Well, it’s finally here! The Newport Folk Festival is the highlight of the summer for many music fans and WhatsUpNewp has more Festival coverage than anyone else! This week’s special edition “Six Picks” looks at six fascinating acts scheduled at the festival.

Of course, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list – most of these picks are personal favorites and everyone has their own. With that, go out, explore, and enjoy … and most importantly, Folk On!

 “A Change is Gonna Come” Sunday

Thematic sets have always been a part of the Newport Folk Festival. Last year’s “Speak Out” session was a highlight and became a Record Store Day collectable. Other than “Unannounced,” this year’s most unpredictable set is this one, organized by Festival favorite and late-night bandleader Jon Batiste. He’ll be joined by the Dap Kings (former backing band of Sharon Jones) and we expect an assembly of special guests. We assume the theme will develop around the Sam Cooke classic in the title, but at Newport, you never know. The set closes the Festival beginning Sunday at 6:15 on the Fort Stage.


Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit Friday

Jason Isbell is perhaps the best songwriter in America right now. Songs like “Elephant” and “If We Were Vampires” transcend normal songwriting – every single line is brilliant. He’s become sort of a country protest singer, raising awareness while sharing very human stories. Check out “White Man’s World,” another story of hope and redemption below and then check out Isbell on the Fort Stage Friday at 6:15.

Kaia Kater Saturday

Newport is well known to promote “unknown” and “lesser known” acts and bring them to a wider audience at the Festival. Although she’s been making great music for several years, Montreal native Kaia Kater falls in the lesser known category. Her brand of banjo-driven roots rock was described in Rolling Stone as “plaintive, mesmerizing …(she) writes and performs with the skill of a folk-circuit veteran.” She’ll be performing Saturday at 11AM on the Museum Stage as part of “For Pete’s Sake.”

Charlie Parr Sunday

Charlie Parr is a bit of a Folk-Blues throw-back, traveling to 200+ shows a year in a minivan, where he cooks his own food and sleeps in a bed living “on the fringes” as he noted in a recent interview. He’s a modern acoustic blues artist, with fresh a fresh sound and powerful lyrics. Check out his set Sunday at 3:40 on the Harbor Stage.

Nicole Atkins Digs Other People’s Music Saturday

Nicole Atkins returns to the Fort this year with a title that suggests she’ll be doing some covers – we assume. (Never assume anything at Newport Folk). The badass crooner is known for a commanding blend of folk, R&B and Soul. Expect at least one Roy Oribison tune that might cause the dead to rise. We love her retro sound – you will too! She plays the Museum Stage Saturday at 1:10.

Nels Cline Curtis Rogers Memorial Resonator Experience (Sunday)

Nels Cline is perhaps best known as the all-consuming guitarist in Wilco, where he tears apart song structures and then builds then back up again. He’s fast becoming a regular at Newport, having played with Wilco last summer and with his quarter the Newport Jazz Festival in 2016. This year, he’ll bring a special set in honor of a forgotten Tennessee country singer who had a cool resonator guitar. We don’t know quite what to expect, which makes this set even more exciting. He’ll be on the Quad Stage Sunday at 1:30.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.