Jay Sweet, the Producer of Newport Folk Festival, introduced this years first act on the Harbour Stage: JP Harris and The Tough Choices.

Jay told the crowd, “I have chills” and I think that everyone else did, too.

To put it plainly, JP Harris looks like he could be part of a new age biker gang. With an intimidatingly rough exterior, his arms and hands are covered in tattoos, rocking short dark hair and a long beard. His sunglasses shading his eyes in the early morning of the summer sun.

And then, he smiles.

His grin is captivating and contagious, acting as the veil for his rugged, yet seemingly jaunty, voice for such lyrically dense music.

JP Harris and The Tough Choices’ hybrid of Rockabilly and Honky Tonk style was just the perfect twang-y note to begin this years Newport Folk Festival. Their sound embodies everything that the festival stands for. They play the kind of tunes you can imagine yourself listening to at an old style Saloon next to Johnny Cash and Junior Kimbrough. Opening with “California Turnarounds” J.P Harris and The Tough Choices made me feel a sort of Jack Kerouac nostalgia – JP’s voice calling for the open road.

What’sUpNewp’s 2016 Newport Folk Festival Coverage is brought to you by Midtown Oyster Bar

Their second song, “Badly Bent” also gave way to an On The Road, dusty feeling, like your heart is two sizes too big and you aren’t quite sure where it fits at the present time and you lost your shoes (which are also two sizes too big) and you aren’t quite sure where those would fit either, even if you did have them. After writing this, I read JP’s bio to find out that he did spend time as a young boy thumbing on a freight train. To a keen ear, the stories of his backpacking days are heard in the underbelly of his voice. It’s as if JP Harris jumped out of a Penguin Classic.

I thought it historically appropriate that JP Harris and The Tough Choices opened the Harbour Stage this year, their Country sound steeped in tradition. Setting the tone for the entire first day of the festival, their set created a time machine (for me at least). JP Harris was named one of 2014’s “Country Tours Not To Miss,” as well as one of “21 Must-See Country Acts at SXSW 2015.” by Rolling Stone magazine and there is no doubt in my mind that he may be invited back to Newport Folk Festival next year with open arms (and a smile).


All photographs taken by Morgan Macia, @maciaphotography.

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Jillian Tullgren

Jillian Tullgren is the Lifestyle Editor of What'sUpNewp. She enjoys a quality cup of properly steeped green tea and only writes in a black Moleskin. Follow her on Instagram @gypseachild.