Newport Folk Festival prides itself on offering something new and fresh every year, not to mention the countless spontaneous performances and collaborations that inevitably take place over three days of artists wandering the grounds of spectacular Fort Adams. This year will bring the addition of a live recording of Joe Pug’s phenomenal new podcast The Working Songwriter, as well as an American Acoustic set that features the super group I’m With Her made up of folkie favorites Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz. We’ll also be treated to a Chuck Berry tribute, and a special historical set entitled “Speak Out”, celebrating the festival’s longstanding ties to protest music.
But what really stands out this year is less expected: the significant number of country artists in the lineup. And as the traditional genre lines continue to blur more and matter even less, it is refreshing to see the booking branch out to include a wide array of acts. In what promises to be one of the twangiest iterations of Newport Folk Festival ever, we’re previewing some of this year’s most countrified acts to look forward to at the sold out Fort this coming weekend July 28th-30th, 2017.
Cobb’s under the radar debut Shine On Rainy Day was one of the standout records of 2016. Cobb is a born storyteller, and his live shows are on par with musicians much older and more seasoned. His band is tight and his sound is golden, classic country-rock a la Skynyrd and The Band infused with undeniable hooks. Cobb is sure to be too damn big for the smaller Harbor stage, so expect overflow and plenty of foot stompin’!
Ellis is a country singer making some of the best pop music around right now. His 2016 self-titled record features that same Texan twang we know and love, but enmeshed in shimmering melodies that conjure up the likes of Paul Simon. Ellis’ sound is playful with jazzy keyboard meeting zippy banjo, whether he’s carrying us through a soaring, romantic ode (“How I Love You”) or beating around the bush of a dying relationship (“Drivin’”).
It’s almost impossible to believe that this year will be their Newport Folk Festival debut, but the long overdue performance comes on the heels of one of their most powerful political statements yet. Last year’s incredible release American Band confronts a country that has a lot of work to do. And given the spirit of protest that permeates the air at Fort Adams, DBT will be an excellent fit, as they challenge what it means not only to be white, southern and male, but what it means to live in post-election America.
Though many would not categorize Prine as a country artist, his inclusion here has far more to do with his cemented status as an inspiration to so many country and folk artists. One of the greatest songwriters (and storytellers) of our time, Prine has a canon that’s been mined and covered endlessly by artists of all ages and backgrounds. It will be thrilling to see what he brings to the festival, and given his recent string of shows with Amanda Shires, we can safely bet it’ll be just a little bit country.
Nikki Lane is a touring machine, and she continues her run at Newport, singing songs off this year’s stellar third album Highway Queen. Lane played the Fort just a few years back and garnered a sizable crowd with her fiery performance, and this year we should expect no less. Lane and her band have been sounding fantastic at their live shows, where she often throws in a few quieter acoustic tunes, too.
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Tasjan will catch your ear and your eyes if he comes decked out in his usual sharp garb. His quirky brand of country-friend Harry Nilsson leans a bit more folk rock, but he brings a certain sun-drenched southern charm. His 2016 release Silver Tears was chock full of smooth pop hooks that will get the Newport crowd on their feet and ready to groove.
J.P. Harris & Chance McCoy
Harris is no stranger to the Fort, but 2017 marks his first Newport Folk appearance outside of the smaller museum stage. This time, the deep-voiced country singer joins forces with Old Crow Medicine Show’s Chance McCoy for what will likely be a rollicking good time on the Harbor stage. Harris and McCoy will bring their long-standing friendship and love of traditional country music to Newport, and no doubt walk away with many new fans.
Hedley is a newcomer to Newport this year, but rest assured his set will stick with festival-goers. His soothing fiddle playing and classic country croon are a throwback to the country greats like Roy Orbison. Hedley has the sound of an old soul, and listening to him perform will transport you back to a simpler time. Hedley recently signed with Jack White’s Third Man Records, so a new record is on the horizon, which makes Newport the perfect place to brush up on the artist you’ll likely be hearing a lot more of soon.