And while the headline of the festival might be stories like the (surprise) appearance of Roger Waters sitting in on a John Prine set, or Nathaniel Rateliff filling the “unannounced” block, several of the “newer” artists left a significant impression with powerful performances. Approaching its 60th anniversary, the Festival is all about good vibes, which infected all present.
Popdose was there all weekend – we bring you some highlights with photos from Nikki Vee and Ken Abrams. It’s physically impossible to get to every stage, so we couldn’t cover it all, but we did get around to hear most of it, and what we saw was impressive.
The celebrated festival founded by George Wein in the waterfront Rhode Island town is known for many things – Pete Seeger’s longtime stewardship, Dylan going electric in ’65, almost going belly-up a few years ago and then a renaissance more recently. The Festival now sells out in minutes, even before any artists are announced. In fact, in interviews, Festival Executive Producer Jay Sweet is semi-serious when he suggests he’d like to run a festival without any pre-announced acts on the schedule … we digress.
The three-day festival began on Friday, July 28, a day that highlighted Indie artists – many who were first timers at the Festival. We were especially impressed with sets from new bands including L.A. Salami and The Seratones, as well as returning veterans Fleet Foxes.
Saturday, July 29, featured well know headliners like Wilco, the Avett Brothers and Drive-By Truckers. All played inspiring, well-received sets, but many other highlights, both Saturday and Sunday, were the collaborations between artists that happened at Newport.
Newport is a place to hear the best covers, some done as part of regular artist setlists, some thrown together at the last minute. Most come off sounding great, if occasionally rough around the edges. They included a set of Chuck Berry tunes in honor of the late guitar slinger. Standouts from that set included appearances by Kam Franklin and Jim James, as well as Nathanial Rateliff doing “You Can Never Tell” and Deer Tick’s Dennis Ryan version of “Run, Rudolph, Run.”
The “Grandma’s Hands Band” was a special set dedicated to the music of R&B/soul genius Bill Withers. Anchored by Hiss Golden Messenger and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, several artists covered Withers classics along with less familiar tunes. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff was strong on “Grandma’s Hands” and Drive-By Truckers Patterson Hood covered “I Can’t Right Left Handed,” a protest song from the Viet Nam era. Natalie Prass was superb on “Lovely Day,” as was Vernon on “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The “Speak Out” block on Sunday was especially memorable. The set consisted of artists collaborating on various protest songs. The music began with a brooding “Saints Go Marching In” followed by the National Anthem from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Louisiana singer Kyle Craft then totally aced David Bowie’s “Heroes,” providing a moment of major uplift for the crowd.
Other highlights of the “Speak Out” set included Billy Bragg covering Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build a Wall,” and Sharron Van Etten singing a somewhat obscure, but quite timely Sinead O’Conner classic “Black Boys on Mopeds.” Margo Price was excellent on “Working Class Hero” and Nathaniel Rateliffe rocked hard on Creedence’s “Fortunate One.” Overall, the set was a major Festival highlight.
The Festival finale on Sunday featured a brilliant set from John Prine and friends. He was joined by other artists including previously mentioned Jim James, Justin Vernon, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Margo Price on a delightful version of “In Spite of Ourselves.” His storytelling, full of quirky characters, life’s challenges and humorous moments, sent everyone home yearning for more. Once again, the Newport Folk Festival proved itself the standard upon which others should be measured.
Scroll down for more photos from the 2017 Newport Folk Festival.