Continuing the tradition of politicism and positivity, the second day of Newport Folk brought more loud, passionate voices of change to all three stages. Leading the charge was the day’s headliner, Patti Smith. Doing a set filled with covers, she brought the house down on the Fort stage as the sun went down. Father John Misty was particularly bummed out about the current state of affairs (a.k.a. Trump), and Graham Nash even found a way to sneak a Trump mention into one of his opening songs. No one shied away from using their stage time as a platform for speaking out, making this one of the most special Newport Folk Festivals in some time. It is times like this when the true spirit of the festival comes out.
And guest performers were popping up all over the fort today, making memorable appearances and keeping audience on their toes. Matthew Logan Vasquez joined Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on the Fort stage for a cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In”, and Kris Kristofferson joined the Texas Gentlemen back on the Quad stage for some authentic country music.
As the day got hotter and hotter, the Quad and Harbor stages became the places to be, but not just for shelter from the blazing sun; some of the best sets of the day took place away from the main stage. Festival-goers trekked across the fort with their sunburned tattoos, floppy hats and dirtied feet, trying to push through the blistering July heat for the sake of unbeatable live music. Highlights included:
The Cactus Blossoms
The Minnesotan brothers opened the day with their flawless harmonies and throwback country sound, playing a hearty chunk of tunes off this year’s You’re Dreaming. A performance with zero hiccups, they were a tough act to follow and set the tone for the day with “Mississippi”, “Clown Collector”, “If I Win” and more. Overall it was a dreamy set that made us all forget how hot it was so early in the day, even if just for a little while.
Baxter brought out the big guns for his Fort stage debut with epic guitar jams and his vibrant vocals. Singing a mix of older songs like “Olivia” and newer ones from last summer’s Imaginary Man like “All in My Head” and “End to Come”, Baxter was charming and magnetic.
Ruby Amanfu likely left many audience members picking their jaws up off the floor with her powerhouse voice that has to be heard to be believed. Backed by three members of Deer Tick (Dennis Ryan, Chris Ryan and Rob Crowell), and the incredibly talented guitarist Jeremy Fetzer (Steelism), Amanfu bewitched the Harbor tent with the Woody Guthrie tune “One by One”, and nearly broke down in tears of gratitude to be performing at the fest. She is a true class act and gave one of the festival’s most moving performances.
It’s tough not to be moved by Moreland’s brilliant, but heartbreaking, lyrics. And with a packed-to-the-brim Harbor tent brought to complete silence during his performance, it is safe to say that everyone was feeling something strong. Moreland did a set of songs mostly off last year’s incredible High on Tulsa Heat, including beauties like “Cherokee” and “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”.
Tammy Wynette vibes were coming in hot from Price as she gave one of the most confident performances to date. Prior to taking the stage with her own band, she made one of the standout guest appearances of the weekend as she joined the Texas Gentlemen, Joe Ely and THE Kris Kristofferson for a cover of “Me & Bobby McGee”. Price’s gorgeous, full-bodied vocals were ideal for the song, and she was, no doubt, pinching herself the rest of the day. For her own set, a string section joined her for the stunning “Hands of Time”, as she brought the Quad tent to their feet.
In true Folk Fest fashion, Nash kept politics at the forefront of his set with “Military Madness” and “Immigration Man”. And his voice sounded as golden as ever on sing-a-long classics like “Our House”, “Chicago” and “Teach Your Children”, which he sent out to all the teachers in the crowd.
Father John Misty
Playing an entirely acoustic set, FJM stood on the Quad stage with nothing but his guitar, giving his detailed songs a much more folk-heavy sound. It suited him, though, and the audience was rapt. Save for some unkind words about Graham Nash, the usually sarcastic artist toned it down a bit, focusing on the music and delivering beautiful performances, including “I Love You Honeybear”, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, “Holy Shit”, “Bored in the USA”, and the encore “Leaving LA”.
“This is the greatest weapon of my generation, and it’s the only weapon we need,” Patti Smith shouted through gritted teeth as she held up her electric guitar to the packed crowd. In a politically-charged performance, Smith even dedicated a song (“People Have the Power”) to Ted Cruz, quoting his recent statement, “vote your conscience.” Smith had moments of endearing shyness (during Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer”) and incredible confidence (Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and the Rolling Stones’ “This Will Be the Last Time”). Smith’s set was a reminder of how powerful Folk Fest has the potential to be, uniting people of all backgrounds and all ages in the name of something beautiful – music. During her electrifying performance (complete with a cover of The Who’s “My Generation” and plenty of impassioned shouts of “MOTHAFUCKAAAHHSSSS!!!”), Smith breathed new life back into the fort after a long, sweltering day, and she looked fabulous while doing it. Sometimes growling and sometimes wailing, she sounded better than ever.
Photos by Andrew Benedict. Patti Smith photos by Wendy Brusick.