DAY ONE: 2012 Newport Folk Festival

Spirit Family Reunion – Photo by Richard Kluver / grass clippings

With the best summer festival lineup in the nation, we weren’t really expecting disappointment, but there’s always a chance. Following a Friday evening performance with Wilco headlining, the first FULL day of this year’s Newport Folk Festival exceeded expectations with too many magic moments to capture, but after a few Newport Storms (beer and weather), here’s what stood out…

As we predicted, 12:30 PM marked the start of a new era in the lives of our friends in Brooklyn secular gospel band Spirit Family Reunion. Our favorite is now everyone else’s favorite. Despite an early timeslot and frazzled late arrival to Fort Adams, the band turned a massive crowd (consisting of college hippies, Brooklyn hipsters, public radio music snobs and everything in between) into rabid fans. The crowd begged for multiple encores with standing ovations and passionate cheers within a set that comprised almost completely of original songs (besides a spicy rendition of “End of the Line,” a song from Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River Collection) and no special guests.

Shortly thereafter, LA’s honeyhoney took the same Harbor stage, THE stage of the day, and wooed festivarians with a cover of the Hank Williams song “Lost Highway.” Continuing the trend of the young embracing the old (in standard Newport fashion), trendy Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit played a spine-chilling cover of “Diamond & Rust,” a song penned by Joan Baez, who rose to fame as an unbilled performer at Newport in 1959. Later the sisters, making their Newport debut at the ages of 21 and 19,  closed their set with “King of the World,” which included a special appearance by Conor Oberst.

The Harbor Stage continued to be a popular choice as Portland, OR-based folk pop group Blind Pilot rocked fans with its mix of entrancing crescendos and gentle ballads. The stage closed with a subdued, yet stirring, solo performance by Canadian folk genius, City and Colour.

The festival’s Fort stage became a New(port) Orleans big tent revival with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s soulful closing songs, “A Closer Walk With Thee” and “I’ll Fly Away.” Joined by Del McCoury and Ben Sollee, the performance was a powerful picture of the way this music festival joins people. What else could join an environmentally-conscious cellist, a bluegrass legend and multiple Ninth Ward NOLA jazz stars other than a gospel song? Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Patty Griffin belted song after song, each delivering a stunning sets and overcoming the crowd from a stage that’s much bigger than the others, making it harder to keep fans engaged.

Over on the festival’s new intimate space, the Museum stage, New England’s GraveRobbers made their impressive debut. Amy Helm made her late father proud with a set of soulful sounds. And Ben Sollee drew a crowd of his own, with a very special performance of “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain,” featuring Sara Watkins.

The festival continues Sunday with performances from folk legends like Jackson Browne and attractive international fresh meat like Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men and Sweden’s The Tallest Man on Earth. See our guide for our Sunday picks.

Stay tuned for many more photos by our own Richard Kluver.

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