[UPDATED] Newport Folk Festival 2016: The 9 Best Sets From Fort Adams & Photos
Jul 29, 2016 • 8:30 am PDT
We’ve added a full gallery of Newport ’16 photos by Kevin Felix to the bottom of this post.
Words by: Jeffrey Greenblatt
Photos by: Kevin Felix
Newport Folk Festival 2016 :: 7.22-24.16 :: Fort Adams State Park :: Newport, RI
Check out a full gallery of photos by Kevin Felix after Jeff’s review.
With each passing year the Newport Folk Festival shines bright as a model of what a music festival should be about:an expertly curated lineup that isn’t about trends or who has the biggest social media presence, but rather about music that moves people both emotionally and physically. Every summer Jay Sweet and his team work to redefine what people think “folk music” is by offering an eclectic bill that challenges fest-goers in the best ways possible to experience something new and hopefully walk away with a new favorite artist that you would have never considered prior to seeing them at the Fort. This year’s lineup may have arguably been their most diverse one yet, featuring the likes of punk-poet goddess Patti Smith , comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords and R&B folk-rapper Raury.
Whether it’s from a beach chair in front of the Fort Stage or watching archival footage of Newport Folk pasts at intimate Museum Stage, or by hitting your daily steps goal trying catch as much music as possible, the primary focus of Newport has always been about cultivating a unique communal experience. Everyone seemingly has a different perspective and takeaways from spending three days at arguably one of the most serene places that a music festival can take place at.
Over the course of the weekend I caught bits and pieces of roughly 30 sets of music – which was a testament to just how stacked this year’s lineup was. There were plenty of standout moments from the weekend. k.d. lang’s take on Neil Young’s “Helpless” may have been the single best thing I saw, while David Grisman and Del McCoury conducted a Bluegrass 101 class, while wowing the audience with their high and lonesome sound. In just one short year Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats went from relative unknowns to superstars making the move to the main stage, while Dan Auerbach, who headlines some of the biggest music fests in the country with The Black Keys brought his side project The Arcs for a set of groove-based soul and blues.
Here are my nine favorite sets from the weekend …
Ray LaMontagne – Friday, Fort Stage – 4:40 p.m. – 5:50 p.m.
Love it or hate it, Ray LaMontagne was making a statement with his Fort Stage set on late Friday afternoon. The singer-songwriter’s sound has morphed considerably since the last time he played Newport all the way back in 2005. LaMontagne is no longer just the folkie-soul troubadour that many remember from his early records. Backed by the members of My Morning Jacket sans Jim James, LaMontagne was there to showcase his latest direction as psychedelic Americana warrior sounding something like Van Morrison fronting Pink Floyd if they were a Southern-rock band.
Concentrating his efforts almost exclusively on his two most recent studio efforts, Ouroboros and Supernova, the 50 minute set was awash in acid-drenched jams and fiery ethereal soundscapes that showcased why MMJ is one of the best live bands out there. Those that walked away disappointed with LaMontagne’s set and new sound may missed the point as he’s making some of the most interesting and challenging music of his career.
Shovels & Rope: Busted Jukebox – Friday, Jane Pickens Theater – 9:15 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
I have to admit I kind of felt like I was cheating on Deer Tick when I decided to go to Shovels & Rope’s Busted Jukebox after-show at the Jane Pickens Theatre on Friday night, but I certainly didn’t regret my decision when the show ended. The husband and wife duo acted as the house band and musical directors for the night. Declaring that they were “more like a cover band of ourselves tonight” the pair welcomed a slew of the Folk Fest artists to join them on stage offering up a diverse set of cover tunes in the spirit of their Busted Jukebox album.
The intimate venue provided the perfect setup for the mostly acoustic show as there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Even from my vantage point in the balcony you felt connected to the performances. At just 13 songs long the performance was stacked, but John Moreland’s sublime version of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Hayes Carll’s complete reworking of The Clash’s “Death or Glory” and Shovels & Rope’s faithful take on Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” stood out. It was the closing three song stanza that really brought night to home, as Newport all-stars Lucius delivered covers of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” The Kinks’ “Strangers” and a powerful and poignant version of “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.”
Ruby Amanfu – Saturday, Harbor Stage – 12:05 p.m. – 12:50 p.m.
Ruby Amanfu’s Newport debut was nothing short of stunning. The gorgeous Ghanaian-born singer-songwriter, who many may have remembered from her stint touring with Jack White, and who more recently appeared on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, showed that she is ready to step into the spotlight on her own. Backed by three-fifths of Deer Tick and guitarist Jeremy Fetzer (Steelism), Amanfu was emotionally moved throughout her “star is born” set, repeatedly expressing gratitude between thunderous applause from the crowd.
With her powerful vocals, Amfanu worked her way through tunes from her 2015 release Standing Still, along with material from her upcoming Ryan Adams-produced follow-up. Amanfu preached the power of song with a pair Newport-appropriate covers that personally meant a lot to her deciding to give her solo career another shot with the Wilco via Woody Guthrie tune “One By One” and a goose bump-inducing take on Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” that brought the house down.
Margo Price – Saturday, Quad Stage – 1:40 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Last year Sturgill Simpson emphatically proved to the Newport faithful that there was more to country music that what people were hearing on the radio. This year that distinction belonged to Margo Price. The Third Man Records’ artist kicked off her set on Saturday afternoon by boldly wondering, “Are you ready for some shit-kicking country music?” The 33-year-old singer-songwriter and her well-oiled band treated the Quad Stage like they were playing a hometown show at a Nashville honky tonk.
Price, who just a half hour earlier had joined Kris Kristofferson for a must-watch version of “Me & Bobby McGee” during his surprise appearance with the Texas Gentleman, worked her way through tunes from her critically-acclaimed debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Assisted for portions of by a string quartet that she said helped “’class” them up a bit, Price straddled the lines between “classic country” and it’s later spawns of outlaw and “cosmic Americana” – hammering it all home with a cover of Gram Parsons’ “Ooh Las Vegas.”
Ryan Adams with the Infamous Stringdusters & Nicki Bluhm – Saturday, Fort Stage – 3:10 p.m. – 4:10 p.m.
Back in 2014, Jay Sweet got to cross a couple of “white whales” off his list when he nabbed both Ryan Adams and Jack White to come play the fest. White embraced the opportunity with a unique Newport-only set, while Adams played it a bit more close to the vest with a powerful rock heavy one. For his return to Fort Adams, the singer-songwriter stepped a bit outside of his comfort zone by recruiting jamgrass act The Infamous Stringdusters and singer Nicki Bluhm to back him for what can best be described as a un-amplified hootenanny.
The jovial Adams, who opened his set with a folk reworking of Slayer’s “South of Heaven,” joked early on that they were filling in for grindcore band Napalm Death who had to cancel. There was very little not to love about this collaboration, and Adams seemed to feel the same joking to his ad hoc group that they were making him look too good and asking if there were any drugs or alcohol they could take to bring it down a notch. Adams’ well-curated set lent itself perfectly to the set up with obvious choices like “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, It To Be High)” and “Winding Wheel”, along with songs that lent themselves to jammed out bluegrass explorations like the Cold Roses track “Let It Ride” and the Jacksonville City Nights cut “The End.”
Joan Shelley – Sunday, Harbor Stage – 12:05 p.m. – 12:50 p.m.
I would venture to guess that Joan Shelley was almost relatively unknown to most that had bought at ticket for this past weekend. The talented singer-songwriter was one of a handful of artists on this year’s bill steeped in the folk traditions and sounds of the festival’s “golden years.” A point hammered home by the fact that Shelley’s musical partner, guitarist Nathan Salsburg was curating the Lomax ’66 program at the Museum Stage later than afternoon, which featured some amazing historical Newport Folk footage from the Alan Lomax Archive.With her gentle sound, the duo’s early Sunday set was the perfect way to ease into the day.
It would be easy to make the comparison to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. While Welch and Rawlings are rooted in Appalachian folk and bluegrass, Shelley is looking to the other side of the pond, bringing Irish and English influence to her music – specifically Sandy Denny’s 1970s albums. Shelley primarily focused her set on tunes from last year’s excellent Over and Even, and is making some of the best modern folk music going.
Glen Hansard – Sunday, Fort Stage – 1:45 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
Glen Hansard’s main stage set on early Sunday afternoon was nothing short of a master class on how to have a crowd on the third day of a long, hot weekend hang on your every word. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Irish brogue and an electric smile, Hansard proceeded to embody Pete Seeger’s legacy as the spirit of the Newport Folk Fest. Opening with “Falling Slowly” from the award-winning Once soundtrack, Hansard’s set was filled with sing-a-longs, storytelling, and thoughtful political messages all wrapped up in the power of song.
Assisted throughout by Jocie Adams (Arc Iris/The Low Anthem) on vocals and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, Hansard delivered a poignant version of Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” with added verses that took aim at Donald Trump that received a rapturous applause from the crowd. It was the set-closing take on the Irish folk tune “The Auld Triangle” that was arguably one of the musical highlights of the entire weekend. In true folk fashion Hansard turned the tune into a joyous group sing and even invited an audience member to jump on stage to sing a verse, along with both Elvis Costello and Adams.
Middle Brother – Sunday, Fort Stage – 3:10 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
If there is one act that that Newport fans have been requesting more than any other over the last handful of years to bring back, it’s Middle Brother. The all-star band made up of John McCauley (Deer Tick), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Matt Vasquez (Delta Spirit), who made their live debut at the fest back in 2011, and could easily be considered one of the Mount Rushmore bands of the Jay Sweet era. With an enthusiastic intro from Sweet himself, the much-beloved band proceeded to play their one and only album to date from front to back to one of the larger crowds gathered at the Fort Stage all weekend.
The band was visibly as excited as the crowd to be back on stage together for a family reunion of sorts. Goldsmith gushed how much he had missed playing with them, and Vasquez (who may have been having the best time of any artist all weekend) bounced around the stage with a perma-grin. While the song selection may not have been a surprise, the band did have a few tricks up their sleeve, inviting out Kam Franklin (The Suffers) and Shovels & Rope to sing back up. No Middle Brother set would be complete without an appearance from their honorary member Jonny Fritz, who was there to assist on the band’s self-titled tune. While we cross our fingers for a follow up, this set provided the fix that we had all been so excitedly waiting for.
Smith&Weeden – Sunday, Family Tent – 5:45 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
To be honest, after three full sunbaked days of traipsing around the Fort, Smith&Weeden’s pop-up set at the intimate Family Tent initially offered an opportunity to grab a seat in the shade. What it turned into was one of the quintessential unexpected Newport sets where a band that wasn’t officially scheduled to play fest may have earned themselves a slot on next year’s bill.
These local boys from down the road in Providence, who were there to back Ian Fitzgerald during his excellent “early-risers” 11 a.m. set, used their half-hour slot of have some fun with their ‘unofficial’ Newport debut. The four-piece Americana rock act, who sound something like Deer Tick meets Delta Spirit, opened their set with a clever nod to Elvis Costello, who had just finished up his main stage, with a cover of “(The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes.” The band then proceeded to mix their rollicking country-inflected bar rock tunes from their self-titled debut with smartly chosen covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and The Byrds’ version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”
With the 2016 edition of Newport Folk in the books the countdown clock to 2017 has now begun.[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”330″ gal_title=”20160722 24 Newport Folk Festival Kevin Felix”]