Newport Folk Fest 2017: Highlights

Newport Folk and its now-veteran booker Jay Sweet has proven itself to fans year after year. This year, the festival asked us to trust. With three unannounced sets and more newcomer acts than usual, there was less clarity and star power to orient around leading up to the weekend. Of course, the surprises were well worth the wait. Here are our highlights from one of the most memorable Newports to date.

The Wild Reeds – “Capable”

The Wild Reeds converted every audience member into a disciple when this slow burner hit its grand crescendo.

Grandma’s Hands Band

This star-studded Bill Withers cover set was like a perfectly played hand of cards. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Natalie Prass and more all contributed at just the right intervals to create a perfectly curated and unexpected set. An unforgettable Newport memory.

Fleet Foxes

Save for Bruce Springsteen, one of the most athletic performances I’ve seen to date. From its layered and varied instrumentation to its multitudes of falsetto-ed harmonies – Fleet Foxes stuck every unthinkable landing.

Big Thief – “Mary”

Seeing Big Thief live is not for the weak. Adrianne Lenker, lead singer/songwriter of the band, seems to feel every emotion on another plane than most of us – ranging from fragility to frustration – and anyone in the nearby vicinity will feel it too. It became painfully, beautifully, clear when Lenker was overcome with emotion at a midway point in the set: “I don’t know… I just feel like I’m shaking inside,” she said. What resulted was a stunning rearrangement of “Mary,” a dense, poetic ode to her best friend. Kneeling on the ground, clutching the microphone with two hands, with her band right there on the floor with her, it felt like she was holding her heart out to us on her palm – and isn’t that the way great music should feel?

Preservation Jazz Hall Band 

Can every day of Newport kick off with Pres Hall at the Fort Stage? Nothing has ever felt so right – except for them being a staple on just about every stage throughout the weekend. That felt pretty good too.


I always got a casual vibe from Whitney – and that was before they ordered a bottle of white wine to the stage mid-set. But this nonchalance does not preclude their musicianship. From Ehrlich’s simultaneous lead vocals and drumming, to effortless solos from guitarist Max Kakacek, and intentional support from trumpet and piano, Whitney proved they’re playing for keeps.


I could write forever about the merits of this band, but instead I will shout out the dad and his fifteen year old son who sang every single word to this set. Is that not the truest sign of a great band and a great festival?


Posted on by Caroline in Newport Folk Festival Recap

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