DAY ONE: Collaborations & Throwbacks Abound in Newport

Watkins Family Hour

All photos by Richard Kluver/grass clippings blog

The biggest story of Day One at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival closed it, with My Morning Jacket not only serving as Roger Waters’ surprise backing band, but also performing its own unannouced set. Waters and MMJ welcomed Lucius, Sara Watkins and Amy Helm on stage for a set that ended with a cover of Helm singing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” – setting the stage for a weekend that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Bob Dylan’s historic electric set on Sunday.

While the heavy hitters always get the big stories, this blog will again focus on the more intimate performances that happen off of the Fort Stage. Durham-native Hiss Golden Messenger’s set brought sounds of the South to the Harbor stage with a set that featured multiple jammy solos by the band. Calexico’s set started with the band’s harder material, but later moved into the stuff we love – even welcoming Iron & Wine on stage for a number off of the band’s monster 2005 album In the Reigns.

My favorite set of the day – the only one I watched in its entirety – was the The Watkins Family Hour on the Quad Stage. Assembled by Nickel Creek siblings Sean and Sara Watkins and based on a residency that the duo has held for more than a decade at Largo in LA, the project also features Fiona Apple, famed keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers + everyone), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing) and Don Heffington On drums (Emmylou Harris + everyone). Playing the Festival on the day that their new album is released, the performance, like the album, consisted mostly of covers with this solid crew of musicians making every moment memorable. The set, which was not the least bit interrupted when the skies opened up for a brief downpour, included songs like Robert Earl Keen’s “Feelin’ Good Again and Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown Palace,” where Joe Pug joined the band on stage – each off the new album. Fiona Apple has some pipes!

Other magic moments included The Lone Bellow’s performances with Lucius and Sara Watkins – easily the busiest collaborators this year so far – and when the Tallest Man on Earth began playing “Darkness of the Dream” with gusto, the sun emerged from the clouds and reminded everyone that this is a place that’s more than just the music.