The 2019 Newport Folk Festival: Greater than the sum of its parts

Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow

Contributed by Angela Marandola, Contributor for What’sUpRhodeIsland.

Reunions

When you see the same people, year after year, you’re bound to make friendships. It’s kind of like that movie “Same Time Next Year” minus the complicated moral implications. Most folk friends remind you of their name, where they’re from, and share what concerts they’ve been to since last Folk Fest. My folk friend is Bri. She’s from Pennsylvania. She went to Blink 182 and Lil Wayne and like 200 festivals. 

The Old Familiar

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Will we all stand in a wading pool of cement before the gates open? Yes. Will we all move up in perfect unison against the entry gates at 9:30 like they’re ready to open just to wait 30 minutes longer? You know it. Are we looking forward to Jay Sweet’s opening well wishes? Of course. Will we hear him? Not unless we’re directly in front of him. That megaphone is a prop at this point. The best man in security, Robert E, and his killer mustache are waiting at the Quad Stage. Harbor Stage sound guy and his little stuffed tiger (who faces the stage — adorable) are present and accounted for. We’re already sweating from running to the lawn to secure our spots for the headliner. – Advertisement –

Talking to Strangers

It’s okay! I like it here. Folks are notoriously nice people who love to chat and no matter what I’ve asked or said, my new folk friend will always start the conversation with, “This is my (insert number here) year at the festival. Best weekend of the year.” 

The Moments

You’re going to find something special on every stage. Here are my favorite moments of the weekend:

-Adia Victora dedicating her songs to Virgina Woolf, Big Mama Thornton, her deceased cat, Mortimor, bad b*tches, etc. 

-Liz Cooper and the Stampede during “Kaleidoscope Eyes”. Face melted. Their drummer received a standing ovation after drumming anything he could get his hands on (stage, guitar, etc.). 

-Charley Crockett “escaping the Grim Reaper once again” after undergoing heart surgery in January and his red Fort Lonesome Suit. Fashion moment.

-Kacey Musgraves jumping moshpit of fans during “High Horse”

-Sheryl Crow and Brandi Carlile covering George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness”

-The Highwomen covering “The Chain” and giving us “the first gay country song.”

-Todd Snider finally making it to Newport!

-Haley Heynderickx entering the freshman folk class of 2019 with a Joan Baez cover and an “I’m nervous let’s do this.”

-Jade Bird going up against the heavy hitters at “Songs for Beginners” and delivering my favorite set of the weekend. After covering “Walk Like An Egyptian”, I overheard the lady behind me say, “How does she know this song, she’s so young!” Jade Bird is 21. She enjoys the Bangles, breakup songs, and being an absolute rockstar. Don’t sleep on her!

-Kevin Morby’s saxophone player’s saxophone playing

-No ill-timed “woos” during the quiet moments of Lucy Dacus’s perfect set.

-Maggie Rogers dancing. 

-Boogie fever is real. Ask anyone who witnessed The O’My’s Quad set.

-Folk couples slow-dancing to J.S.Ondara outside of a most packed Harbor stage.

-The crowd of older folks at Bonny Light Horseman schooling me on what is true folk.

-Kermit the Frog.

The Rumor Mill

Well we didn’t get Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, or the ghost of Janis Joplin but it’s all good when you get…

The Surprises

Dolly Parton. We got Dolly Parton and her hilarious banter, perfect-after-all-these-years vocals, and unparallelled charm in the most magnificent headlining set I’ve ever seen. The Collaboration was easily my favorite Newport Folk Moment of this or any of my previous eight weekends at the Fort. The first concert I ever attended was Lilith Fair in 1999. The summer before my freshman year of high school. That was also the first time I saw Sheryl Crow live. 

20 years later, this set felt a lot like that initial foray into what would become my favorite art form: live music. The set was special. Out of countless big moments, here’s my favorite three: Linda Perry, Brandi Carlile, and Jade Bird singing “What’s Up” and its iconic chorus with just under 10,000 folks. Sheryl Crow singing “Strong Enough” with Maggie Rogers and Yola. “9-5” set finale with the entire Collaboration (Lucy Dacus, Amy Ray, Molly Tuttle, Highwomen, Sheryl Crow, Yola, Jade Bird, and so on). 

Traditionally, when it comes to headlining festivals women are often overlooked as viable candidates. They allegedly don’t draw crowds. By entrusting Brandi Carlile with the much deserved opportunity to put on a show that celebrates and honors the musical contributions of our lady artists, Newport Folk Festival is once again raging against the norm on the right side of history. Judging by how long I sat in traffic, replaying what I witnessed during my favorite weekend of the year, I’d say women do draw one hell of a crowd. I loved every second of it. My heart is happy; in Brandi we trust; folk on.

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