It was easy to spot the people holding 3-day passes on Sunday at this year’s sun-soaked Newport Folk Festival. They were the ones laying down, completely motionless, with a hat on top of their face. Don’t fret, they were just so relaxed they entered the fifth stage of folk: acceptance. It’s OK to just lay down and listen without dancing, no one is going to judge you.
Here’s our picks from Sunday:
Berklee Gospel Choir: The Ones Who Made Sure We Didn’t Miss Church On Sunday
For the fourth year in a row, The Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir opened up the Fort Stage on Sunday. By the time their set was in full swing hundreds were clapping, spinning with arms raised, and singing their hearts out. Every few songs, a new leader would grab the wireless mic and the performance would take on fresh personality.
What could be a more fitting way to start a Sunday than with a gospel choir comprised of some of the world’s finest young musicians?
The Oh Hellos: Oh Hell Yes
Oh hell yes! Maggie and Tyler Heath’s soft and kind harmonies juxtaposed with the voracious energy of the band made for the most exciting performance of the day. The fiddler played so violently that he ripped the sides of his flannel shirt like the Hulk. The band mauled their instruments with irrefutable spirit as they climbed up higher and higher to red-hot peaks of folk rock bliss.
Julien Baker: The One You Tell Your Friends You Found First
When asked in interview after interview how she was able to open up so completely on her debut record Sprained Ankle, Julien Baker simply answers that she didn’t think anyone was going to listen to it. Perfectly happy playing punk shows in DIY venues with her band Forrister in and around Memphis, she had no plans for distributing her solo project besides throwing it up on Bandcamp.
Lucky for everyone who has been and will be introduced to her hauntingly delicate, deeply affecting songwriting, the folks at 6131 Records discovered and signed her. After multiple standing ovations throughout her set, seemingly overwhelmed by the sincerest of admiration expressed by the crowd, she rushed off stage.
Middle Brother: Super Folkin’ Good
When festival curator Jay Sweet exclaims, “I’ve been waiting five years to say this! Welcome to the stage Middle Brother!” one can’t help but perk up in anticipation. The supergroup is comprised of John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. As the they took the stage McCauley noted, “It’s been a while,” before beginning with whimsical singalong favorite, “Daydreaming.”
Five years after their debut album and only a single tour, their reunion was warmly received. Easily the most underrated act of the weekend.
Edward Sharpe: Another Face in the Crowd
As veterans to the festival, it was clear by involuntary nonverbal cues that the band had been here and done that. Donning a wine (or was it blood?) stained sleeveless undershirt and pair of old slacks, Edward Sharpe weaved and wobbled his way around the congested stage. “Wow, there’s a lot of photographers,” he calmly noted. Escaping the confines of the stage and forty camera lenses in one single bound, he floated into the crowd, making merry arm-over-shoulder with fans.
Sharpe expertly and effortlessly put the audience under his spell. Despite the inevitable jading of a mature act, Sharpe’s eyes spoke of childlike wonder. It was a shame the festival goers had to choose between the rest of their set and the start of the Alabama Shakes closing out the weekend.
Elvis Costello, and Everyone Else on the Bill Too
Elvis Costello’s solo performance was loaded with the surprises and collaborations that make Newport Folk Festival unique. After a few tunes, he took a seat at the piano and in true folkin’ spirit cleverly alluded to his feelings about a certain politician.
Larkin Poe and Middle Brother joined in for a well-rehearsed version of “Brilliant Mistake.” Preservation Hall Jazz band jammed hard along to “Sulphur to Sugarcane,” transforming and embellishing the classic tune. Costello’s thoughtfulness was apparent; he did a fine job blending old and new, giving folks a bit to think about between songs, and keeping the audience guessing as to what would come next.
Alabama Shakes: The One Who Sent Us Off Into the Night
Brittany Howard was backed by three unnecessary (but welcome) back-up singers as Alabama Shakes filled the most difficult time slot of the weekend, when many are drained from a lifetime of music experienced in just three days. Howard eased the sunburnt masses into the set with toned-down versions of “Future People” and “Dunes.”
Her range is arguably unparalleled by any other vocalist of the festival and the sudden impact of her voice smashed through the wall of fatigue. Taylor Goldsmith of Middle Brother joined her for a solid cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” officially ending the festival. Rejuvenated by the performance, everyone danced their way out of the fort.