opened the day with their classic New Orleans style jazz. It was their 2nd year opening the stage but there is undoubtedly a long history there. The band, in its many iterations, has been at Newport more than any other band. In fact, the current upright bassist/tuba player was the son of a man who played the Fort with Louis Armstrong. It was a packed standing section, understandably so, with a crowd who could not keep still if you paid them with the music being played.
Over on the Harbor Stage, Jen Cloher tore it down. It was her first American festival, with her own band at least, and she couldn’t be more excited about it. Her partner, Courtney Barnett, took the stage on guitar but absolutely let Cloher shine on her own. Her set was beautiful. Her voice brought the crowd back to a time when Blondie and Joan Jett ruled the world. Over at the Quad, Khruangbin brought the straight funk to the festival. The trio had the crowd under their spell from the moment they stepped on the stage and hit the first note of the set.
A real surprise to many at Newport was the solo man with his acoustic guitar on the Fort stage this weekend. The man whose name is Mike but is better known as Passenger captivated the crowd in the middle of a magical day. He knew exactly what he was and seemed almost confused at his billing on the main stage of such an eminent festival. Passenger proved his worth and then some on this stage. He went through his own songs and went on to cover Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” His entire persona kept the crowd under his trance and his presence on the stage was second to none at this festival.
There were a number of rumors surrounding the Nels Cline’s Curtis Rogers Memorial Resonator Excursion set on the Quad stage. For the most part, everyone was excited to hear Nels Cline play with friends and see what happened. He came out with Brandon Seabrook who played everything from guitar to banjo to mandolin. They covered a number of songs while Cline played a beautiful National guitar for the crowd. When Seabrook left the stage, however, an incredible guest came out. Warren Hayes joined Mr. Cline about halfway through the set of songs. They were joined at the end of the set by Seabrook once again and it was an absolute delight.
The Lone Bellow brought unstoppable energy to the Fort stage. They were a delight though not unexpected at the festival. They brought an incredible amount of energy to the crowd. They lead the packed Fort crowd in a few sing-a-longs and debuted a song written for the recently passed Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit, “There is Love All Around You.” The band was joined at the end of their set by Langhorne Slim and Kam Franklin for “Then Came the Morning.”
At the smaller Harbor stage, Nicole Atkins captivated the crowd with her Americana psychedelia stylings. Her ethereal voice held the audience’s attention as she crooned at us all. As part of her set, she held a contest for slow dancing. This is part of what she usually does at the clubs she is used to playing. The crowd abided vying for the chance to win a drawing by Nicole Atkins of Ted Danson. The contest was called “Slow Dancin’ for Ted Danson.”
Toots and the Maytals were up next at the Quad Stage. They’re a reggae/Southern rock type band. They had no problem getting everyone up and moving with the energy they sent out. There was almost too much energy resulting in an attempt to rush the stage by a member of the crowd that was thwarted by security before they could get too far. It made for an interesting time, nonetheless. Gary Clark Jr. meanwhile played the blues as only he can. His guitar work is second to none and it’s always a joy to see him do what he does best.
After the excitement of Toots and the Maytals, Bermuda Triangle came out for the next set on the Quad Stage. This is a Brittany Howard project that was making their first trip to Newport. The group is comprised of three women, Becca Mancari, Jesse Lafser, and, of course, Brittany Howard herself. The women were a lot of fun and easy to listen to thought they did give some mixed signals as to what to expect from them. They came out to “Lose Control” by Missy Elliot, but spent most of the time playing folk style music with the occasional back beat thrown in by an electronic drum. They did, however, have their own catchy theme song, something every woman wants to have.
Brandi Carlile was the penultimate act on the Fort Stage and easily as anticipated as the closer. The Fort was once again packed in the standing area with an excited and dancing crowd. Brandi and her band were more than happy to oblige the crowd with her brand of rock. She did get serious for a bit to talk about the state of our country when she brought out her daughter to say hi to the crowd and sang a song called “The Mother” by herself. As she had done all weekend with what seemed like everyone who played, she had some guests during her own set. The Lone Bellow joined her for a song in the middle of the set and for her last song, she was joined again by the trio as well as The War and Treaty, The Watson Twins and her daughter.
Langhorne Slim makes any space feel intimate as he always gets out in to the crowd and the closing Harbor Stage set of the weekend was no different. On the third song he ran down the aisle to the back of the tent and sang an entire song from back there, greeting everyone with his infectious smile and voice. Later in the set he was joined by his mother for a song for one of those special Newport moments. The Quad Stage was next to close down with Glen Hansard, who had plenty of guests during his set including noted photographer and harmonica player Danny Clinch. Glen is one of those special acts who even though it’s just him and a guitar, it feels like a full band is up on stage.
For the closing act at Newport, the set was titled A Change is Gonna Come and it was everything the name said it was going to be. It was a rotating bit of musicians that was emceed by Jon Batitste. It started with the Dap Kings out on stage, who remained for almost the entire set as the house band. Batiste took to the piano and riffed on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He then went into a cover of Pete Seeger’s “This Land is My Land” with which the crowd happily sang along. Valerie June joined him on stage, bringing the energy all the way up with her. She was followed by Leon Bridges, who had been seen wandering around the festival for the past few days, and Gary Clark Jr. for a cover of “Ohio.” Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came out with Valerie June for a song to be joined by the rest of the band and Chris Thile of the Milk Carton Kids as Ms. June left. They all did “Fly, Fly Away” before the band left Thile and Batiste alone on stage to freestyle a bit together with Mr. Thile masterfully playing his mandolin. The gentlemen were joined by Brandi Carlile and Maggie Rogers for a rousing rendition of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” An electric Rachel Price took the stage next, her presence was spell binding and only enhanced by the combination of the golden hour of the light mixing with the golden color of her dress. She sang the song that shares the title of the set, “A Change is Gonna Come”. The last unique combination of the day was Bermuda Triangle with Mavis Staples for “Jesus on the Mainline” before everyone came out to end the festival on a joyous “Freedom Highway”. With that Newport Folk 2018 ended with plenty of people already waiting for next year.
Article: Lauren Byrnes
Images: Bryan Lasky