In a strange turn of events, Saturday at Newport Folk Festival might have been one of the coldest on record. The temperature barely broke 70 degrees and the wind blew relentlessly as festival-goers wandered the grounds in hats, scarves, coats and even gloves. It wasn’t until a late afternoon set on the main stage by the incredible Angel Olsen that the sun began to show itself to the fort (nearly perfectly timed to Olsen singing “let the sun shine”), and when it did, the mood of the day began to shift. Slower sets from Australian artist Julia Jacklin and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (who also joined Olsen for her set) were perfectly suited to the gloomy overcast sky and surrounding choppy seas. But the evening sky, as it almost always is at Fort Adams, turned out to be breathtaking, as did the day’s last performers. Here are the highlights:
Marlon Williams: Williams has star power, and it showed in his debut set at Newport Folk. The young New Zealand singer songwriter’s deep croon drew a large crowd to the Quad Stage, especially one earlier in the day. It’s likely we’ll all be hearing a lot more from him as his career continues to take off, and any and all praise is well deserved.
Grandma’s Hands: A tribute to Bill Withers led by the M.C. Taylor and Phil Cook of Hiss Golden Messenger, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Natalie Prass, to name a few, this was a sweet spot of the day. Classic songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Lovely Day”, “Lean on Me” and of course, “Grandma’s Hands” were performed by special guests like Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers) and Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff) and everything seemed to slow down just a bit.
Mandolin Orange: The North Carolinian duo and their band were a stumble-upon performance for many, and their hauntingly beautiful harmonies were impossible to forget as the day went on, especially the stunning “Wildfire”.
Chicano Batman: The L.A. rockers sounded amazing and looked sharp in their matching suits as they had the crowd on their feet dancing. Using the wind to their advantage and leaning into it dramatically during one of the catchiest and most fun performances of the weekend, their introduction to Newport Folk was unforgettable.
Drive-By Truckers: The most standout performance of the day, and maybe even the weekend, the Drive-By Truckers packed the Quad Stage for a set that truly belonged on the main stage. Their 2016 record American Band is the stuff Newport Folk is made of – smart protest music that sounds damn good and feels fresh and current. There wasn’t a butt in a seat for their set because everyone was too busy dancing to “What it Means” and “Hell No I Ain’t Happy”. They shut the place down and delivered a history-making set, in true Newport Folk tradition.