Though the first day of Newport Folk Festival typically begins on the smallest of the three stages, with an early start time and a lesser-known act, this year’s opening set felt like the most important of the weekend. Matt the Electrician took the stage for a long overdue performance at the fort. As an artist, he is the epitome of what Newport Folk is all about, and it’s hard to believe he’s never played there before. His songs are mini manifestos set to acoustic guitar and layered with vocal harmonies. The Austin-based singer-songwriter book ended his stunning set (which included songs like “Osaka in the Rain” and “Mountains/20 20”) with a tune about the importance of love over everything, and closed it with Paul Simon’s “American Tune”, setting the precedent for the day: stay optimistic, take care of each other.
That same sentiment came with Aaron Lee Tasjan’s stylish, rock and roll set (which oddly ended a whole 10 minutes early) and Joshua Hedley’s swoonworthy country set backed by Steelism (his forthcoming EP on Third Man Records will no doubt have even more buzz now) was all about . And U.K. artist L.A. Salami sang detailed, poetic tunes about just trying to get through the day. It was clear that many of the artists share that familiar sense of heavy dread that seems to permeate the atmosphere right now. And in true Newport Folk fashion, they spoke to it in their performances. Here are some additional highlights from the day:
1. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Alynda Segarra, decked out in orange pants and a shirt emblazoned with the word “fuerza”, led her incredible band through a fiery set of songs off their latest record The Navigator. Segarra’s songs are true protest songs and it was a thrill to see her as a more fully realized rock star this year, as her sound has continued to evolve.
2. Alone & Together: The supergroup of Kevin Morby, Sam Cohen, Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats), Joe Russo and Josh Kaufman came together to cover each other’s songs and play some of their own. It was an unexpected high point of the day that hooked festival-goers who had curiously wandered over to the Quad Stage.
3. Brent Cobb: Cobb brought his warm, down home-style Country songs to the fort, and likely walked away with a slew of new fans. His live shows are some of the best around, and this set did not disappoint.
4. Ben Gibbard: The Death Cab for Cutie front man delivered a sparse set of songs from popular records like Plans and Transatlanticism, as well as songs off his recent Teenage Fanclub cover album, and knocked the crowd off their feet. Gibbard has the power to do that with his sweet, often melancholy songs and just an acoustic guitar or piano.
5. Fleet Foxes: The band closed the day with a flawless set of songs, mostly off their latest record Crack-Up. Robin Pecknold sounded better than ever and his band must have broken out every instrument imaginable. Admittedly, it was a heavy set to take in at the end of a long day of music in the sun, but the Fleet Foxes sounded triumphant and sublime.
Photos by Andrew Benedict