It takes stamina to get through day three of Newport Folk Festival. Typically it’s the most relaxed day of the weekend, no matter the lineup. The need to rush between stages to catch every set seems to have faded along with the previous evening’s picturesque sunset, and there’s more time to take a deep breath and just enjoy the surroundings.
Of this year’s three days, Sunday was the least of a draw comparatively, save for the grand finale which, as of right before it began, was still unannounced. Speculation over who would make an appearance in the ’65 Revisited Bob Dylan tribute lineup ranged from Neil Young to Eric Clapton to T. Bone Burnett and everyone in between. And while the ending certainly wasn’t a letdown by any means, the hype definitely took something away from it. Thanks to the big guessing game and rumor mill surrounding the anticipated performance, it just did not feel epic. Was it fantastic? Yes, absolutely. But did it live up to the expectations? You decide.
Shakey Graves had a packed tent clapping along to his romping, loud, foot-stomping folk rock, and Laura Marling sang dreamy, dark tunes off this year’s release Short Movie. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats collaborated with guitarist J. Mascis on a cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In”, which resulted in a massive sing-a-long, and the Felice Brothers were their usual cheery, spirited selves.
Mascis noodled on his guitar to some fuzzed out garage rock songs that were equal parts quirky and low key, and Christopher Paul Stelling gave his traditional folk set his all, as he always does, full of undying energy. The true stars of the Harbor Stage on Sunday, though, were the Jones Family Singers who offered up joyous praise, sultry blues, and a kickass sense of humor. Their rendition of the soul favorite “Love Train” was one of the day’s best, and made for a much-needed early day pick-me-up.
The Fort Stage hosted a handful of the weekend’s most popular acts on Sunday, including First Aid Kit, Hozier, Lord Huron, and of course, the finale. Jon Batiste and Stay Human was easily the most outstanding of the day. The young and insanely charismatic Batiste and his band will join Stephen Colbert this year as the house band on the new version of The Late Show, which added some buzz and curiosity to their set. The band will return next weekend to Newport for Jazz Fest, and if their show is anything like it was this day, those who attend will be in for a treat! Leading his whole band through the audience (adventurous at a hot, crowded festival) in an inclusive, hot jazz dance party, Batiste sauntered off with hundreds of new fans. Playing his harmonaboard like it’s his most prized possession, the New Orleans-based Batiste was impossible not to love.
First Aid Kit sounded stunning, as always, though a little barer than usual. Johanna Soderberg had lost her voice so was unable to sing at all, leaving sister Klara with full vocal duties. Klara more than stepped up to the plate, though, never missing a single note, her voice as clear and powerful as ever. Songs like “The Lion’s Roar”, “Waitress Song”, “Silver Living”, “King of the World” and the sing-a-long closer “Emmylou”, devout fans stayed entranced until the very end. Plus, with the unexpected cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, which Klara and her band completely slayed, their set was one of the weekend’s best. Lord Huron and Hozier attracted some of the weekend’s youngest crowds, who dutifully knew all the words to some of their favorites by both acts. Neither set was too memorable.
And finally, what everyone was patiently waiting for, the Dylan tribute show at the end of the night featured a plethora of surprise guests. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings led the proceedings, combining their heavenly harmonies with many additional voices. Most notably, Dawes showed up (not a surprise as they were already touring on the east coast this weekend), with Taylor Goldsmith stealing the show and belting out classic Dylan tunes.
Other guests included Preservation Hall Jazz Band, particularly Charlie Gabriel, the gifted clarinetist, Blake Mills, Robyn Hitchcock, John McCauley and Ian Fitzgerald of Deer Tick, the legendary Al Kooper, Willie Watson and Klara Soderberg. They kept the songs as classic as could be, doing eclectic and energetic renditions of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, “Just Like a Woman”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Maggie’s Farm”, to name a few. And each gave it their own flavor, with Goldsmith making each of his verses a romp, McCauley rasping out rock and roll style, Hitchcock adding a cheekiness, and Mills adding mystery, sensuality and intrigue.
Dawes and the other guests were smart and impressive choices for the finale, and the not-knowing did add a new dimension of fun and a certain kind of thrill to the festival, but none of the performers were too “out there” or unexpected. The final song, “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35”, drew even more artists from the weekend up to the stage to help sing along. Christopher Paul Stelling, J. P. Harris, Joe Fletcher, Shakey Graves, Hozier, Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards), Kam Franklin (The Suffers) and more of Preservation Hall Jazz Band all joined together on stage in true Folk Fest fashion to pay tribute to their common thread hero, Bob Dylan, in a set that certainly would have made the master of folk blush.