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Newport Folk Festival Spotlight

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Leon Bridges’ Coming Home

Posted on by Ryan Schmitz in Newport Folk Festival Spotlight | Leave a comment

Leon Bridges

In a musical climate with a high premium for nostalgia, Leon Bridges manages to bring an old school flavor to his music while offering something undeniably fresh at the same time.

It has been a few months since the release of his first single “Coming Home,” which immediately grabbed the attention of indie fans around the country. The Fort Worth, Texas native has begun to pick up steam and attention playing shows from Sofar Dallas to the upcoming Newport Folk Festival. His first taste of the Newport stage comes on the heels of the release of his debut album Coming Home and any soul music fans should rejoice, for the second coming has finally arrived.

The album begins with the title track “Coming Home” and right from the start the listener is transported to (insert early 60’s location of your choice here).  Bridges does not make any attempt to disguise his influences but at no point does it feel insincere or forced.  The soul that erupts from the speakers even during the first line is enough to prove that this man feels his music.  Every word, syllable, and inflection is sung with passion, every sentiment is delivered as though he is speaking directly to the listener.  Listening to this album is not a passive experience, it is not meant to be background music while you focus on something else.  If you put on Coming Home prepare to participate in the experience.  Each note and beat are played with unmistakable purpose, carried on the back of arguably the finest Rhythm and Blues voice of this generation.  The melodies on this album could make you want to dance, cry, or apologize to your ex, maybe even all of the above.  Essentially, if you play this record you’re going to feel it, trust me on that.

Once you get past listening to the opening track over and over again, the album begins to expand musically and thematically.  The second track titled, “Better Man” ups the tempo slightly and explores who Bridges is as a person.  The song is a cry to a lost love about regretting the past and wanting her back, all set over doo-wop music to continue the Classic Soul nature of the album.  There is a clear Southern influence permeating every facet of this record, from the style to the lyrics, the music can transport you straight to the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans or to some blues club in Nashville.  Even Bridges’ voice has a distinct Southern quality, not in drawl or accent, but the way he sings has that unmistakable Southern feel, reminiscent of  Otis Redding or Sam Cooke.

The record continues to climb and fall in tempo as Bridges takes you through his life, from women who have come and gone, to regrets from his youth, to celebrations.  The music is eclectic, Bridges seamlessly transitions between Soul, R&B, Rock and Roll, the Blues, and Gospel, to create a sound that, while rooted in the classic days of Soul music, is fresh and new.  Each song brings its own unique flavor while being delivered by the sweet yet soulful sound of Bridges’ voice.  In spite of his obvious influences, he manages to avoid being stuck to one type of song or style, Bridges is not just a soul singer, he is a story teller.  In “Lisa Sawyer” we get the story of a woman’s life, from her lineage to her transgressions.  The song is both moving and compelling, and if the story somehow doesn’t keep you interested his voice certainly will.

After nine remarkably well crafted songs, Coming Home finds its conclusion with the track “River.”  Putting this song at the closing spot on the album is genius in itself.  The album is one long story, it has told us who Bridges is, who he has loved, how he celebrates and how he mourns.  “River” is the closing paragraph to that story, it is the final summation of who Bridges truly is. The song is the closest link to the gospel tradition on the album, it is a confession where Bridges can wash away his sins and we as the listeners act as witnesses.  The slow moving ballad carries more emotion and power than any other song on the record.  “River” is the perfect closing point to what is a remarkable debut record and hopefully the start of a very long successful career.

Here is Leon playing “River” live.

Unannounced Newport Folk Festival Acts

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Newport Folk Festival 2015 Unannounced SlotsWith the M&T crew already posted up in a vacation rental in Newport (yea, we’re pros at this), all of our conversations this week have eventually turned to speculation as to who will be filling the two “unannounced” slots on Friday and Saturday of the festival. We won’t know for sure until we show up at the Fort, but here are a few (somewhat) educated guesses at who will be playing in those two slots and why.

Friday July 24: 530-630pm  @ The Fort Stage

My Morning Jacket

The Case For: We’ve been pining for MMJ to make their NFF comeback ever since their headlining set was cut short by rain three years ago, and their tour to support The Waterfall seems like it is perfectly routed for a performance on Friday. Another possible indicator of an MMJ set is that there is literally no changeover time on the schedule between the unannounced slot and Roger Waters’ set so it could be someone who has collaborated with Waters in the past and would potentially join him during his set. Well, remember that time Waters and MMJ rocked out on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” at the Love for Levon concert?

The Case Against: As we mentioned, MMJ has headlined Newport Folk Festival before so it would be a bit odd for them to return in a non-headlining capacity.

Jeff Beck

The Case For: Earlier this year Roger Waters re-released his 1992 concept album Amused to Death, an album that featured a host of collaborators and special guests. One guest who featured prominently was English guitar god Jeff Beck who could certainly hold down an hour long set as well as join Mr. Waters onstage during his.

The Case Against: Beck’s tour schedule is becoming more and more sparse as he gets older in age and he recently wrapped a North American tour earlier this spring. With no upcoming Stateside shows on the schedule it’s tough to think he’d come to Newport for a one-off performance in an hour long time slot.

Saturday July 25: 350-420pm @ The Fort Stage


The Case For: We predicted this Decemberists/Guided By Voices/The Minus 5 supergroup would be on this year’s lineup and it would make sense that they perform the same day that The Decemberists are headlining.

The Case Against: They haven’t played many shows recently as a group and their website indicates that there are no dates scheduled for the future. Much like Jeff Beck, it wouldn’t make too much sense for them to play a one-off gig in a 30 minute time slot.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

The Case For: Ramblin’ Jack is the wise old folk sage on NFF’s board of advisors and this year’s lineup is lacking a representative from Elliott’s generation. Not to mention Colin Meloy being the only member of the aforementioned board who is scheduled to appear this weekend, it would only make sense for at least one more (and possibly Jim James??) advisor to join the lineup.

The Case Against: Like Beck, touring for Elliott has become less frequent in recent years and with a short tour scheduled in August and September it would be a bit of a stretch for him to add any new dates and deviate from that course.

5 Undercard Acts To Keep Your Eye on at Newport Folk Festival

Posted on by Ryan Schmitz in Newport Folk Festival Spotlight | 1 Comment

The schedule for this year’s Newport Folk Festival was just released on their app and though there might be a few scheduling conflicts, we’ve got you covered if you’re not quite sure who to devote your time to. In addition to our most anticipated acts of this year’s fest here are 5 more acts who are not quite near the top of the bill, but very much worth checking out.

The Barr Brothers – 12:10pm Saturday July 25 @ Fort Stage

Rhode Island natives Andrew and Brad Barr return to their home state to play the hallowed grounds of Fort Adams along with their full folk ensemble.  With the drop of their newest EP, Alta Falls, happening only a few months ago, The Barr Brothers will have plenty of quality material to bring to the stage.  For the uninitiated, one can expect a haunting blend of traditional folk, delta blues, and a remarkably unique use of ambient sound to create a sound that can only be classified as The Barr Brothers.

Leon Bridges – 1:35pm Friday July 24 @ Quad Stage

The 26 year old out of Fort Worth, Texas may be new on the scene but his sound is distinctly classic.  With his debut album, Coming Home, less than a month old, Bridges is still picking up steam and will no doubt bring some youthful energy to the stages of the Newport Folk Fest.  More importantly, with him comes a taste of 60s rhythm and blues.  His sound is a harkening to the genre’s heyday when the likes of Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding were at their heights. Well now, in the year 2015, Leon Bridges is coming up North to show us all that Soul music is alive and well.

Joe Pug – 12:00pm Friday July 24 @ Harbor Stage

Joe Pug is no stranger to the folk scene, the veteran finger picker just released his third album titled Windfall earlier this year and will no doubt bring plenty of fresh folksy material up to Newport.  Pug is one of the leaders of the modern day singer-songwriter movement, melding his gripping acoustic guitar playing with some of the most vivid and thought provoking lyrics of this generation.  Pug is an absolute must see for any appreciator of the singer-songwriter.

Elephant Revival – 1:00pm Friday July 24 @ Fort Stage

This folk quintet out of Colorado brings a taste of the West with them wherever they go.  They have cultivated a sound that I have eloquently dubbed “prairie music,” bringing all familiar Americana ingredients together with a sort of romantic style of songwriting that really can bring you right to the foot of the Rockies if you let it.  Of course, Fort Adams is a solid 5 hour flight to Colorado but Elephant Revival is guaranteed to make you forget that for at least a minute (no easy task given the view you get in the grounds).

Spirit Family Reunion – 11:10am Saturday July 25 @ Quad Stage

Feeling a craving to stomp your feet?  Look no further than to whichever stage is tasked with holding up Spirit Family Reunion.  This New York roots group brings high energy Americana everywhere they go and is sure to bring out the hillbilly in anyone.  SFR just released their newest album Hands Together earlier this year so some exciting fresh material should be in the lineup.

Most Anticipated Acts at Newport Folk Festival 2015

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Newport Folk Fest 2015

Friday July 24, 2015

Strand of Oaks – 3:45pm @ Harbor Stage

After seeing Timothy Showalter and the rest of Strand of Oaks put on a rousing set at Sasquatch earlier this summer, they were an easy pick for my most anticipated act of Friday at NFF. I know that the Roger Waters performance will certainly be something special and unique, but Strand of Oaks is an act that will feed off of the emotional connection that Newport fans forge during inspiring sets. Not to mention that “JM”, Showalter’s ode to the late Jason Molina, might be one of the best set closers on the festival circuit this summer.


Heartless Bastards – 5:05pm @ Harbor Stage

The first moment you hear Erika Wennerstrom’s voice is a reality check: it’s instantly clear she’s lived a lot more life than you, but if you listen up, you might just learn something. Weathered but not weary, Wennerstorm and her band share epic road stories set to anthemic blues rock. With all their gritty charm and grunge-y guitars, Heartless Bastards’ huge sound will fill the Fort and then some on Friday night.


Saturday July 25, 2015

Tommy Stinson – 3:40pm @ Harbor Stage

Clearly Tommy Stinson is known as the bass player of alt-rock pioneers The Replacements, but he’s had a pretty solid solo career to boot. 2004’s Village Gorilla Head is an album that is filled with the same nostalgic aura that can be found in many of the best ‘Mats recordings and 2011’s One Man Mutiny is a rollicking rock ‘n roll album through and through. Newport is known for its outside-the-box programming, but I’d like to give an extra special tip of the cap to the NFF team for bringing in a rock veteran that plenty of other artists on the lineup look up to and hope to collaborate with come festival weekend.


Andy Shauf – 11:05am @ Harbor Stage

Newport Folk is a listener’s music festival. You’ll hear lots of music of course, and you can dance, sing, party, and all those other festy verbs, but thanks to NFF’s deeply rooted reverence for songwriting, the festival is designed for listening. And thus, there’s no better place to see Andy Shauf, a folk singer who will have you leaning in and lingering on every single word and note. Shauf crafts delicate songs built on intricate stories. It’s a model beloved by so many great Newport alums before him, and chances are you’ll fall in love with it too.


Sunday July 26, 2015

The Ballroom Thieves – 11:10am at Quad Stage

What can we say on this blog that we haven’t already about The Ballroom Thieves? We’ve been to Milwaukee and back with the band for a special Summerfest set, and shared so many other memories in Boston, New York, and beyond. To see The Thieves added to this year’s lineup is a win for the Boston indie music scene as a whole, and man did we need one after the recent news of TT The Bear’s closing. For years we’ve been saying that a set from The Thieves would be one to get the Newport faithful on their feet and dancing in the aisles, and we’re not backing down from that claim whatsoever. So do yourself a couple favors and grab a copy of A Wolf in the Doorway and carve out some time in your Sunday schedule to catch what is sure to be an incredible set.


Rodrigo Amarante – 1:15pm @ Harbor Stage

Question: Are shamans still a thing? Follow-up question: Is Rodrigo Amarante one? The healing nature of Amarante’s soul-stirring Brazilian folk makes me seriously wonder if the dude has supernatural powers. Amarante’s catalog ranges from spare and wandering to a full-band tropicalia groove. It’s strange, transfixing, and always gorgeous – and the set will surely be a can’t-miss moment at the Fort.


Friday Passes Still Available for Newport Folk Festival

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With Newport Folk Festival’s staggered announcement of this year’s lineup, one can tend to forget how incredible the overall lineup already is. After the most recent announcement of Tallest Man on Earth, I revisited the lineup page and had to rub my eyes a bit after staring at the screen since I had clearly missed some of the individual announcements.  Sufjan Stevens. The Decemberists. Lord Huron. The Lone Bellow. J freakin Mascis. And that’s only about 10% of the portion of the lineup that has been announced to this point.

What struck me as curious though is that how in the hell are there still tickets available for Friday? One of the things that makes Newport Folk Festival so special is the collaboration between artists on the lineup and Friday is primed for plenty of that. Some of the scheduled acts are already collaborations of sorts (i.e. Watkins Family Hour, Iron & Wine + Ben Bridwell, Wildwood Revival) and plenty of other artists have common ties. Remember that beautiful EP that Calexico and Iron & Wine made together? How about when Blake Mills (Sunday performer) and Fiona Apple (part of Watkins Family Hour) were all over each other’s recordings and tours? The list goes on and so we hope the on-stage collaborations go as well.

Check out the full lineup as it stands at the moment, and make sure to grab your tickets for Friday at the link below before they announce another monster addition.

NFF Friday Tickets

Newport Folk Festival 2015 Predictions/Wishlist

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Newport Folk Festival 2015

Now that tickets have gone on sale for this year’s Newport Folk Festival (get yours here before they sell out because they most definitely will) the lineup rumor mill has inevitably started turning. In years past our predictions/wishlist have been both hits and misses, but that’s not going to stop us from making another list this year. Here’s to hoping we get ‘em all right in 2015.

My Morning Jacket

This one just makes too much sense. Jim James and co. are back hitting the festival circuit hard this summer with appearances at Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Boston Calling, and Hangout already confirmed. Plus Mr. James also resides on the festival’s Board of Advisors, and not to mention their epic set at the 2012 festival that was cut short by torrential rain. If ever there was a lock for this year’s lineup, this would be it.


Natalie Prass and/or Courtney Barnett

About a minute into Natalie Prass’ brand new album, that oh-so-familiar feeling hit: “God, she’d be great at Newport.”  Prass’ vocals float precariously on top of her brassy backing band, creating one of the most unique female folk albums we’ve heard in a while. Another powerhouse we’d love to see at Folk ’15 is Courtney Barnett (of Australia, naturally). Her 2013 album was a veritable indie hit, thanks especially to her raw, sardonic songwriting. Much like Newport veterans like Sharon Van Etten and Jenny Lewis, Prass and Bartnett have found new ways to juxtapose hard and soft in their music. We’re crossing our fingers to see both in July.


Laura Marling

After a rather lengthy hiatus, Ms. Marling has returned to her tales of love, self-reflection, womanhood and all the rest in her full-length album, Short Movie.



Members of the Decemberists + The Minus 5 + Guided By Voices = Eyelids. Need we say more?


Jessica Pratt

Having recently been picked up by Drag Records, Jessica Pratt and her ’60s sentimentalities have the folk and indie audiences caught somewhere between nostalgia and a breath of fresh-folk air.


Will Dailey

What would a Newport Wishlist be without a little local love? Of all the Boston folk rock artists who put out an album in 2014, Dailey might be the most deserving of a slot at the historic festival. National Throat was one of our favorite records from last year and we could totally see it translating to a killer set at The Fort this year.


Little May

The M&T team will always rep Boston, no questions asked… but there’s something in the water down under, so we’ve got toss some serious love towards Aussie bands as well. Little May, a new group of Sydney, offers three-part harmonies and stunning melodies that would attract an insta-crowd at Newport.


The Decemberists

With a new album out, Colin Meloy on the aforementioned festival Board of Advisors, and a bunch of festival dates already announced, this one is a close second in the mortal lock category.


Jose Gonzalez

The Swede returns. Years after tattooing his sound on the arm of the post-Nick Drake revival, Gonzalez finds himself anew on his highly anticipated full-length, Vestiges and Claws.


Júníus Meyvant

This one is definitely our sleeper pick for 2015. The Icelandic singer Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson, who performs under the name Júníus Meyvant, hasn’t made a ton of noise stateside, but as we’ve seen in years past that hasn’t stopped producer Jay Sweet from booking acts that on are the cusp. Just imagine this performance of “Color Decay” (which also appeared on our Best Songs of 2014 list) at the Fort and you’ll understand what we mean.


Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Ryan Adams

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[Editor’s note: Many thanks to our friend and guest contributor, Jamie McKillop, for writing this wonderful piece]

Mixing the country twang of Gram Parson, the heartfelt lyrics of Neil Young and the brashness of Hüsker Dü, Ryan Adams began his solo career shortly after the dissolution of his band Whiskeytown in 2000 with the album Heartbreaker.  Powered by songs like “Winding Wheel”, “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, and “Come Pick Me Up” the album received critical acclaim and prompted major labels to come calling. Signing with Lost Highway Records, Adams released Gold in 2001. The album, by far the most “accessible” in his catalog, was also his most commercially successful and its lead single “New York, New York” quickly became a favorite on MTV and other outlets following the September 11 attacks.

After the release of Gold, Adams quickly recorded four albums worth of material within a year. In a sign of some mutual acrimony to follow, Lost Highway opted to whittle the robust output down to thirteen songs and release the collection as “Demolition” in 2002.  While his label chose not to release the entire collection, some of these “lost” albums are available online if you are willing to look hard enough.

For his proper follow up to “Gold”, Adams recorded a haunting, dark collection of songs entitled “Love is Hell” that many hardcore Adams fans believe to be his finest work. Not happy with the album and claiming it to be not “rock and roll” enough, Lost Highway refused to release the album and pressed Adams to return to the studio. He did, quickly recording a new album of jarring, punk infused songs entitled Rock’n’Roll which was released in 2003. While definitely the black sheep in Adams catalogue, the recording process for Rock’n’Roll seemed to be cathartic for the singer/songwriter and he has described it as being “fun as fuck”. Love is Hell was relegated to being released as two separate EPs although a full version of the record was released in 2004.

2005 proved to be the most prolific of Adams’ high-volume career, during which he released three albums. Two of the albums Cold Roses (a double album) and Jacksonville City Nights, were recorded with his new backing band, The Cardinals while the third, 29 was a solo record. While it might seem Adams could use work in the editorial department, many of the songs from these albums have become staples of his live sets, including “Let it Ride”, “If I am Stranger” and a collaboration with Norah Jones (another performer at this years festival) titled “Dear John”.

After battling and conquering some personal demons, Adams returned with 2007’s Easy Tiger. While billed as a solo record, the album was recorded with the latest iteration of the Cardinals and Adams has credited the band with being heavily involved in the creation of the albums material. Easy Tiger was more focused than his recent output and contains notable tracks like “Goodnight Rose”, “Everybody Knows” and “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” Adams and the Cardinals followed up with Cardinology in 2008.  Despite being tightly produced and the inclusion of solid tracks like “Cobwebs” and “Evergreen”, something about the album and the band seemed tired. Given this, it wasn’t surprising when Adams disbanded the Cardinals shortly after Cardinology and went into a self-imposed hiatus.

Adams returned to the musical fold in 2011 with a new outlook, a new label, new album, Ashes and Fire. During his time off, Adams moved from New York to LA and the relocation is evident in the albums relaxed, laid back material. Working with famed producer Glynn Johns, who also happens to be the father of frequent Adams collaborator Ethan Johns, Adams put together a solid collection of sparse, acoustic tracks, including, “Dirty Rain”, “Invisible Riverside” and the beautiful “Lucky Now”.

After taking another extended (at least by his standards) break, during which Adams helped produce material for Ethan Johns, Jenny Lewis (another festival performer) and Fall Out Boy, Adams dropped his latest single “Gimme Something Good” and announced that his latest, self-titled album will be released in September. “Gimme Something Good” is reminiscent of early 80’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers mixed with Adams usual flair for a chorus, leaving this author hotly anticipating his forthcoming album and his performance tomorrow night!

5 Must- See Acts at Newport Folk Festival 2014

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The best and worst thing about the Newport Folk Festival lineup each year is that it is always stacked with talent. The amazing abilities of the festival curators to bring unique lineups to Newport year after year is what keeps people coming back, but with only so much time in the weekend there are tough decisions that have to be made when it comes to scheduling. That’s why we’re here. If you’re debilitated by indecision to choose between all of the incredible artists performing this weekend then take our advice and make sure that, above all else, you check out these 5 acts.

Tall Tall Trees (Friday 12:45-1:25 @Harbor Stage) – Though Mike Savino aka Tall Tall Trees has not released an album since 2012’s Moment, he’s still certain to turn heads with his unconventional approach to the banjo, a style which has conjured words like ‘banjotron’ and ‘space banjo.’ Don’t act like you’re not intrigued.

Deer Tick (Saturday 3:15-4:15pm @ Fort Stage) – It’s clear to see that John McCauley and co. have become the kings of Newport Folk Festival, and you’d be silly to think they don’t have at least a few tricks up their sleeves as they hold court over the main stage for the first time ever.

Nickel Creek (Saturday 4:40-5:45pm @ Fort Stage) – This reunion tour was destined to make a stop at the hallowed grounds of Fort Adams and something tells us that the crowd’s energy at this set will be beyond infectious.

Conor Oberst (Sunday 3:20-4:20pm @ Fort Stage) – We know for sure that Dawes will be joining the Bright Eyes frontman on stage to perform tracks from his stellar solo release Upside Down Mountain, but we have a hunch that a few other Folk friends will be joining in on the fun as well.

Jeff Tweedy (Sunday 4:45-5:50pm @ Fort Stage) –  Or shall we say simply Tweedy…Regardless of the name that Jeff Tweedy is using to brand his solo debut, the man is a legend and we fully expect the Folk to pay their regards as he dazzles the festival’s main stage on Sunday afternoon.

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Lake Street Dive

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[Editor’s Note: Guest blog post by contributor Ryan Bach]

Lake Street Dive released their second album earlier this year, and since has been gaining attention from press and music lovers alike. Founded in Boston, MA in 2004, the band was formed while the members were enrolled in New England Conservatory of Music. LSD derives its unique sound from its various influences, which include country, bluegrass, jazz, and of course, The Beatles. The video that may have sparked all the buzz though was a cover of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” filmed on a sidewalk in Brighton, MA.

The band’s original songs seem to pay homage to its influences by carrying the ’60s and ’70s sound to its newest and second official release Bad Self Portraits. LSD’s debut album In This Episode came out back in 2006; however, the band was temporarily unable to release any work with lead singer Rachel Price due to her restrictions with a previous record label contract. While the legal issues were being settled, the band used the time to tour and write extensively. As soon as the contract issues were resolved, the band was more than ready to get back into the studio to record their second album.

The time that the band put into Bad Self Portraits doesn’t disappoint, with highlights including the swinging tune “You Go Down Smooth” and the title track. Lake Street Dive did a great job of incorporating old-style tunes to a modern setting in their latest album, and the band’s summer plans will surely grab your attention. Highlights of their summer tour include:

7/25/14                      Newport Folk Festival                     Newport, RI

7/27/14                      Xponential Music Festival              Camden, NJ

9/7/14                         Boston Calling                                 Boston, MA

About the Author

Ryan Bach was raised in Glenview, Illinois before attending Boston University, where he studies business and competes for Boston University’s Men’s Swim Team. See more of his writing on his personal website.

Newport Folk Festival Spotlight: Reignwolf

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Normally a band who is touring with Black Sabbath wouldn’t appear at the Newport Folk Festival in the same year…those things just don’t mix. As we’ve learned over the years though, Jay Sweet and his festival booking team understand that the term “folk” can be interpreted in many different ways. We saw Freelance Whales and Tegan & Sara in 2011, tUnE-yArDs in 2012, and now the Fort will welcome the gritty blues rock of Jordan Cook aka Reignwolf to its hallowed festival grounds. Armed with a guitar, a kick drum, and a helluva lot of distortion, Cook is guaranteed to turn some heads at Newport this summer. Check out a video of Reignwolf performing “In The Dark” for NPR at last year’s Sasquatch Music Festival, and make sure to grab tickets for Friday while they last!

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