In case we needed a reminder that Newport Folk Festival is not about the headliners, Saturday evening was gave it to us. After two days of heavy speculation that Neil Young would be making an appearance at Fort Adams, many festival-goers were met with some disappointment when the surprise unannounced final act was Mumford and Sons. Despite the countless Neil Young tee shirts and fans walking around in excited anticipation, the unicorn performance was not meant to be. Maybe we were duped by all of the seemingly obvious breadcrumbs, or maybe we just let our imaginations get the best of us. Either way, the ocean wasn’t the only thing leaving people a little salty. Still, Saturday was a hell of a full day of incredible live music, whether you jumped for joy at Mumford, or made an early exit and skipped them.
A midday appearance by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and the 92-year old legend George Wein himself revealed that Newport Folk Festival would officially take place in Newport for another 40 years. It was a celebratory announcement, but also a confusing one. Was there ever a threat this iconic festival would move elsewhere? Regardless, cheers to another four decades (at least) of festivals at Fort Adams.
Despite all the hubbub around the headliners, there were too many amazing acts to worry about who would or wouldn’t show up. On Saturday, the Quad Stage was on fire for the majority of the day, and it was constantly packed with folks who just wanted to dance from morning until late afternoon. Here are the highlights:
Low Cut Connie
The Philly band came to rock and they broke just about every rule in the Folk Fest book to do it. Lead singer Adam Weiner led the charge in a sparkling gold jacket, swinging from lights, jumping off stage and over barricades, ripping off his clothing (and his own body hair), and dancing in the aisles. Songs like “Shake it Little Tina”, “Dirty Water” and “Rio” were just what the crowd needed to wake up at 11:00 a.m., and with his trusty piano Shondra in tow, and the unbelievable vocal talents of Saundra Williams, they tore the house down.
Hiss Golden Messenger
The North Carolina group led by M. C. Taylor never disappoint, and their set was one of the true standouts of the day. Like Adam Weiner, Taylor and his band came armed with true positivity and love for the crowd, and spread that joy all over the tent. And of course, with his popular bandmate Phil Cook by his side, Taylor noted that the only other time you’ll hear the name Phil shouted from the audience this much is at a Grateful Dead show. HGM fans love their dose of Phil Cook, whether he’s smiling through a smooth harmony or blowing the room away on harmonica.
Lewis returned to the Fort for the first time since 2014 and offered up a wide-ranging set of songs from 2014’s The Voyager, her days in Rilo Kiley, and her songs with the Watson Twins. Joined on stage in snazzy duds by the Watson Twins themselves, Lewis performed flawlessly and seemed to enjoy every second of it. Favorites like “Silver Lining”, “Head Underwater”, “Happy”, “Rise Up With Fists!!” and “See Fernando”, she covered a lot of ground. With the promise that she’s been working on a new record, Lewis also treated fans to a new song – a “psychedelic Faustian tale about South By Southwest”.
Elsewhere at the festival, Curtis Harding turned out soulful jams, Courtney Barnett blew socks off with her loud, guitar-heavy set, and Phoebe Bridgers made her fort debut playing songs off last year’s stunning Strangers in the Alps. Despite some sound issues, she and her band gave a solid performance of haunting songs like “Funeral”, “Killer”, “Smoke Signals” and “Motion Sickness”. It was one of the festival’s most compelling performances and definitely drew in plenty of new listeners to Bridgers’ music.
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real brought the heat to the Fort Stage, singing with that powerhouse voice and shredding on his guitar. Joined by Lucius on harmonies for “Forget About Georgia” and “Set Me Down On a Cloud”, Nelson wowed the crowd. His most memorable Folk Fest moment may have been the finale of his set, when he performed a beautiful tune about tuning out the news and planting a garden instead. It was the perfect message for a festival centered around love and togetherness.
Photos by Andrew Benedict