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Newport Folk Festival 2016

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at Newport Folk Festival

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at Newport Folk Festival (photo by Laura Fedele/WFUV)


Team FUV made its annual pilgrimage to Fort Adams State Park for the Newport Folk Festival.

Our friends at NPR Music recorded sets, and you can hear these performances on the radio tonight from 6 p.m. to midnight in a special Newport Folk Fest Highlights show on FUV: Elvis Costello, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, River Whyless, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Violent Femmes and Ryan Adams.

There's a visual recap in the Newport 2016 photo album on the WFUV Flickr Stream, and some of the FUV staff had Newport reports to share too.

FRIDAY - From Rita Houston

This was year 57 for the Newport Folk Festival, and year 20 for me. This little gathering has grown into a full-on, three-day festival, and the Friday kickoff was a day packed with sunshine, sweet sounds, and a few surprises by the sea.

I love a day that starts with a boat ride! The first order of business was catching a water taxi to Fort Adams State Park. Then an early-day highlight was catching St. Paul and The Broken Bones on the main stage, with an energetic, horn-fueled set that introduced material from their much-anticipated second album. The new songs stretch beyond the retro soul that put this band on the map and prove that these guys are more than just a throwback. The crowd loved them. Always-engaging frontman Paul Janeway kicked off his shoes and delivered a soulful set that touched on so many elements of Southern and American music.

Midday, word started to spread about a surprise appearance from Kris Kristofferson! Newport Folk keeps it so real, always finding ways to honor the past while celebrating the present. The back story is that Kris played here once before — reluctantly and unannounced — when Johnny Cash insisted he get some stage time. It was the first time many heard "Me and Bobby McGee" and other songs that would grow into classics. Now 80 years old, Kristofferson returned with his daughter Kelly and did a 40-minute acoustic set for a packed, hushed, lucky, intimate crowd.

k.d. lang made her Newport debut in 2016, as part of the new case/lang/veirs project. The unexpected and remarkable trio first got together three years ago at k.d.'s initiation, and is now on tour playing songs from their new album and adding in some from their own catalogs. If I had to pick just one, I'd say that this set was the absolute highlight of the festival for me.

Other high points included sets from Matthew Logan Vasquez (from Delta Spirit), Brett Dennen, Aofie O'Donovan, Violent Femmes and Flight of the Conchords.

There are so many reasons why the Newport Folk Festival has become one of the most desired tickets on the festival scene. I'll be back for year #21!

SATURDAY - From Alisa Ali

So many great moments at Newport on Saturday! One standout for me was Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (although "day sweats" would be a better name, since they played during the hot hot heat of the afternoon). I love playing "S.O.B." on the radio, but man, hearing it played live to an audience that was just waiting to scream out "SON OF A BITCH" was exhilarating!

I also felt so blessed to hear the legendary Graham Nash sing. I had my niece with me while he did "Teach Your Children," and I almost cried.

But then I had tears of laughter thanks to Ryan Adams. That guy is part musician and part comedian. He was saying he was grateful that Napalm Death cancelled so he could play a set. He also made jokes about Jack Johnson and Father John Misty, but it was all in good fun. Of course the real draw of Ryan Adams is his music. He played a bluegrass set, giving his songs really creative and imaginatively new arrangements. "Winding Wheel" and "Let it Ride" never sounded so good! (I do still love the originals arrangements too, though.)

Dancing under the sun to his set may have actually been my festival highlight, but then came Patti Smith, who is just so inspirational and powerful. Her combination of poetry, electric guitars, voice, and spirit was transformative. She has a way of making you feel like you can do anything. Sometimes we all need a reminder that "people have the power!"

SUNDAY - From Carmel Holt

A richly diverse range of sounds filled the final day of Newport. It was a day of moving solo performances, not-so-solo performances, collaborations, gospel spirit, new discoveries, and mainstays.

The South was well represented, providing the bookends to the Sunday lineup, and a lot in between. I started with Asheville, North Carolina band River Whyless, a new folk rock band that infuses their songs with hints of South African rhythms. Soon after, Louisville, Kentucky folk artist Joan Shelley delivered a set of her lovely songs in a sweet duo. Then it was on to a rollicking set by Juno-award winning Canadian newcomers, The Strumbellas. Then it was back to the South, for a similarly high-energy, joyful folk-rock set on the main stage from the Oh Hellos, a new discovery for me.

FUV fave Son Little put on a fantastic show with his band, leading them through soulful faves “O Mother,” “Lay Down,” and a killer finish with the rocker “The River.” And as powerful as those last few bands were, filling their stages with stompers, there was an equally powerful set from an artist to watch out for, the pint-sized Julien Baker (another Southerner, from Memphis), who brought the crowd to their feet with her heartbreakingly beautiful songs, sung armed only with her electric guitar, and a soul-baring voice.

Speaking of power, another beloved FUV artist, Glen Hansard, took the main stage by storm for what was billed as a solo set, but was hardly so. Jocie Adams (The Low Anthem, Arc Iris) served as his vocal foil, and he came with a trombonist, as well. Then he pulled a member of the audience on stage, who got doubly-lucky when Elvis Costello came out to sing with them.

Ireland had two amazing artists at Newport Sunday, as Conor O’Brien, aka Villagers, came to do his very first Newport performance. His full-band set included a lot from his recent album, Darling Arithmetic (“Hot Scary Summer” was a highlight, dedicated to Donald Trump).

Then it was a full-on dance party, as New Orleans institution Preservation Hall Jazz Band played to a packed tent. Not one person was standing still, and every face had a smile.

One of the most anticipated Sunday moments was the reunion of Middle Brother, bringing together Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, John McCauley of Deer Tick, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit (who also was here to do a solo set earlier this weekend). The band joked that they were going to play “their whole catalog”—which would be their only album, marking its fifth anniversary this year. It was a fantastic set which no one wanted to end, least of all the band.

The three were backed by Dawes, who continue to earn their reputation as not only a great band in their own right, but also as ace collaborators. They proved that this year, backing up Elvis Costello who also had been billed as “solo.” Dawes and duo Larkin Poe accompanied Costello through a brisk and favorite-filled set that included “Everyday I Write The Book,” “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love & Understanding),” “American Mirror” (another reference to the political landscape), and a wonderful version of “The Scarlet Tide,” bringing out Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the second time. Glen Hansard and Conor O’Brien also joined in, making for a very full “solo” set, indeed!

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros were in full effect, making the tent feel like part traveling medicine show, part love-in. Alex Ebert crowd surfed twice, invited a fan to sing on stage, and in general brought some much-needed hippie love to Sunday afternoon. (How many people are in that band now, anyway?) Earlier in the day, Durham, North Carolina's Phil Cook’s Southland Revue brought a true gospel show to that same tent, with a set that featured The Blind Boys of Alabama.

And closing the incredible day: The Alabama Shakes! The Athens, Alabama band has had an amazing year, winning multiple Grammys for their latest album, Sound & Color. Brittany Howard is a force of nature, and she brought the festival to a rousing and soulful close. (Plus it was not lost on me that the headliners on both Saturday and Sunday nights were bands led by women.) The slower-burning songs, like the title track to that album, were striking; rockers like “Don’t Wanna Fight” were impossible not to sing along to. Brittany Howard brought out Dawes for their third appearance on the main stage and the warmth between Brittany and Taylor was visible. The smiles and hugs they shared echoed the vibes of the day, and the whole weekend.

Another reminder that even in the darkest times, music can bring us together, and yes, change the world. Here’s to another great Newport on the books!