Anais Mitchell at Newport Folk 2021 (Photo: Ken Abrams)

With over 50 acts scheduled to perform at this weekend’s Newport Folk Festival, it’s close to impossible to pick just six favorites, but we’ll give it a go. The historic festival begins Friday, July 22, and runs through Sunday, July 24 at Fort Adams State Park. We’ll have complete coverage on WhatsUpNewp including daily recaps and photos from WUN Photographer Rick Farrell and Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams.

Friday: Taj Mahal is this year’s “legend” appearing at the festival. He first appeared at Newport 54 years ago – check out his July 25, 1968 set here. The 80-year-old musician has garnered a good deal of positive attention this year for his collaboration with Ry Cooder, Get Onboard, a hard-driving album of blues originally recorded by Newport Folk 60’s heroes Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Taj plays the Fort Stage at 1:55.

Friday: Bluegrass music has been a part of the festival going back to its origins and lately, Newport has welcomed some of the top players in the genre. This year, banjo extraordinaire Bela Fleck keeps the tradition alive leading a set entitled “My Bluegrass Heart.” Fleck will be joined by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and others, in what will undoubtedly be a memorable set. They take the Fort Stage Friday at 12:40.

Saturday: Black Opry Review – Although you might not know it given contemporary marketing practices, there’s a long tradition of African Americans in country music. (Think “country blues” for starters – some of Newport’s greatest performers in the 1960s came from that tradition.) The Black Opry Review is a unique collection of over 20 artists who span the country music spectrum. Rhiannon Giddens, Autumn Nicholas, Leon Timbo and Aaron Vance are expected to perform. Check out this historic set at 5PM on the Harbor Stage.

Saturday: Bonnie Light Horsemen, the singer-songwriting supergroup comprised of Anais Mitchell, Eric Johnson and Josh Kaufman, is returning to Newport with a special set as they play the complete Mermaid Avenue Vol.1 album, originally released by Wilco and Billy Bragg in 1998. The seminal recording features the words of Woody Guthrie put to music by Wilco and Bragg, all approved by Guthrie’s daughter Nora. Special guests (maybe even including a Guthrie) will be there for the 2:55 set on the Quad Stage.

Sunday: Buffalo Nichols is a young artist keeping the acoustic blues tradition alive. His moody songwriting features compelling lyrics and his timing is pure Mississippi Delta. Pay attention, you’ll probably hear his name again in the future. He’ll be playing the Harbour Stage Sunday at 12:05.

Sunday: Brandi Carlile and Friends. The guessing game began early. Who will Brandi Carlile bring to her closing set Sunday night? She’s sure got a lot of “friends” from Elton John to Joni Mitchell to Sheryl Crow who played the Festival in 2019. We won’t even bother to guess at this point, but we do strongly advise you to hang around till the end of the festival Sunday evening. Brandi takes the stage Sunday for a full two-hour set Sunday at 5:45.

More don’t miss acts: In the Newport tradition, many of 2022’s acts will challenge members of the audience who prefer their folk to be more traditional. Alt-pop duo Japanese Breakfast is the band of the moment led by Michelle Zauner. Expect The Roots to totally kick ass during their set Sunday on the Fort Stage at 4PM. Look for 16-year-old banjo extraordinaire Nora Brown at the Foundations Stage, and don’t forget to say hello to WUN fave Dan Blakeslee, the official festival busker who will be welcoming crowds daily near the front gate!

For more on the Newport Folk Festival, including the complete schedule, download the app or click here.

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.