The Newport Folk Festival celebrated it's 55th anniversary this summer with yet another thrilling weekend of amazing music and unforgettable moments. This year’s festival was jam-packed with performers whose music I was hearing for the first time. Like a birthday girl leaving her party with a bag full of shiny new toys, I walked away from the weekend buzzing with excitement over the priceless gift of new music to add to the soundtrack of my life.
Topping my list is the 1960's-inspired indie pop band Lucius. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, with their mod matching outfits and beautifully-synched voices, are a joy to watch. I fell in love with their gorgeous harmonies, stomping percussion and infectious melodies. I think I'll be listening to their debut album Wildewoman a lot this year.
Reignwolf's sweat-soaked electrifying performance left me speechless. Jordan Cook, aka Reignwolf, could be a one-man show. He plays the guitar – like he's possessed by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix – sings, and plays drums all at the same time. He doesn't even have a debut album yet, but he's already toured with the Pixies and Black Sabbath. Not only is he crazy talented, he's a super nice guy. I had a chance to chat with him after his set and he talked about how humbled he was to be playing the Newport Folk Festival. Something tells me it won't be his last time.
Speaking of amazing guitar skills, the Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Their music is a fusion of neuvo flamenco, rock and metal. The passionate duo are mesmerizing to watch as they strum and tap their guitars with unimaginable speed and precision.
It’s always fun to check out the stylish ensembles gracing the Fort throughout the weekend.
Guitarist Steve Varney and violinist Jeb Bows perform with Gregory Alan Isakov.
Jimmy Cliff spreads good vibrations.
Ryan Monroe, Ben Bridwell and Tyler Ramsey of Band of Horses
The crowd goes wild while Trampled By Turtles performs.
Jesse Trbovich, right, performs with Kurt Vile, left, and The Violators.
Alynda Lee Segarra performs with her band Hurray For The Riff Raff.
Deer Tick frontman John McCauley gets a smack on the cheek from Folk Festival Producer Jay Sweet.
Beck was roaming around in the crowd as a spectator on Friday. With a straw hat, sunglasses and a nautical striped shirt, he could have blended right in with the crowd if it weren’t for the backstage access sticker he was wearing with BECK written on it. Very few people seemed to notice him, but he was graciously posing for photographs and saying hello to fans who approached him.
With so much good music to hear, it's impossible to get to everything, but I'm happy I made it to the quad stage to catch the end of The Oh Hellos' exuberant set. I loved seeing the performers react to the crowds' roaring applause.
Mavis Staples celebrated her 75th birthday by closing out the festival with an uplifting set that inspired some folk fans to form an impromtu Soul Train line in the crowd. Watching strangers skipping and dancing through the human walkway reminded me of what I love most about music: it's power to spread cheer and bring people together. Mavis' set featured lots of special guests, included Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, Norah Jones, Trampled By Turtles and Jeff Tweedy. She closed with a moving group singalong of "We Shall Overcome" in tribute to the late Pete Seeger. The weekend ended with the presentation of a birthday cake and the audience broke into song, "...Happy Birthday, Dear Mavis, Happy Birthday to you!"
Folk fan and beloved New England musician and visual artist Dan Blakeslee of Somerville, Mass., dances his way through the impromptu Soul Train line that formed during Mavis Staples' set. Dan wasn't one of the performers at this year's festival, but he's set to celebrate the release of his sixth album Owed To The Tanglin' Wind at the Columbus Theatre September 4th.
Photos and text by Jacqueline Marque