Newport Folk Festival 2015 Recap

Photo by Andrew Cleak

The M&T crew had a wild and wonderful weekend at Fort Adams and we’ve chosen some of our favorite sets from this year’s Newport Folk Festival to share with you. Once again Newport proved why it’s such a magical place with once-in-a-lifetime performances from My Morning Jacket and Lucius backing Roger Waters to everyone who is anyone paying tribute to Bob Dylan in the hullabaloo that was ’65 Revisited. Now we begin counting down the days until next July and wondering what special surprises Newport will have in store for us in 2016.

Friday July 24

Hiss Golden Messenger @ Harbor Stage

A great example of stumbling upon a set you didn’t intend to see and having that band blow your mind. Hiss Golden Messenger’s bluesy jam vibes were perfect for a sunny Newport afternoon.


Strand of Oaks @ Harbor Stage

We billed them as one of our most anticipated acts of the weekend and they did not disappoint. Timothy Showalter and co. knew exactly how to get the Newport crowd going and clearly understood the essence of the festival by expressing some very heartfelt sentiments to the crowd before launching into the slow burning ballad “Plymouth” from the band’s breakthrough album HEAL.


Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell @ Quad Stage

A magical friendship reignited after 15 years. Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) and Ben Bridwell took control of the Quad Stage a little after 4 on Friday. The two musicians knew each other well during their formative years in South Carolina and they have kept in touch through letters and cassettes ever since. Although their careers took off on opposite sides of the country they haven’t forgot the songs that bound them together over so many miles. Inside the fort, Bridwell and Beam delighted the crowd with an entrancing rendition of Pete Seeger’s “Coyote, My Little Brother” from their new all-covers LP,Sing Into My Mouth. The set also included versions of Band of Horses classics “General Specific” and “No One’s Gonna Love You.”


My Morning Jacket/Roger Waters @ Fort Stage

We don’t even know what to say that could possibly explain how magical this set was. Look at the combined setlist and then try to pick your jaw up off the floor. Newport has gained a reputation as a hotbed for on-stage collaborations, but this was even more special since MMJ performed their own set and then backed Waters for all of his, which effectively made them dual headliners for the evening. For Waters Newport was a logical launching point for an upcoming tour due to its historic roots as a hub for protest and a platform for artists to speak their mind. Guiding the crowd through a stunning setlist of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and John Prine hits, Waters commanded the stage while being joined by additional stars such as G.E. Smith, Lucius, Sara Watkins and Amy Helm. We’re not gonna lie, we may have shed a few tears during the “Forever Young” finale.

-Eric + Trev

Saturday July 25

Traveller @ Quad Stage

We’ve been huge fans of Jonny Fritz aka Jonny Corndawg aka @dadcountry since his legendary stint with Middle Brother at Newport ‘11, so we had high hopes for his new project, Traveller. It didn’t disappoint (despite the fact that the band had only begun rehearsing together two weeks ago). Fritz was ever the entertainer (guy really needs his own variety show) while Robert Ellis made his electric guitar sing, but most importantly, we discovered their track “Hummingbird.” It’s basically “Meet Virginia” for the internet age, and it’s the best music discovery I made all weekend. (Evidenced by some moderately disturbing search results, it’s not yet available online, but we’ll link to it as soon as it is.)


The Barr Brothers @ Fort Stage

These brothers and their band from Montreal via Rhode Island were another act we told readers to keep an eye on heading into the festival. The band blew everyone away with back-to-back epic jam sections on “Come In The Water” and “Half Crazy,” but the best moment may have been when frontman Brad Barr told the story of his parents’ first date where they snuck into Newport Folk Festival to see Arlo Guthrie. Another perfect example of how Newport is so much more than just a music festival.


Photo by Tess O'Connor

Photo by Tess O’Connor

Langhorne Slim @ Quad Stage

Having seen Langhorne Slim before, I knew he put on a good show, but there’s something about Newport that brings out the best in artists. The appreciation and respect that the musicians have for the festival is apparent, and Langhorne did that sentiment justice with the raw energy and emotion he brought to this set. As he himself said of Newport, “This shit feels good.”


Colin Meloy @ Museum Stage (Solo Set)

Ever since the festival added this indoor venue as a fourth stage a few years back it has produced some of our favorite moments at Newport (see Jeff Tweedy solo set from last year). Meloy performed a handful of songs totally acoustic and without any amplification, which added even more intimacy to the small room. Along with two old British folk ballads, Meloy also performed The Decemberists’ “June Hymn” and “Blues Run The Game,” a song that has been covered many a time over the years and most famously by Simon & Garfunkel.


Photo by Tess O'Connor

Photo by Tess O’Connor

Courtney Barnett @ Quad Stage

Courtney Barnett’s sound might seem out of place on a Newport lineup, but Barnett has established herself as an entertaining lyricist who can paint a picture that encapsulates both the mundane and extraordinary. It was impossible not to enjoy this set, not just because of the excellent music, but also because Barnett was so clearly enjoying herself, breaking out in smiles between head-banging solos.

-Trev + Tess

Photo by Tess O'Connor

Photo by Tess O’Connor

James Taylor @ Fort Stage

Saturday’s unannounced appearance by James Taylor had the crowd in a buzz all morning. Taylor, returning to complete his 1969 set, played staples such as “Fire and Rain” and “Sweet Baby James” all while bantering with the crowd. A special moment for those in attendance.


Sufjan Stevens @ Fort Stage

All of us at Maimed & Tamed are still talking about Sufjan Steven’s brilliant and haunting full-band set. His synth-heavy rearrangements of Carrie & Lowell tracks challenged our expectations, yet still retained – even magnified – the beauty of his work. He even turned “All of Me Wants All of You” into a “sexy slow jam” – his words, not mine. It was a stunning reimagining of a song we thought we knew (but let’s be clear, you haven’t felt weird inside until you’ve watched a man bodyroll while singing about his deceased mother). In addition to that new new, Sufjan’s rare take on old tunes like “The Dress Looks Nice On You” and “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” was the cherry on top of a very strange, delicious cake.


The Decemberists @ Fort Stage

The 3-time Newport vets had a tough task following both James Taylor and Sufjan Stevens, but The Decemberists took it all in stride and delivered a signature headlining set to the Newport crowd. Their set was heavy on material from this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, but they also worked in old standbys like “16 Military Wives” and of course, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” The icing on the cake though was their singalong finale on “This Land Is Your Land” where they were joined by the Lucius ladies, Bela Fleck, Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and more.


Sunday July 26

The Ballroom Thieves @ Quad Stage

This was a real proud papa moment for us after watching this band grow from an opening act at Great Scott, to tagging along for their journey to Summerfest, and now seeing them release an incredible debut record and realize their dreams by gracing the Newport stage with their wonderfully epic folk ballads. We couldn’t be happier for these guys, and it’s only a matter of time before they move up to that Fort Stage headlining slot.


Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats @ Quad Stage

Anyone who covers “The Shape I’m In” and gets J Mascis on stage to rip a scorching solo during said cover is OK in my book. This band is already doing big things and if their crowd-pleasing set at Newport is any indication I expect these guys to be hitting the festival circuit even harder next summer.


Blake Mills @ Harbor Stage

Much like Sufjan Stevens, Blake Mills makes sure you get a vastly different experience from his live show compared to listening to his records. Mills put interesting twists on songs like “Hey Lover” and “Seven” putting his guitar virtuosity front and center. Throw in an epic, guitar-driven cover of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and you’ve got yourself one of our favorite sets of the weekend.


Hozier @ Fort Stage

Hozier performed his stacked catalog on the main stage, and it was celebratory, soulful, and surprisingly loud. Despite the dance party at his Sunday set, we also saw him pay homage to the festival’s roots when he and his cellist played traditional Irish folk songs to a reverent Museum Stage crowd. Hozier showed incredible range at NFF this year, proving – if there was any doubt – that he deserves every bit of fame he’s received.


’65 Revisited @ Fort Stage

Everyone halfway knew what to expect from this set, but I don’t think anyone out there predicted the set that was actually delivered. With a core backing band featuring Dawes, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, and Dylan’s collaborator and keys player Al Kooper, an all-star cast of Newport artists ripped through songs made famous by Mr. Zimmerman. Nearly every artist who hit the stage got a chance to play the very guitar that Dylan used in his (in)famous 1965 set and it was clear how happy each of them was to get their hands on it. Only at Newport will you see names like those mentioned above plus Deer Tick, Robyn Hitchcock, Willie Watson, Hozier, Blake Mills, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and more all in one set.


Posted on by Eric in Newport Folk Festival Recap

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