JamBase List | Newport Folk Festival 2015 Wishlist

Words by: Jeff Greenblatt 

Over the last few months we have been inundated with scores of festival lineup announcements, from the major players to the boutique niche fests. While Festival Lineup Announcement Fatigue can be a real thing, the Newport Folk Festival’s less-is-more-rolling-announcement approach gives its folk loving faithful something to talk about, discuss, debate and dissect as it trickles out on a semi-daily basis. The guessing game as to what will be next announcement from the granddaddy of all music fests –will it be a headliner, a first time act or a fan favorite that has already been at the Fort –seems to fall into Newport Producer Jay Sweet’s master plan of one-day revealing the lineup as people enter the gates.

Since things seem to be a little slower than normal this year (only five acts are confirmed so far: Field Report, Courtney Barnett, Sturgill Simpson, Haunt the House and Madisen Ward & Mama Bear) we put together our wish list of potential first-time acts we hope to see added to this year’s lineup.

Yusuf / Cat Stevens

2014 was a big and busy year for the legendary singer-songwriter Yusuf / Cat Stevens. After finally earning his long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he released his first album since 2009, and toured the U.S. for the first time in 35 years, while doing it on his own terms (which sadly meant cancelling a planned New York City gig because of the state’s scalping laws). Judging by his performance at the Rock Hall induction ceremony, Stevens still has those honey-sweet vocals, and certainly fills the slot of big name legacy act – and one whom is ready for his second act.

Armed with a bevvy of his much-beloved catalog tunes as well as material from his most recent release including both newly penned songs and covers, Stevens would fit nicely into the Sunday headliner spot. I already can picture a festival closing singalong take of “Peace Train.”

The New Basement Tapes

If one act seems like an absolute no-brainer to be on this year’s bill, it’s this Americana supergroup featuring two Newport artist advisory board members in Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), along with Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops). This Dylan-approved project, which took his unearthed lyrics from The Basement Tapes sessions and set them to newly composed music, made only a handful of television appearances to go along with their Sam Jones directed documentary about the making of the record.

For decades the Newport stage has encouraged acts to debut collaborations like this at a place where the audience would be supportive and enthusiastic. Plus with all those great artists hanging around the Fort there would be the option for additional pop-up solo sets at the Museum stage, and countless sit-in opportunities.

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters

Last year Newport Producer Jay Sweet brought the blues back to fest with an exclamation point thanks in part to killer sets from Reignwolf, Benjamin Booker and Jack White. It’s a trend I hope continues for years to come. With Sweet’s “white whale” list growing a little shorter after last year, it would be hard to believe Robert Plant’s name isn’t amongst the likes of Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. The former Led Zeppelin front man is no stranger to the blues, with his latest project The Sensational Space Shifters adding a psychedelic-world-music flavor to the genre.

Plant is no stranger to the allure of Newport, having performed with Led Zeppelin at the Jazz Festival back in 1969, along with a number of English rock acts. Plant hasn’t been to the Fort under the fest’s latest incarnation but is scheduled to appear at Bonnaroo, Sasquatch! and Mountain Jam.

Neutral Milk Hotel

It was just a handful of years ago it was hard to imagine that Neutral Milk Hotel would ever reunite to play live again. Then a funny thing happened, the band’s semi-reclusive front man Jeff Mangum began popping up here and there to play benefits and loft parties, booked himself a solo tour and to the delight of their fans brought back the band on everyone’s wish-list of acts ripe for reunion. Mangum and company have more or less been on the road since 2013, giving as many fans as possible an opportunity to see them play fantastic live shows. 

Though Neutral Milk Hotel announced their latest batch of tour dates running through mid-June would be their last for the foreseeable future, they have made festival stops part of their worldwide tours. If Mangum should make Newport the final stop before putting the band back into hibernation, his quirky brand of folk music would feel right at home and provide a fitting sendoff.

Laura Marling

It’s hard to believe that Laura Marling has never played the Newport Folk Festival. The prolific singer-songwriter with her Joni Mitchell-esque cadences and jazz-inflected finger-picking guitar playing is primed to be the next Queen of Folk Music. At 25, Marling is about to release her fifth studio album next month, and much like Bob Dylan did when he shocked the folk world at Newport in 1965, she will be going electric for the first time. Marling writes wise-beyond-her-years songs that in the past have mixed traditional English folk with flourishes of bluegrass.

If there is one act that seemingly has been absent from Newport’s expertly curated line-ups over the last five-plus years it’s been Marling. Hopefully 2015 is the year that she makes her long-awaited debut.

Damian Rice

Back in the early 2000s, Damian Rice helped usher in a new age of the singer-songwriter with his sprawling heartbreaking Astral Weeks meets Nick Drake influenced songs. After releasing two studio albums, and a collection of B-sides and demos he quickly disappeared, relocating to Iceland and shunning the music business. So it was a welcomed surprise when the Irish troubadour announced he was putting out a new record, his first in eight years and picking up where he left off with an album full of winding, emotive, storytelling tunes, full of lush arrangements and high drama.

Rice is a dynamic live performer, whether backed by a band, a string section or just on his own. The singer with a guitar baring his or her soul on stage solo has become a bit of rarity at Newport over the last few years, and Rice would be an excellent choice to fill that void. 

Tickets for the festival have been going fast, with only Friday tickets remaining available for purchase here