Newport Folk Festival Continues To Amaze Me
How does the Newport Folk Festival get better each year?
I describe my 2018 NFF experience as primarily being two-fold: an introduction to a lot of artists who were new to me, and the joy of being part of some artists’ emotional debuts at the Festival. That does not minimize the impact that returning artists had on me.
As I usually do for my review of this incredible festival, I will write about the acts that had the deepest impact on me but include photos from all the acts I saw.
The first that I want to write about is Glorietta, a one-and-done (although hopefully they will change their minds in the future) supergroup of friends who got together to write an album.
Matthew Logan Vasquez, Noah Gundersen, David Ramirez, Kelsey Wilson, David Robert Blum, and Adrian Quesada comprise Glorietta and they were mind-blowing! All have successful careers of their own, and came together to create something that may arguably be better than the sum of their parts.
They had me in tears with their song “Lincoln Creek”, with its chorus of “…somewhere out there someone is singing for free/thank God it ain’t me…” Even though he had obviously heard the song many times, Vasquez was also in tears listening to Gundersen sing it.
If they ever decide to tour again, go see them. I saw a show on the tour they did after NFF and it was even more intense and emotional than the Festival set, and I generally find festival sets are where artists perform at the top of their game.
My friends Darlingside made their NFF début in 2018, and it was long overdue.
They opened the Festival on Friday morning to a large crowd that mostly had not previously seen this marvelous band. This was one of those emotional sets where the band members who seemed overcome with amazement that the crowd adored them.
I do not generally expect such haunting harmonies from a quartet of men (I do not mean that to be sexist – it’s that many groups composed of only men tend to have only a couple of strong singers and thus do not perform four-part harmonies). Their voices stick with me long after their performance ends.
I had no idea what to expect from Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper. I have seen Musselwhite several times over the years, but I did not really know Harper well despite his being a performing artist for many years.
These are two great artists on their own, and together their styles are quite complementary. I do not know if either had performed at NFF in the past, but they played as if it was.
One of my favorite musicians is Langhorne Slim and the Lost at Last Band, and nothing was going to cause me to miss his set.
His generosity of spirit and his finely honed songwriting craft shine through at every show and this was no exception. What made this show extra special to me was his mother who sang with him! I can see where he got at least some of his talent.
Toward the end of his set, he asked that the audience crowd into the photo pit so he could be closer to us. Since I was in the front row, I could easily oblige. He is one of those artists who needs to connect with his audience; I believe he has come out into the crowd at every show I’ve seen.
Daniel Norgren was another artist I had not yet seen perform, although I knew a bit of his music.
The Swedish musician’s style is folk/blues with a bit of rock thrown in for good measure. I have a feeling most of the audience did not know him, but I believe he left the stage with many new fans.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is one of my favorite bands; I traveled to Nashville in December 2017 to see them perform in a 724-seat theatre (from the fourth row center) so I was thrilled to see them as the closing set on Friday (NFF does not label artists as headliners, but the closing set each day is considered by the audience to be the headliner of the day).
A true Americana band, they took the stage to thunderous applause. Jason seemed almost shy about the adoration (there was almost no banter), but did not let it negatively impact his performance. He is one of the most solid artists making music today and is a consummate professional. He was there to play and play he did!
His band is tight, as one would expect from musicians who have performed together for a number of years. Derry deBorja on keys, Jimbo Hart on bass, Sadler Vaden on guitar, Chad Gamble on drums, and Jason’s wife Amanda Shires (whose own band performed a set earlier in the day that was spectacular) on fiddle comprise the 400 Unit and they were on fire. They have been at NFF at least a couple of times since I started attending the Festival but this was the first time I saw them there – I will not miss them next time they return!
One of the reasons I do not like to miss the closing sets is the special guests who are brought out to perform special songs, and the Jason Isbell set was no exception. David Crosby took the stage to sing “Ohio” with Jason and it was magical.
Saturday’s closing set was “Unannounced” on the schedule up to that day (and I am honestly unsure of when the buzz got around of the band’s name). There was much speculation, the most prevalent of which was Neil Young because his backing band (Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real) had their own set earlier in the day. As it turned out, Mumford and Sons made their début at the Festival that evening!
I know some people who were disappointed by this choice, but I was not. I am a long-time fan of this band and was actually surprised this was their début at NFF!
Performing many of their biggest songs, the crowd became rapt quickly and seemed to forget they’d been expecting Young!
A special moment for me was seeing Jerry Douglas, the dobro player who has become the definition of dobro, take the stage with Mumford and Sons and add a very special sound to the band.
Naturally, the band was joined by many guests during their set, including Brandi Carlile and Mavis Staples!
The closing set of the Festival was called “A Change is Gonna Come”, curated by Jon Batiste. These collaborative closing sets have become some of my favorite moments of the Festival each year.
Of course I had seen Batiste on The Colbert Report but never live. What a terrific bandleader he is! He performed a couple of songs on his own (well, with a backing band) and then began bringing out his special guests, which consisted of performed who had their own sets but were still at the Festival as well as artists who performed only during this set.
It does not get any better than this: many glorious instruments (including the voice as an instrument) singing protest songs and songs of hope. We need more of this these days.
Other artists I saw and enjoyed include Nicole Atkins, Amanda Shires, Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, Caamp, and Twain, but all artists were talented and deserved being at the Festival. I was sorry to miss some acts but since I have not yet figured out how to clone myself, I got over that quickly!
The answer to my opening question is maybe it doesn’t… It’s that it becomes more a part of who I am, and is something that I do not ever want to live without.
Thanks to Newport Folk Festival for the ticket; all opinions are my own.
Posted on April 14, 2019, in concert photos, concert reviews, festival photos, festival review, music, Uncategorized and tagged A Change is Gonna Come, CAAMP, Colter Wall, Darlingside, festival photos, festival review, Glorietta, Jason Isbell, Langhorne Slim and the Lost at Last Band, Mumford and Sons, music, Newport, Newport Folk Festival, Nicole Atkins, Tyler Childers. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.