The anxiety that comes with navigating the Newport Folk Festival’s overlapping sets is something that gets worse for me every year. It’s not because the lineup is better each year (though it typically is), it’s just that I’m more aware of the fact that there’s no telling when the magic collaboration or special moment is going to occur in someone’s set. And there’s no way I’ll ever catch them all live.
This year, as the Festival coincided with the heat dome cooking the Northeast, it was even worse and I totally blew it, missing one golden moment after another by mere seconds as I ran to catch the next act or to get out of the sun for a minute.
But even still, I saw and I heard all kinds of things that already have me dreaming of next year. Joan Shelley’s set with Nathan Salsburg was the only one I watched in its entirety (hear it on NPR Music) and while so many in Newport tend to flock to the annual Dawes-backed acts that I can certainly appreciate, it’s the stripped down acts like this one that stand out to me the most. And that’s also why Ryan Adams’ bluegrass set (hear it on NPR Music), which was backed by the Infamous String Dusters and Nikki Bluhm, stood out as the most unforgettable of the weekend. With all but Bluhm seated in a song circle and just as the weather was starting to cool down, the supergroup began to strum a version of “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” that I’m still humming more than a week later, which was followed by a version of “New York, New York” that should fully replace the original version.
Margo Price delivered another favorite set of the weekend, stunning the crowd with incredible self-dubbed “shit kicker” songs. She also teamed up with The Texas Gentleman and Kris Kristofferson, who made an unannounced appearance this year, with a fantastic cover of “Me and My Bobby McGee”. Price’s album Midwest Famer’s Daughter is one of my favorite releases of the year so far, but her live performance on the Quad at Fort Adams was next level – especially with the fine backing of the Berklee Instant Strings.
Del & Dawg was the ultimate throwback set with a somewhat unexpected energy from the audience by two dudes that have played together for more than 50 years. Alabama Shakes were the best I’ve ever seen them, keeping a massive crowd at the Fort to close it out with an incredible set, including a cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”
Bootleg YouTube vids are always awful and many of these are no different, but here are some other great moments. Listen to full sets and perfect clarity on NPR Music.
Hayes Carll should have been covered on this blog years ago. We’re the worst.
Heat dome can’t stop St Paul from marching in…
These guys are tons of fun to watch, but that fiddler shaved his epic stache.
Edward Sharpe’s return to Newport seven years after his 2010 debut (also my Newport debut BTW) looked very similar, with the crowd spilling way out of the tent. During Man on Fire, Zeros frontman Alex Ebert went out in the crowd and danced with folks – including one guy that I saw throughout the weekend and who constantly appeared to be on something every time. This made his life (see him in the distance below with the biggest smile ever at 2:44).
Lady, you’re scaring us.
Feel free to share your favorite moments in the comments.