Photos: Sachyn Mital

Newport Folk Fest: Jon Batiste Leads Superb Finale

Another weekend at the Newport Folk Festival provides some amazing musical memories, especially the Jon Batiste-led star-studded finale.

Newport Folk Festival is hands down my favorite music festival. Staged at a beautiful venue and gifted with a laidback atmosphere, and lobster rolls, oysters and ice cream aplenty, Newport is a musical retreat, an escape from the noise of other festivals. This year the festival’s organizers had an incredibly strong line-up, plus the tease of a mystery act set to headline Saturday evening.

And as it happened, I caught more bands than ever before (or at least I tried to) as I arrived by 10:00 am every day. As a result, I’ve had many thoughts on the fest and posted a few other pieces with festival coverage. (Read up on my experiences at the museum stage, with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and my brief conversation with Darlingside, a favorite discovery of 2018.) I felt particularly slammed on Friday with so many hard to miss acts like St. Vincent (performing a stripped down set with Thomas Bartlett as she had previously done in NYC), Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Amanda Shires, the aforementioned Darlingside, Margo Price, and the ever-present fest favorites, Lucius on the slate. I hustled to catch as many of the acts as possible for the photos you will find below. (NPR Music is streaming some of the sets from this year’s fest.)

Saturday, afternoon, I had scheduled some time for portraits with Nicole Atkins, Phoebe Bridgers, and more. But before that, I caught the wild set from Low Cut Connie. The Philadelphia-based group recently made their late night TV debut, and for their finale, frontman Adam Weiner dashed into the crowd and gave people in the audience hugs before dashing backstage. But the festival’s Saturday finale came from Mumford & Sons surprise set (though they had been spotted in Newport the day before). While I’m not a huge fan, their set perfectly encapsulated what Newport is all about, fun and surprises. They performed covers (“The Boxer”, “All I Need”), their hits (“I Will Wait”, “Little Lion Man”) and mixed it up with special guests including Mavis Staples, Brandi Carlile (this year’s MVP), their friend Maggie Rogers, Bridgers and more.

I witnessed the most earnest set from the War and Treaty on Sunday morning. The husband and wife duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter are a powerful pair who perform music that is filled with “Life, happiness, [and] joy” as they told a reporter after their set. Later in the day, they supported Glen Hansard during “Her Mercy“, a moment Michael had dreamed about. They released their debut album Healing Tide just a couple of weeks after their fest appearance.

Also on Sunday, I got to catch the Lone Bellow, whose 2017 album, Walk Into a Storm, and the song “Deeper in the Water” in particular, are still appearing in my playlists. Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist form the strong core of the group and are an intense but fun group to watch especially when Williams reaches his arms to the audience. They paid tribute to the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit with a new song and welcomed Kam Franklin of the Suffers and Langhorne Slim for their finale.

But of course, the main attraction on Sunday was the “A Change is Gonna Come” slot led by Jon Batiste and the Dap-Kings. The planning for this gig, which included acts like Mavis Staples, Chris Thile, Leon Bridges, Brittany Howard, and many, many more, began 16 months before the festival itself (as Batiste told Billboard). The impressive set included Carlile’s take on “The Times They Are a-Changing”, Thile and Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s “I’ll Fly Away”, Batiste, Bridges, and Gary Clark, Jr. covering Neil Young’s “Ohio”, and Staples herself. She performed, “Jesus on the Mainline” with Howard and “Freedom Highway” with basically every other performer on-site joining in. This was an incredible closing set for an already legendary festival. I can’t wait to see what will be in store for the 60th-anniversary show next year. I can only imagine planning is underway.

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Friday Gallery


Photos: Sachyn Mital


Saturday Gallery


Photos: Sachyn Mital


Sunday Gallery


Photos: Sachyn Mital