There could not be a more poignant, significant time of year for the Newport Folk Festival to take place than this week, as the Republican National Convention blows through Cleveland. Though the two events are many miles apart, they coincide in a particularly special way. As the convention pushes extreme negativity and displays a complete disconnection between people, the sold-out Newport Folk Festival is brimming with love and human connection. Fort Adams has always been a place of solace and comfort for so many, but this year, it is especially so.
The theme of the first day of the festival was, in many ways, the hard work and sacrifice that it takes for artists to make it to the stage at Newport. From the early set by honky tonker J.P. Harris to the midday performance by The Staves, there was a clear message of gratitude. Both bands sang about the hardships of being an artist – so much time on the road, being away from home and family, and self-doubt. Yet both persevered and found themselves performing to an enthusiastic crowd in a breathtaking setting on a gorgeous, breezy summer day.
Many artists were celebrating new records released over the last year, while others (like Harris and the always astoundingly talented St. Paul and the Broken Bones) were announcing upcoming records to which we can look forward. And love was in the air, whether from Matthew Logan Vasquez (of Delta Spirit) sharing the stage with countless friends and surprise guests (like Fruit Bats’ Eric Johnson and the Parkington Sisters), or from the super group Case/Lang/Veirs “bringing a little healing” (as Lang said) to a crowd that couldn’t stop dancing.
And just like at the convention, politics made an appearance, with many artists encouraging festival-goers to vote this fall, and voter registration booths back by the Quad stage. No matter how many years since the start of this historic festival, Newport Folk always has been and always will be a platform for peace and understanding, and for using your voice for good.
Here are the highlights:
The British sister trio brought angelic vocals and ethereal keys to the Fort Stage, drawing eager listeners who likely weren’t expecting to find a new favorite band. Singing older songs like the stunning “In the Long Run” and brand new songs, like the self-titled track off their new EP “Sleeping in a Car”, they were enchanting.
Whether or not anyone knew it was coming, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) brought unstoppable energy with his new band The Arcs, which includes Richard Swift, Leon Michels, Nick Movshon, Homer Steinweiss and Kenny Vaughan. Songs like “Smiling Faces” and “Outta My Mind” were infectious, and had every last audience member out of their chairs, grooving and moving to the psychedelic rock sound. With help from Mariachi Flor de Toloache, this set was the standout of the day.
The trio had easily one of the most highly anticipated performances of the festival, and an intrigued crowd was treated to lush harmonies off the group’s brand new self-titled album (three years in the making), as well as classic favorites from each woman’s impressive solo career. The feminist energy was strong at the Quad stage, as they hypnotized the audience with their own “Atomic Number”, Veirs’ “July Flame”, Case’s “I’m a Man” (and older gem “Hold On), and Lang’s infamous Neil Young cover of “Helpless”.
The insanely talented vocalists Janet Bean and Catherin Irwin led their band through a magnificent setlist, starting off with “What the People Want”, and no one in the Harbor stage tent could look away. Tight instrumentals and layered harmonies were haunting, and the band’s dry humor kept the audience at ease, even as they were likely in awe of what they were hearing.
All photos by Andrew Benedict.