Six Days of Unfettered Joy
While I’m not sure I have fully processed the six days that was Newport Folk Presents Folk On, I do know that the joy that I and every one of the 6,000 or so attendees felt was palpable and immeasurable.
This was not the Newport Folk Festival as we know it, which is why the name was changed for this year. What was the same was the vibe – although the vibe may have been even more intensely joyous than in the past because of the pandemic.
The festival producers, staff, and volunteers did a mind-boggling job of keeping the festival as safe as they possibly could, working very long hours and keeping smiles on their faces at all times. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for each and every one of them whether or not I know them personally. I believe Jay Sweet (the executive producer) used the term ‘Herculean efforts’ to describe what occurred and indeed that is true.
The feeling of being back at Fort Adams for Folk On was immeasurably jubilant! There were hugs. There were huge smiles. There was dancing. There were tears. It was pure, unadulterated happiness. I saw friends I had not seen in two years, as well as friends who I saw before the pandemic hit hard but had not seen since. The good feelings pretty much defy description; you had to be there.
Folk On! was done in two three-day sessions. Some artists appeared on multiple days doing official sets, while others merely stayed for most if not all days. A number of the artists appeared with less than their full bands, which I enjoyed so much.
I am highlighting some of my favorite sets but will post at least one photo from every set I saw in a gallery at the end of this review. I am hesitant to pick a favorite set because there are sets I loved for different reasons. Even if I did not mention a specific artist by name in this review, it does not mean I did not love their set; if I spoke about each set, you might stop reading because this review would be too long!
The most intense set I saw was Allison Russell‘s Once & Future Sounds. Curating the set with mostly Black women artists, Allison wove a story of what has been and what can and must be. Many of the guest artsts are up-and-coming while others are more established. Most of the guest artists ‘covered’ a song of her own.
And then there was Chaka Khan! I never thought I would see her in person, and am so glad I finally did! She is as strong and fierce as she ever was. Other artists were Kyshona, Yasmin Williams, Celisse, Yola, Kam Franklin of The Suffers, Carolyn Randall Williams, Joy Oladokun, Amythyst Kiah, Sunny War, Adia Victoria, Daisha McBride, Margo Price, and Brandi Carlile.
A wow moment for me was after Brandi’s song, she moved to the back of the stage and ended up dancing toward the edge of the stage, right in front of me in the photo pit. Just after I took the following photo, I put down my camera and Brandi started dancing with me! It is one of my favorite Newport Folk moments!
I am a long-time fan of Jason Isbell and have never been disappointed by a performance, but the set he, Amanda Shires, and Sadler Vaden delivered as the closing set on Saturday night might have been the most stellar set I’ve seen them deliver. Then again, I’ve only seen them with a full band and I feel this set highlighted their immense talents in a different way than their full band sets do.
I am fairly certain Jason said this was their first performance in front of people since the pandemic began, and their energy and joy were felt by everyone there. They drew mostly from the Southeastern and Reunions releases, and played many of my favorite songs.
One artist I was particularly excited to see was Devon Gilfillian. I believe I saw him on a couple of live streams early in the pandemic, and wanted to see a full set of his. He gave us a set of Marvin Gaye songs because this year is the 50th anniversary of ‘What’s Going On’.
With special guests such as Celisse, Nathaniel Rateliff, Maggie Rose, Langhorne Slim, Courtney Marie Andrews, Erin Rae, Kyshona, Kam Franklin, Joy Oladokun, and his brother Ryan, Devon gave us a set that made me remember why I loved Marvin Gaye 50 years ago. This set was a true tribute to a genius, performed by geniuses.
Katie Pruitt is an artist who was a first-time performer at Newport. I was lucky enough to have seen her in 2017 in Nashville as was extremely impressed then. She has matured as an artist since then and I am happy to see her star rise.
She gained many new fans with her inspiring performance; she came out from backstage after her set to greet fans (something that is relatively unusual at Newport) and I saw a number of young girls clamoring to meet her.
Another band I have seen many times is Lake Street Dive. They got their start in the Boston area but ceased being a ‘local’ band a number of years ago. Rachael Price, the lead singer, is one of the most charismatic (and photogenic) performers I know, but the rest of the band is equal to her.
This was their first show with guitarist James Cornelison; he had big shoes to fill after the departure of McDuck from the band and he filled them admirably. They played a mix of old favorites and some from their most recent album, and honestly the crowd went wild for the band – much more than I’ve ever seen their crowds react!
I was so pleased to witness Sunny War’s Newport debut. I think she was truly overwhelmed to receive a standing ovation! Do yourselves a favor and read up on her – she had some very rough years living on the streets of los Angeles, and her songs reflect much of that time.
She has become more confident on stage which draws in her audiences yet her sincerity and humbleness remain a large part of her. I think she has a great future.
Ida Mae is a duo from the UK who moved to Nashville about three years ago. I was lucky enough to see them there in one of their first shows in the US (and quite possibly it was their first after moving here) and loved them from that first short set.
Chris and Stephanie comprise this husband-and-wife duo, with the obvious chemistry which comes out of that relationship. Chris is a guitar whiz and Stephanie’s voice complements Chris’ virtuosity. I cannot wait to see them headlining large shows! But go see them when they are still playing smaller stages so you can experience the intimacy of their show.
Other sets I loved were given us by Jake Blount, Allison Russell’s set performing her new solo album (which is absolutely incredible – buy it!), Watchhouse (formerly known as Mandolin Orange), Gentle Times with Erin Rae and Friends, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Ben Gibbard. If I did not specifically mention your favorite set, either I did not see it or it didn’t hit me the same way it hit you (or I was sitting in the hot sun).
There were a number of sets I did not see but wish I had – my friends who saw Celisse’s set raved about it and the Resistance Revival Chorus delivered a moving set. I caught the last couple of songs of Joy Oladokun’s and Margo Price’s sets and loved what I heard.
I did catch Margo and husband Jeremy Ivey‘s set, however. I had seen them both separately but really loved them together.
Hopefully the pandemic will improve enough so the usual Newport Folk Festival can be held next year. Dates have not yet been announced, however. It’s not easy to get tickets, which in Before Times would sell out in about an hour. If you are lucky enough to come to the next festival, I guarantee it will change your life. It certainly has changed mine.
Words cannot express my gratitude toward Newport Folk for the tickets; my opinions are my own.
Posted on August 8, 2021, in concert photos, concert reviews, festival photos, festival review, music, Uncategorized and tagged Allison Russell, Devon Gilfillian, Jason Isbell, Joy Oladokun, Katie Pruitt, Lake Street Dive, Newport Folk Present Folk On, Newport RI, Sunny War. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.