Can’t-Miss Folk Festival Acts

Fifty-seven years have come and gone since the internationally acclaimed Newport Folk Festival opened the gates of Fort Adams to folk fans of all walks of life. The balance, however, to respect the historic past and modernize the festival for young Folkers has been at the forefront of the Newport Foundation’s mission. This year is no exception.

With everyone from the electrically boisterous Alabama Shakes to the seminal folk mastermind Graham Nash in attendance this year, the festival has struck that fine balance. This is a festival lineup worthy to stand to the likes of Bonnaroo and Forecastle Festival.

The Newport Folk Festival cannot garner this amount of talent without causing a few scheduling problems for concert-goers, and that is why I am here to tell you which artists folking rock on such a gargantuan lineup. So open your ears, strum your banjos and prepare to be adding a lot of new music to your Spotify playlists.


Friday, July 22

JP Harris (Harbor Stage); 11 – 11:40am

I am somehow always pulled into going to the first set of the festival on Friday and the JP Harris performance is no exception to this rule. With his signature country twang and care-free attitude, JP (as he likes to be called) exhibits the modern spirit of folk fest that continues to bring me into the fort year after year.

The Arcs (Quad Stage); 5:35 – 6:35pm

Dan Auerbach, lead singer of The Black Keys, has been serving double duty as of late with the unveiling of his new project, The Arcs, last year. I caught the group last December at the Orpheum in Boston and I was blown away, which explains their standing on this list. Built with the goal of blending soul and alternative rock, Auerbach breaks new ground in a project that is worth all the praise.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones (Fort Stage); 1:55 – 2:45pm

Damn. That is all I can say about lead singer Paul Janeway’s voice, which bursts with his southern gospel roots and jazzy finesse. Their iteration of big band soul music is addictive as hell and will surely have everyone at the Fort Stage on their feet dancing to their audacious, deep spiritedness.

Raury (Quad Stage); 1:35 – 2:25pm

What do get when you mix folk and rap? One of the most ingenious and genuine artists of this decade, that’s what. Since I saw his performance on Colbert, I was hooked instantly by his ungodly stage presence and way he interacted with his backing band, it was simply otherworldly. I’m calling it right now — this kid will be the undiscovered gem of Newport this year.

Ray Lamontagne (Fort Stage); 4:40 – 5:50pm

Folk superstar Ray Lamontagne has had a hell of a year with the release of his newest critically acclaimed double album, Ouroboros (seriously, go listen to it), and a tour that features the guys of My Morning Jacket, sans Jim James, serving as his backing band. This translates to one hell of an expectation of Lamontagne’s arrival to NFF and who knows, we may get a surprise from James, MMJ frontman and sonic magician.

Honorable Mentions:

Flight of the Conchords (Fort Stage); 6:15 – 7:30pm

Brett Dennen (Harbor Stage); 3:45 – 4:40pm

Case/Lang/Veirs (Quad Stage); 4:10 – 5:10pm

Saturday, July 23

Banditos (Quad Stage); 11:10 – 12pm

I can admit, I had no clue who these guys were when they were announced to play this year, but after listening to “Still Sober (After All These Beers),” I couldn’t take my ears away from that warm bluesy tone. Think of Deer Tick meets The Dead Weather and you have this concoction that will sure have the crowd buzzing with enthusiasm.

Father John Misty (Quad Stage); 5:40 – 6:40pm

They say Austin Powers is the international man of mystery, but I am here to say that that honor should be bestowed upon Father John Misty. This former percussionist of the Fleet Foxes (ever heard of them?) has made quite a name for himself with a solo career that is as wacky as it is profound, blending a mix of lost love and methodic comedy. Expect the same from his solo performance at the fort.

Patti Smith (Fort Stage); 6:15 – 7:30pm

The godmother of punk is gracing us mere mortals with a headlining performance to be reckoned with Saturday night and I, for one, couldn’t be more ecstatic to see her name on this year’s billing. With the vocal prowess and stage presence of rock deity, Smith will keep the good times rolling as we ride our horses into the sunset.

Lady Lamb (Harbor Stage); 2:30 – 3:20pm

You can always bet on finding the best undiscovered talent here at Newport and the name that resounds the most is that of Lady Lamb. I caught her open for Tallest Man on Earth at the Columbus this month and all i can say is, WOW. Her indie edge will provide a melodic twist to Newport that will have crowds rush the Harbor Stage.

Ryan Adams (Fort Stage); 3:10 – 4:10pm

The Man. The Myth. The Feelings. Ryan Adams may be the most bewilderingly amusing folk musicians of our time with a catalog of music that hits you in every sense you didn’t even know existed. Adams may also be the greatest folk musician to emerge in the past two decades and with The Infamous Stringdusters and Nicki Bluhm backing him up, expect the most talked-about performance of this iteration of NFF.

Honorable Mentions:

Frightened Rabbit (Quad Stage); 2:55 – 3:50pm

Norah Jones (Fort Stage); 4:40 – 5:45pm

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (Fort Stage); 1:45 – 2:45pm

Sunday. July 24

Son Little (Harbor Stage); 1:15 – 2pm

R&B is the name of the game with rising folker, who has opened up for the likes of Mumford & Sons and Lord Huron in the last year alone. Even though he just released his first solo record last October, Son Little has made quite a name for himself in the folk scene and warrants your eyes and ears for his sure to be crowd-pleasing set.

Ian Fitzgerald with Smith&Weeden (Harbor Stage); 11 – 11:40am

Local Rhode Island bands are essentially the heart and soul of this festival as they represent the area while paying homage to the legacy of folk. This certainly continues this year for my most anticipated local performance of the festival, made better by the fact that Smith&Weeden has finally made their way to the fort. Looking for your daily dose of badassery? Then you have come to the right place as Fitzgerald will folk your faces.

Elvis Costello (Fort Stage); 4:40 – 5:45pm

Renaissance man and imposter Elvis Costello has been somewhat of an icon for new wave during the ’70s and ’80s though now, his folk-centric stylings are hitting the Fort Stage for what will definitely be one hell of a show. Costello has even enlisted the aid of Larkin Poe (do yourself a favor and listen to them) for his performance, guaranteeing that the Napoleon Dynamite of music hasn’t aged one bit.

Alabama Shakes (Fort Stage); 6:15 – 7:30pm

Let me tell you, Alabama Shakes has been one of those bands that I always have wanted to catch but somehow miss whenever they come around. Finally though, you and I will be able to catch one of the loudest and most bombastic blues rock bands in the scene. Lead vocalist Brittany Howard’s voice is stuff of legend and certainly deserving of the headlining spot on the last day of the festival.

Middle Brother (Fort Stage); 3:10 – 4:15pm

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the award for the most “Newport Folk Festival performance of the year.” Composed of Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit (who will perform solo on Friday), Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and John McCauley of Deer Tick, this folk supergroup will be celebrating the 5th anniversary of their only record and believe me, this is the performance of the year that you should not miss.

Honorable Mentions:

Glen Hansard (Fort Stage); 1:45 – 2:45pm

Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Quad Stage); 2:45 – 3:40pm

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes (Quad Stage); 5:30 – 6:30pm