Our favorite moments from Newport Folk Festival

By Julia Roberson and Robyn Albritton

August 11, 2017

Newport Folk Festival, held in Newport, Rhode Island’s historic Fort Adams since 1959, is one of the longest-running music festivals in the United States. Folk Fest draws crowds and artists from around the world, who flock to the sunny shores of Rhode Island for this three-day event at the end of July. The festival is uniquely located on a peninsula in Narrangansett Bay, surrounded by cool North Atlantic waters and gorgeous ocean views.

The Folk Festival has a rich 58-year history and has hosted iconic performers such as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

Here are some of our favorite moments from this year’s festival:

NC Represent

North Carolina is known for turning out phenomenal music, so it seemed fitting to have two magical performances from two different NC bands. Jay Sweet, Executive Director of the Newport Festivals Foundation introduced the Chapel Hill duo Mandolin Orange, and the crowd was treated to a slow and melodic set that matched Saturday’s weather, according to band member Emily Frantz.  A highlight of their set was “Calvary”– and all we can say is that more songs should be written from the perspective of horses.

The Avett Brothers were next with a thumping set, complete with their own wind machine, AKA nature. As Seth Avett observed, he felt like Beyonce and, with his locks blowing in the wind and intense energy from the crowd, we understood the metaphor. The Avett Brothers treated the crowd (and it was indeed a crowd– it was the only time we saw the fantastic Newport volunteers stop letting people down to the front for dancing) to a powerful cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” (RIP Chris Cornell).

Chuck Berry Tribute

The good folks at Newport Folk Fest put together a tribute to Chuck Berry– one of the most influential artists in rock and roll history– who passed away earlier this year. Berry redefined rhythm and blues in the 1950s and was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Texas Gentlemen did a phenomenal job playing tribute to this rocker and they were joined by Jim James, Shakey Graves, Nathaniel Rateliff, Kam Franklin of The Suffers, and Deer Tick for guest appearances.

John Prine

John Prine is an iconic American folk singer/songwriter and at the age of 70 is still an incredible performer. This isn’t the first time he’s graced the stages of Newport Folk Fest, and we can only imagine the arguments between artists backstage as they vied to get next to Mr. Prine for the closing act of the weekend.

The Guest Appearances/Collaborations

Where to start? As Charlie Sexton said during the Chuck Berry tribute set, it was Christmas in July. Jim James joined Charlie and the Texas Gentlemen for “Promised Land,” singing the lyrics off his phone. We also got a treat from Shakey Graves with “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” Nathaniel Rateliff killed with “You Never Can Tell.” Kam Franklin from The Suffers got us all jumping with her version of “Roll Over, Beethoven,” and Ian and Dennis from Deer Tick sang “Run Rudolph Run.” RayLand Baxter joined buddies The Head and the Heart for a rousing “Lost in my Mind” sing-a-long.

Jim James never met a stage he didn’t like, or a Newport artist he didn’t love. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, if you are a Jim James fan, you could’ve caught the My Morning Jacket frontman at the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s set, the Chuck Berry Tribute,  his own set, the Stand UP set, and John Prine’s set. There were probably some more we missed.  

Final Set

Newport Folk Fest is known for causing music fans to lose their ever-loving minds when one esteemed artist after another comes on stage to collaborate with each other.  It’s a folktastic overload. John Prine  brought up Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Nathaniel Rateliff, Margo Price, Lucius, and Roger Waters from Pink Floyd. A few others, including Dr. Dog, Sara Watkins, Erika Wennerstrom from Heartless Bastards, Nick Offerman, and Shakey Graves joined Prine for a beautiful, uplifting version of “Paradise.”

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