Superlatives: Newport Folk Festival Class of 2014

The Lonesome Trio at Newport Folk Fest 2014.
The Lonesome Trio at Newport Folk Fest 2014.

If you ever wanted to know what gets talked about in a post-Newport Folk Fest car ride back to Brooklyn, this is the post for you. This year’s acts had us excited even after the music had ended. To that end, we thought we should crown some of the most notable moments and acts with superlative designates in our own subjective, crafted categories.

Sweatiest Artist:
Reignwolf: I would have asked him if he was dehydrated after his set, but let’s just say I couldn’t hear much once the buzz of the speaker I was standing in front of wore off.


Best Impromptu On-Stage Jam:
Ryan Adams / “Let It Be”: Yes, you read that correctly. When the crowd cheered after Adams switched from an electric to an acoustic guitar near the beginning of his set, he joked, “You don’t even know what this is going to be! What if this was like the worst version ever of ‘Let It Be’ or something?” The band then proceeded to play what was undoubtedly the worst version ever of ‘Let It Be’ or something. The fact that it was the worst also makes it our pick for ‘the best’ impromptu jam.

Most Attentive Audience:
Wille Watson: This gcb-made category is a bit of a toss-up, because to be honest NFFers are a pretty attentive bunch. But from my vantage point, it was the massive crowd in attendance at Watson’s early-morning set that really took the cake. His listeners covered a huge swath of Folk Fest land spanning way beyond the Harbor stage tent’s borders, and it seemed as if you could have heard a pin being dropped on the grass.

Most Political Set:
Pokey LaFarge: He may look like he’s an act right out of the 1930s, but he doesn’t act like it. Wait, no, just kidding. He does. LaFarge channeled the likes of late greats Guthrie and Seeger in his set, leading into one particular tune by saying, “Let’s do a song about health care, because we all know it shouldn’t be $116 a month, it should be absolutely free.” For a moment, it felt like we were being transported back in time to a day in age where music truly was the vehicle for social change and accountability.

Best Summer Hair:
Rachel Price, Lake Street Dive: She may have been channeling a little bit of last year’s winner for this crossover category, The Lone Bellow’s Kanene Pipkin. Or maybe Brooklyn just has something special in the water (other than toxins from the Gowanus Canal).

Lake Street Dive - Photo by Vi Luong/grass clippings blog
Lake Street Dive – Photo by Vi Luong/grass clippings blog

Runner-up: Valerie June – Truth be told, she might could have taken the crown for this superlative if we weren’t fairly certain her hair looks the same all year round.

Coolest Collaboration:
Mavis Staples and Lucius: One of the most special parts about NFF is getting the opportunity to see old meet new. A legend in her own right, who celebrated her 75th birthday over the weekend, Staples truly was the queen of the fest, sitting in with a number of bands before the Sunday night finale set. One of the most interesting sit-ins, however, was her collab with Lucius – the Brooklyn duo whose aesthetic is as mod as their unique blend of harmonies.

Watch them sing ‘Go Home’ below (and yes, NPR’s Bob Boilen is video-bombing all over the place):

Most Buzzed About:
Shakey Graves / Hozier (TIE): We couldn’t find a way to determine the top-slot taker between these two amazing acts who seemed to be physically everywhere throughout the festival all weekend, as well as on the lips of the majority of festival goers and press junkies.