Newport Folk Festival Day 2: Dolly Parton Emerges With The Highwomen, Dawes Revisit ‘North Hills’ (FESTIVAL RECAP)

Collaboration comes with the territory at Newport Folk Festival. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of the fest’s 60-year history, it’s almost hard to be surprised anymore when two (or many more) completely different artists you love join together and share their songs. And though with each year these collaborations become less and less spontaneous (and more contrived), it is no less wonderful to bear witness. For the second day of this year’s festival, it seemed like nearly every set featured a dozen artists from various bands and genres, collaborating on their own songs and songs they’d learned just moments before performing them. There were so many of these moments, it was actually special to see a straightforward set from a single artist or band. “These Newport moments,” as Brandi Carlile called them, are sometimes best when kept a little simpler, a little pared down.

Kevin Morby

The best sets of this kind came from Ruston Kelly, who delivered what may have been the best cover song of the whole weekend with Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag,” in addition to the heartbreaking tracks off this year’s excellent Dying Star. Kevin Morby got the whole crowd out of their seats and worshipping at the altar of his godly songs off his latest release Oh My God. Lucy Dacus gave us emotional rock and roll in lieu of her often quiet, haunting live sets. And Devin Gilfillian rocked our socks off early in the day, keeping the energy high and the feet dancing.

Still, it was near impossible to miss some kind of collaboration. The first (and one of the most vast) of the day happened all because an artist dropped out of the festival last minute, causing a frenzied attempt to throw something together. What resulted was a hit or miss run-through of Graham Nash’s iconic 1971 album Songs for Beginners led by Kyle Craft and his band. Standouts included dreamy contributions from M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, and Anaïs Mitchell with Colin Melloy (of The Decemberists) and the Milk Carton Kids doing a memorable version of “Simple Man.” Nearly every cover (even the less polished ones) was made significantly better thanks to the gorgeous harmonies of the women from Mountain Man.

Mountain Man

In a celebration of the ten-year anniversary of their debut record North Hills, Dawes brought together a slew of collaborators to revisit it with them. Jason Isbell, Jonathan Wilson (who produced the album), M.C. Taylor, Yola, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and others brought songs like “ When My Time Comes” and “That Western Skyline” back to life.

But the surprise finale of the night made history. Brandi Carlile and the rest of The Highwomen joined together to host the first-ever all-female collaboration at Newport Folk Festival, paying tribute to the greats. Linda Perry, Judy Collins, Sheryl Crow, Jade Bird, Maggie Rogers, the First Women of Bluegrass, Lake Street Dive, Molly Tuttle, Lucy Dacus, Yola and others came together for a set of singalong classics that had the packed Fort Adams crowd passionately belting out as loud as they could. Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” and “Strong Enough,” Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” were favorites.

All left us primed and ready for one Miss Dolly Parton to take the stage and sing her heart out and share some stories. The classics were as great as we’d imagined they’d be. “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5,” and “Eagle When She Flies” reminded us why Dolly is a true queen and icon. Decked out in a glittering yellow and red suit, the sunset hit her just right and we all thanked our lucky stars for the chance to be in her presence, to catch a bit of the light she gave off.

Photos by Andrew Benedict

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