Preview: Newport Folk Festival 2012

This weekend the granddaddy of all music fests – the Newport Folk Festival – will get under way with three days of roots, folk, funk, soul and rock or what can basically be defined as quintessential American music. For the 2012 installment the fest has grown in size with the addition of a fourth stage, and will “unofficially” open on Friday night at the historic Fort Adams State Park with a fantastic triple-bill that features Wilco, Blitzen Trapper and Megafaun. The fest, which will once again be streamed live on NPR featuring both audio and video, sold out in advance for the second year in a row. Following Friday’s triple-bill, the event officially kicks off on Saturday morning at 11:15 AM with the Graverobbers, and will wrap up around dusk on Sunday night, with a fest-closing set from the legendary Jackson Browne.

Founded in 1959 by George Wein as an offshoot of his already successful and well-established Jazz Festival, and possibly most famous as the place where Bob Dylan shunned the folk world when he went electric in 1965, the festival fell on hard times and was forced into taking a 14-year hiatus starting in 1971 before it was revived in 1985 – and has been thriving ever since with its diverse lineups.

Over the years the iconic fest has hosted a veritable who’s who of musicians from Joan Baez to Johnny Cash to Muddy Waters in its classic years, and more recently has seen the likes of Fleet Foxes, Neko Case, The Decemberists and even Trey Anastasio log time at the tents and stages.

This year’s lineup is no slouch either. A quick glance reads like my iPod on shuffle as it features HT faves like Iron & Wine, Dawes, Alabama Shakes, The Head and The Heart and Blind Pilot. With so many bands that I’m genuinely excited about seeing over the course of the weekend, I thought I’d focus on six, three from each day, that I’ve got my eye on…


Deer TickQuad Stage – 1:40 PM – 2:35 PM

Deer Tick have become somewhat of the “host bad” of Newport Folk. Appearing at the fest for the third times in five years, the band will  once again curate three nights of charity after-shows at the tiny Newport Blues Cafe. Featuring many of the performers from the festival, the shows have become arguably as hot of a ticket as the fest itself. The local boys, who hail from just up the road in Providence, may still be shaking off their hangovers when they hit the Quad Stage early on Saturday afternoon, but you can fully expect a rowdy, freewheeling set of boozy bar rock from John McCauley & Co. that will feature not only songs from their catalog, but will likely see them dip into their grab bag of covers from The Replacements to Richie Valens to John Mellencamp to Nirvana.

First Aid KitHarbor Stage – 3 PM – 4 PM

In just a few short years the ladies of First Aid Kit have gone from viral video sensations for their gorgeous cover of the Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, to releasing one of the more critically acclaimed albums of the year so far, with their sophomore studio effort The Lion’s Roar. Hailing from the Stockholm suburb of Enskede, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, who are barely in their early twenties, play an enchanting blend of country-inflected psych-folk that showcases some serious wise-beyond-their-years songwriting and stunning harmonies. Going up against Dawes and Sharon Van Etten (who is also on my short list of acts to see), this may be one of the sleeper sets of the fest that people will be raving about and could likely feature a high profile sit-in from Conor Oberst who appears on their album.

My Morning JacketFort Stage – 6:05 PM – 7:30 PM

While electric guitars and rock music are no longer shunned at Newport, we’re not quite sure that the fest has ever hosted a band quite like My Morning Jacket – whose sound has more in common with Neil Young & Crazy Horse then with The Weavers. What we do know is that Jim James seems to have a deep connection with the festival, logging time at Fort Adams for not only a couple of solo acoustic sets over the last few years, but also embracing its spirit by seemingly sitting in with anyone that asked back in 2010. The Jacket’s current summer tour has featured fan-curated setlists. While their headlining stop at Newport isn’t part of that series, that doesn’t mean that they won’t have a few tricks up their sleeves for Saturday night, including a healthy dose of headbanging, which will be a first for the historic fest.


The Deep Dark WoodsHarbor Stage – 11:30 AM – 12:15 PM

With an 11:30 AM set time on Sunday, the Deep Dark Woods may have drawn the short straw from the scheduling gods. For those early risers though, there may not be a better way to get the day going than by drinking your morning coffee to the sounds of this Canadian country-folk outfit. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based act may be best described as the Americana version of The National, with lead singer Ryan Boldt’s deep gruff baritone vocals serving as the perfect compliment to the the band’s Workingman’s Dead-era Grateful Dead meets Son Volt sound. With four albums under their belt, including last year’s highly recommended Place I Left Behind, their Newport set should finally help them win over some new fans here in the U.S.

RodriguezMuseum Stage – 1:35 PM – 2:30 PM

If you’re a regular reader of HT, you know that we’ve been enthusiastically touting the music of Rodriguez since Light In The Attic re-released Cold Fact, his “lost” debut back in 2008. Now, thanks to a healthy dose of buzz surrounding Searching For The Sugar Man, the new documentary about the mysterious life of singer-songwriter, and his unknown success in South Africa, he’s finally getting the long in the waiting due that he deserves. Even at 70-years-old, Rodriguez still radiates the cool cat urban hippie vibe, doling out sage advice from the stage and sounding just as good as he did on his records from 40 years ago.

Conor OberstFort Stage – 4:45 PM – 5:45 PM

Conor Oberst is one of the small handful of acts this year that will get on stage armed just with an acoustic guitar and his songbook, harkening back to the fest’s roots. The wordy singer-songwriter, who is in the midst of a rare solo tour, will make his return to Newport for the first time since 2005, when he appeared with his full-time band Bright Eyes. Expect Oberst to mix material from his vast catalog that includes not only his Bright Eyes output, but also his work with the Mystic Valley Band and the politically charged Desparcidos. Also, let’s not forget that he was a member of the Monsters Of Folk, which could inspire a sit-in from his band-mate from that project Jim James, who will be sticking around on Sunday to perform with another folk super-group New Multitudes.

 Are you headed to this year’s Newport Folk Festival? Which acts are you excited to check out? Leave your thoughts in the comments section…

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2 Responses

  1. I’l be there! My 5th. If you get in early enough Saturday, Spirit Family Reunion will be a good way to kick off the Festival in good form. The time slot is booked, but Charles Bradley is amazing and should be a good change of pace… and Gary Clark Jr will be the one everyone’s talking about. That good. And yes, I’m expecting A LOT of Jim James again. What’s the over/under on James appearances?

    See you at the Fort!

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