Newport Folk Festival Day 1: Margo Price, JD McPherson, Sturgil Simpson, Jason Isbell Own The Fort Stage (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

On the first day of Newport Folk Festival on July 27th, there was no doubt the place to be was the main stage – the Fort Stage. All day long, from the earliest set from Oakland-based Fantastic Negrito to the closing set from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Fort Stage hosted some of the day’s best acts. Special guests popped up throughout, and the crowd never once dissipated. Here are the highlights from the Fort Stage:

Fantastic Negrito

Working through a totally improvised setlist, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz or Fantastic Negrito, oozed his way through a slinky set of songs about the American dream and feminism. Dressed to the nines and bursting with color, his performance was like a heavy dose of caffeine for the early Folk Fest-ers.

JD McPherson

McPherson brought the heat to the stage in the afternoon when the sun was at its peak. But festival-goers braved the wide open viewing area to groove and shake to songs like “Hunting for Sugar” and “Head Over Heels”. As was the theme of the day, McPherson left it all on the stage, turning out a set to keep things livened up and keep the energy buzzing. McPherson and co were joined on stage by an excited Shakey Graves for a performance of The Sonics’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor”.

Margo Price

In what easily could have been a headlining performance, Price and her band wowed the Fort Stage audience. Looking stunning and sounding her absolute best, Price fearlessly moved between guitar, piano and drums, giving the crowd all she had. Songs like the title track off her most recent album All American Made (Newport is “one of the few places” she can play it, she said), “Cocaine Cowboys”, and a duet of “In Spite of Ourselves” with John Prine (a repeat performance from last year). As an epic finale, Price sang a song about “kings” of the past Elvis, MLK and Lennon called “The King is Dead”, and then was joined by Brandi Carlisle for a cover of “9-5”. To top things off, Price called out a lack of women headliners at music festivals – a fitting suggestion for 2018.

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill’s set was one of the most highly anticipated of the day, and boy did he leave the festival with a performance they’d never forget. Deciding to forgo a traditional setlist (as he often does), he and his band brought their setup to the very front of the stage and played a fluid, high intensity jam of face melting guitar. His opening number was a 10-minute version of “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”. At once point, he began playing a more mellow song and a minute in unplugged his guitar and decided he’d rather just play some animalistic rock and roll. He sang fan favorites like “Keep it Between the Lines” and “Call to Arms”, but each of these songs was an extended, instrumental mindf***. It was the kind of set that left you shifted slightly – aggressive and fearless. And it seemed impossible to follow.

Jason Isbell

Isbell and his band, including wife Amanda Shires, shut things down properly on Friday evening. Singing clear and loud, and with his whole heart, Isbell covered material from nearly all his records, including a chunk of tunes from 2013’s Southeastern. Devoting his performances of “Cover Me Up” and “Vampires” to Shires, the two engaged in a romantic harmony of acoustic guitar and fiddle that left the crowd swooning. Isbell also brought the house down with explosive versions of “Anxiety” and “White Man’s World”. The latter felt like a good fit for the Newport Folk Festival spirit of protest songs. In a truly memorable finale, Isbell was joined on stage by David Crosby, with his knit cap and snowy white beard. Joining together for covers of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Wooden Ships”, their two voices together rang out over a hypnotized crowd. Could a miraculous Crosby/Young reunion be in the works?

Elsewhere at the festival, Amanda Shires delivered a rocking set, belting out songs from her forthcoming record To the Sunset like “Leave it Alone”, as well as tried and true favorites like “Carrying Lightning” and “Bulletproof”. The supergroup Glorietta, formed in 2016 in a hot tub in New Mexico, brought artists Matthew Logan Vasquez, David Ramirez, Noah Gunderson, Kelsey Wilson, Adrian Quesada and Jason Robert Blum together for a set of songs off their lone album like “Heatwave”, and individual songs by each artists. They kick off a tour this summer, too. St. Vincent performed a surprising, guitar-less set, with just a pianist and a microphone for her to belt out songs. And artists like Courtney Marie Andrews, Paul Cauthen and Erika Wennerstrom played acoustic sets in the museum to eager, smaller crowds. Saturday brings even more feet to the Folk Fest grounds, and plenty of must-see acts to return for, including the famous unannounced headliner.

Photos by Andrew Benedict



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