Newport Folk Festival Hits A Grand Slam!
Then again, it always does for me and the 10,000 others who buy tickets before the first artist is announced for the Newport Folk Festival (NFF)! The 2018 NFF is already sold out, but you can join the fan-to-fan ticket exchange where tickets are resold at face value – get yourself on the list!
We trust in Jay Sweet and everyone who selects the artists who perform at NFF. Every year I discover at least one new artist with whom I fall in love, and this year was no exception! In case you don’t read all the way to the end, there is one important point I want to make. Yes, NFF is about the music but it is also about the Folk Family. I have made so many friends at NFF over the six years I have attended, and we all share a love of the music and the community. From the photographers with whom I share the photo pit and the media tent to the folk fans and the great friends I have made, you are what keep me going back! It is a beautiful thing!
As I have done in the past, I am writing about some of the sets but including photos of every set I experienced. Do not infer that I did not like an artist if I did not feature them in this review – I liked everyone but do not want to make this exceedingly long!
The first artist to appear on the Fort Stage this year was Aaron Lee Tasjan; in addition to being a fine musician he and his band members are also good friends. I know I am biased, but everyone I told to see ALT’s set was amazed by him.
The energy that emanated from the stage was tremendous! It was not the first time they played at NFF, but it was the first time on the Fort Stage (which, for those who do not know, is considered the main stage) and they made sure the audience felt their excitement!
ALT describes the style of his music as “indie folk grit”, but there is a lot of country and rock mixed in with it. Last year, Rolling Stone Country named his then new release Silver Tears one of the 25 best country albums of the year, and they hit a bulls-eye with that! On the day the album was released, in honor of the song ‘Twelve Bar Blues’, he played one song per hour at twelve different bars in Nashville!
The members of his fabulous band are Brian Wright on guitar, Tommy Scifres on bass, and Seth Earnest on drums. Check out Brian’s solo music too.
Two artists with whom I am familiar but who I had only seen with other bands are Chance McCoy and JP Harris (Old Crow Medicine Show and JP Harris and the Tough Choices, respectively). I knew I loved their music separately, but together they truly shine.
JP’s solo work is honky-tonk while Chance’s is more-or-less bluegrass, but this project of cover songs seemed more country than any other single style.
They told us they had a recording that was on sale only at their shows; one of my friends ran to the merchandise tent immediately to get some but they were sold out! Hopefully in 2018 it will be available for purchase everywhere.
I knew who Nancy and Beth are (Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt) because I saw them perform a couple of songs as special guests at the Lampedusa show I saw, but even with that I was not prepared for the hilarity of their set!
Appearing with Nick Offerman and special guest Shakey Graves (as well as a full band which included Petra Hayden), they had the audience roaring a couple of bars into their first song!
Slightly raunchy but always funny, we were screaming for more by the end of their set which included a number of songs which I knew. I have not yet purchased their album, but I have a feeling their live shows are even better than the recording (then again, there are few artists who are not better live).
I had not heard of Jalen N’Gonda prior to the announcement that he was joining the lineup. What a pleasant surprise he was!
It takes a lot of guts to get on a stage at NFF and perform a solo set with no special guests, but Jalen did it and the audience loved him. Playing original songs that are soul/rhythm and blues, he won over the crowd with his folksy, humble style.
There was an unannounced set on Sunday’s schedule which turned out to be Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats! This was not my first time seeing them although it was my first at NFF.
This was supposed to be a well-kept secret but it seemed that most in the audience knew exactly who would be on stage for this set. That did not diminish the excitement of the crowd when the band took the stage.
Their style is indie folk, but when they perform they truly rock out! At each of the shows I have seen, Nathaniel smashes a tambourine on the stage; I was lucky enough to have one fall at my feet at one of the previous shows I saw!
They had a number of special guests with them, including Daniel Creamer from The Texas Gentlemen, and much of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band! When they finished the set, Nathaniel led the band through and out of the audience with a New Orleans style second line! It was a triumphant set!
The Wild Reeds are a trio who have unbelievably beautiful harmonies!
They have been making music since 2009 yet this was the first I heard of them. They were a revelation to me!
Another revelation was L.A. Salami, who hails from the United Kingdom.
He is a fabulous storyteller through his songs and had the large crowd at the Harbor Stage enthralled.
Choir!Choir!Choir! was a fun way to being Sunday even though I sobbed all the way through ‘Hallelujah’. I had put down one of my cats three days before NFF began, and on the way home from the vet ‘Hallelujah’ came on the radio… I did not leave, however, because one thing music is good for is providing catharsis and it helped!
They passed out the lyrics for two songs we would perform, taught us the harmonies and had us singing at the top of our lungs! They brought audience members on stage; the above picture shows a couple who was celebrating their wedding anniversary that day. I could have seen the Berklee Gospel Choir who I have seen several times at NFF but decided this year I would do something different. I am glad I did.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry delivered a politically charged set of railroad songs! They traveled around the United States by train, recording songs in various railroad stations. It was a great concept from two great songwriters.
During the set, each one did a couple of songs solo. Billy performed an updated version of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ which he titled ‘The Times They Are A-Changin Back’. They were very few dry eyes in the audience after that song.
What review of this year’s NFF could omit John Prine… If the United States designated national living treasures as is done in Japan, John Prine would certainly be one.
I have not seen him a lot, but I thought he sounded and looked better than the last couple of times I saw him. It could have been that Newport magic…
Backed by his regular band, he regaled the crowd at the Fort Stage with stories and song for a memorable closing set of the 2017 NFF.
I cover NFF a bit differently than the other photographers; rather than trying to capture the first two or three songs of every set at the Festival, I stay for full sets so I can fully absorb the artists who I choose to hear. The other sets I saw and thoroughly enjoyed were Matt the Electrician, Carl Broemel, Brent Cobb, Mt. Joy, Robert Ellis, Joseph, Wilco, C.W. Stoneking, Pinegrove, I Got a Song with Rick Massimo, and John Paul White. Photos of all appear in the gallery below. I know I missed great sets as I always do, but I am always so happy at the end of the Festival and grateful for everything I heard and saw. Thanks to everyone who helps make NFF such a must-attend festival.
Many thanks and grateful appreciation to Newport Folk Festival for the ticket; all opinions are my own.
Posted on December 23, 2017, in festival photos, festival review, music, Uncategorized and tagged aaron lee tasjan, Billy Bragg, Brian Wright, Chance McCoy, festival photos, festival review, Jalen N'Gonda, Joe Henry, john prine, JP Harris, L.A. Salami, Nancy and Beth, nathaniel rateliff and the night sweats, Newport Folk Festival, The Wild Reeds. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.