All photos by Richard Kluver/grass clippings blog
Expectations for the 50th Anniversary of Bob Dylan’s historic electric set at the Newport Folk Festival were high, but they were indeed met as festival organizers tastefully gathered an all-star cast of past and present Newport performers to revisit Dylan’s 1965 set list and beyond.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who were unannounced and had not performed in Newport since 2011, kicked off the highly anticipated tribute acting as emcees and leading nearly the entire session. First opening as a duo with “Mr. Tambourine Man” – a song Dylan played acoustically in both ’64 and ’65, Welch then called on Willie Watson to join in for “All I Want to Do” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.” These three songs made up Dylan’s Newport ’65 acoustic set the day before he went electric.
Then, bringing out Dawes and Al Kooper, “Maggie’s Farm” – Dylan’s first electric song in Newport – rang out with Taylor Goldsmith playing Dylan’s guitar. Al Kooper played Hammond organ, just as he did with Dylan in ’65. As the evening continued, the setlist waivered from Newport ’65 to cover a number of Dylan favorites, including “Visions of Johanna,” “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” “Just Like a Woman,” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” with Blake Mills, Robyn Hitchcock members of The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Deer Tick, Hozier and Klara from First Aid Kit each emerging from the side stage.
All artists were welcomed out on stage for the final song, “Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35” with the backing of the PHJB, when Fort Adams became one big hot box.
The tribute was thrilling (and chilling) to watch. And it was consistent with the Festival in the Jay Sweet era: a genre-spanning lineup of authentic folk artists that’s curated to represent the “now” while still paying homage to the festival’s roots. Dylan helped shape those parameters – and much more – with his appearance in ’65.
But Sunday was not only about recognizing Dylan’s influence.
The first set of the day included a Newport first: our friend and Brooklyn-based folk signer closed his strong Newport debut by proposing to his girlfriend, Julia, who had joined him on stage for his final song. It was a phenomenal set with an incredible closing. Fans cheered and cried as the happy couple walked off stage together (more on this later).
The day was loaded with soul as the likes of New Orleans-style jazzman Jon Batiste, The Jones Family Singers and the Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir spanning Newport stages throughout the day. Lord Huron and Shakey Graves rounded out the indie lineup with well attended sets.
It was also a day of pop, with the debut of The Ballroom Thieves who performed a lively set of songs that blend folk, delta blues and pop, while chart toppers Hozier and First Aid Kit each returned to Newport for a second time. Hozier’s performance was massive considering how popular the artist has become in the last few years – even drawing a few young folkers that were not really sure what this festival was about. As we emerged from backstage, one Irish teenage girl physically grabbed us and asked, “Where is Hozier? Do you think he’d like to smoke a few cigs with girls from his hometown? Please help me find him!”
One bummer of the day was that Johanna of First Aid Kit had lost her voice, which made the band’s set kind of like listening on a pair of headphones with only one earbud. Even still, Klara held her own – and Johanna still played, headbanged, etc.
In my sixth straight year at Newport, this was easily the best yet as there were so many unique moments in one weekend – and they probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else.