Newport Folk Festival’s third day always moves just a little slower. The first part of the day – as groggy festival-goers wander in a bit later – is packed with gospel and choir music to ease us into a third day of being on our feet in the hot sun. And the sun shone down hard on Sunday, bookending the weekend with a day even more beautiful than Friday. Sunday is also a day of guest performances, unannounced artists and surprises around every corner, which makes patience more important than ever. Here are the highlights:
1. Steelism with Ruby Amanfu & Nicole Atkins: Spencer Cullum and Jeremy Fetzer delivered a stylish set with Amanfu and Atkins on vocal duty. Their retro cool instrumentals (Cullum on steel guitar and Fetzer on guitar) were perfect for getting in some early dancing.
2. Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka has, arguably, the song of the year with “Cold Little Heart” and for many, this was the first chance to see him live. His set was one of the best of the weekend, with two percussionists and Kiwanuka’s impressive guitar playing. His deep, soulful vocals carried over the fort and left the crowd feeling transformed and reenergized.
3. John Prine: Prine has been on tour for the last year, so he and his band were tight and he sounded fantastic. His songs are as timeless and clever as they’ve ever been, and his voice was clear and strong. Joined for duets by Margo Price, Jim James, Lucius, Justin Vernon, and even Roger Waters, Prine’s set was star-studded. But the best moments of it were just Prine on his own, singing simple songs with simple guitar melodies.
4. Speak Out: This set with unannounced guests was, more or less, an hour of protest music. It had low moments and high ones, but the crowd ate it right up. Standout performances came from Billy Bragg (singing Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build the Wall”), and Rayland Baxter and Shakey Graves doing a cheeky original song with a call and response “I’m Better Than You”, dedicated to Trump. Other performances came from Jim James and Nick Offerman (doing a duet of “Masters of War”), Sharon Van Etten, Margo Price and Lucius.
5. Rhiannon Giddens: Giddens wowed the Fort Stage crowd with her powerful voice and haunting songs. Giddens mines history on her new record Freedom Highway, and her subject matter was well suited to a day that seemed to center around what it means to be an American. Her set left many in awe and she’s a class act on stage. Joined by producer and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, Rhiannon and her band also delved into some traditional Cajun music, including a song specially written for the festival.