Newport Folk Festival 2018: Neil, Paul or Bruce? Theories To the Unannounced Saturday Headlining Set

Surprise guests are no strangers to the three stages of Newport Folk Festival, particularly the biggest, the Fort Stage. So when the lineup gradually began to roll out over the last couple of months and one of the prime spots – Saturday’s headlining set – was still billed as “Unannounced,” theories began to float around like a warm Fort Adams breeze. Depending on how you look at it, and how far you’re willing to let your imagination wander, we could be in for a huge, history-making performance. From the late afternoon appearance of James Taylor in 2015, to Kris Kristofferson’s spontaneous set with the Texas Gentlemen in 2016, Newport Folk knows how to deliver instantly memorable experiences year after year. Here are a few guesses as to who we might be able to expect on Saturday evening July 28th as the festival rolls into another historic edition…


It’s true – this rumor never dies. Young has been on tour this summer, with his most recent shows being in nearby Boston. Typically the dates might be too close, but for Neil Young, perhaps there would be an exception. He’s got nothing slated for this weekend, which makes Newport a definite possibility. But the real hint here is that, over the last few years, Young’s backing band has been made up of members of Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real, who play earlier in the day on Saturday. Seems awfully convenient.


Simon’s schedule also seems to be wide open for a possible unannounced performance, and is currently on his “final” tour. On a Reddit thread a few years ago, Newport Folk producer Jay Sweet participated in an AMA and when asked who is “white whale” artist would be, he responded: “Also, Paul Simon… I mean come on.. how great would it be to have Paul play solo on the fort stage?” So we know the NFF team would be fully supportive of a set from Simon, and Sweet has a personal interest. Given that Simon has yet to make an appearance at the historic fest, could 2018 be the year?


Currently,in the midst of his continuously sold-out Broadway run, Springsteen appears to have a night off on Saturday, July 28th. Given that he’ll be a stone’s throw from the Fort, might we be treated to a set from The Boss? Though he’s never really been billed as a folk artist, Springsteen’s Broadway show is all about intimate storytelling, which would translate easily to the Fort Stage.

This may all just be wishful thinking, but only time will tell. Rumored guests have also included David Byrne and Leon Bridges. The latter may be more likely, though, as he’s promoting an album this year, and has collaborated with other Folk Fest artists Gary Clark Jr. and Jon Bastiste (on a Neil Young’s “Ohio,” no less). Bridges could join Promise of the Real and other artists for an epic Neil Young set. Byrne has all the right connections, too (an upcoming Austin City Limits set with Folk Fest artist St. Vincent and his RISD roots, to name a few), but he appears to be playing a show in Maryland on Saturday, so it’s unlikely.

There are plenty of acts to look forward to this year, including Low Cut Connie, JD McPherson, and Courtney Marie Andrews, all making their Folk Fest debuts. Plus a stellar lineup of twangier acts like Margo Price, Paul Cauthen, and Sturgill Simpson. No matter who shows up unannounced, it’s bound to be a weekend of unforgettable music.

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