Festivals all over the world like to say that no matter what stage you go to you will be happy with what you see. Having been to a number of festivals, the only one this is true is Newport Folk Festival. You can completely go without a game plan and just wander from stage to stage and be wowed by everything being played.
On Friday alone you could wander and go from folk to gothic blues to psychedelic rock to southern rock to jam. This took place for three straight days and the wow factor never left. Add in some pop up sets around the fort, a kids tent, and all of the already mentioned guest headliners and a highly anticipated super group of badass women and you have yourself probably the festival of the year. The thing though is every year is like this at Newport. You literally cannot make a bad choice. You might miss a special guest here and there, but you’re still going to enjoy the hell out of whatever you wound up seeing.
Another great thing about Newport Folk is that they give back and call the audience to action. Every band on the bill this year had a donation set up to charities in lieu of their usual payment. They also had Headcount on site registering people to vote and Keen’s Call To Action booth where you could call to your representatives and leave messages about what you would like to see them do. Newport puts it’s money where it’s mouth is in terms of trying to do some good in the world.
Since the special day closing sets and The Highwomen were already discussed, let’s dive into the rest of the lineup and what took place at Fort Adams. Friday started off with what felt like a mission statement for the weekend, women rule the world and we’re all just along for the ride. Black Belt Eagle Scout’s mix of indigenous stories and indie rock kicked the festivities off for the weekend. Adia Victoria brought a commanding presence and blues to the main stage, along with a dedication to one of the originators of rock and roll Big Momma Thorton. Yola, who may have had the best weekend of any musician not named Brandi Carlile, wowed the crowd with a voice that soared past the confines of the Harbor Stage. While that voice carried, it was Liz Cooper and the Stampede’d psychedelic rock music for the soul caused a standing room only headbanging affair at the Quad Stage.
A wild scene took place in the Museum when Yonatan Gat & The Eastern Medicine Singers set up off stage and played in the round. The mix of chanting and drumming with guitar riffs channeling “Miserlou” was a wild scene to partake in. The Cooks in the Kitchen set had plenty of guests including Anaïs Mitchell and Amy Ray and was chock full of old school boogie woogie rock and roll on the Quad, while Charley Crockett brought some needed old school country music to the masses. Meanwhile Warren Haynes played a fantastic set of solo songs that ended with Lukas Nelson, Jonathan Wilson, and Jason Isbell guesting on “Find the Cost of Freedom” into “Masters of War.”
Next, it was kind of a choose-your-own-adventure time around the festival. Benmont Tench dazzled the crowd with fantastic piano playing and great stories. Kacey Musgraves continued her great year with her singular take on country that has been dominating the charts. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real were as wild as always, bringing their rock and roll ‘Neil Young’ vibes to the Quad Stage. Sheryl Crow played a hit filled set while also including friends Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Jason Isbell and very special last minute guest James Taylor, who pulled up on a boat to the festival to play one song. The first night closed out with Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band blaring Grateful Dead across the fort with help from Warren Haynes, Benmont Tench, and Sheryl Crow. As a bonus some lucky people were allowed to watch CAAMP play an album release show at the end of the night in the museum, with a guest appearance by Hiss Golden Messenger. If Newport continues this tradition of seeing an intimate performance to close the night on the grounds after the headliner, it would be very welcomed.
Smiles from everyone beamed as they walked in for day two and the weather was just as great as the smiles coming in. Illiterate Light really kicked the day off with enough energy for an army and had the crowd on their feet multiple times throughout the set. Devon Gilfillian had the Fort Stage crowd in the palm of his hand as his funky blues infused rock rang over everyone. A last minute all star set was put together honoring Graham Nash’s “Songs For Beginners” with Kyle Craft & Showboat Honey being the backing band. The set was unbelievable, taking place at the Harbor Stage, and having The Tallest Man on Earth, The Ballroom Thieves, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mountain Man, Anaïs Mitchell, and Ian O’Neil joining in on the fun.
The Nude Party and Jade Bird both rocked their sets, showing Newport Folk can rock with the best festivals in the country, but they can offer something off kilter like Jupiter and Okwess, who played Congolese music and turned the Quad Stage into the best midday dance party and one of the highlights of the festival that everyone who witnessed it talked about the rest of the weekend. Gregory Alan Isakov brought the volume down, but played one of the few sets that truly felt like full on folk music of the weekend. Rayland Baxter turned his set into a psychedelic affair and also paid tribute to Mac Miller.
Article: Lauren Byrnes & Bryan Lasky
Images: Bryan Lasky