In terms of American music festivals, the Newport Folk Festival needs no introduction. It’s one of the oldest, most revered festivals in the country and since it’s birth in 1959 has repeatedly found itself at the crossroads of music history. But also, it’s not your father’s folk festival anymore — they’re broadening the definition of folk, encompassing a wider berth of genres and expanding the palette of sounds for the 21st Century. Folk purists, if there are any of those left, may balk at the inclusion of some acts but true music lovers should be delighted by three days of tunes that paint a bright picture for the future of American music. And while this is by no means a complete list of all the acts American Songwriter is excited to see at Fort Adams State Park — the line-up is crammed to the gills with goodies — here are fifteen of our favorites. You can stream the show here.
The Mountain Goats (4:45-5:40, Harbor Tent)
We’ve been following John Darnielle’s hyper-literate songcraft since the mail-order cassette days — it was just like the internet only it took forever to get your tunes — so to see him become one of the elder statesmen of indie-folk is supremely satisfying. Almost as satisfying as spending entire days luxuriating in his back catalog or an afternoon soaking in their live show.
John McCauley (6:10-7:05, Quad Stage)
While the new Deer Tick record is almost here — it’s so close we can almost taste the Negativity — and sure to be a monster, a solo set from from lead Tick McCauley will quench our thirst for the next little while. Rumor has it McCauley is performing with “friends” which means you’re guaranteed to see familiar names and new faces all letting loose.
J.D. McPherson (3:35-4:40, Fort Stage)
Let us be blunt: McPherson is one of the most visceral and dynamic performers of our generation. His 2012 album Signs & Signifiers might be one of the most fiery rock records since Bo Diddley’s hey day, a blazing collection of primal beats and grimey guitars that sounds like it escaped from a time capsule, but his live shows are purely of the moment.
Milk Carton Kids (2:35-3:25, Quad Stage)
While NFF may be in the process of expanding the definition for the 21st Century — an admirable and daunting task — Los Angeles duo Milk Carton Kids could very well have been on the inaugural line-up. Their expertly crafted tunes are direct descendents of the first folk revival and would have been right at home at The Bitter End or Gate of Horn.
Low Anthem’s Newport Homegrown (3:00-5:30, Museum Stage)
Our favorite thing about music festivals — besides, ya know, days of non-stop music — is the opportunity to see our favorite artists present their favorite artists in intimate settings. This Low Anthem-curated locals-only show featuring Roz Raskin & The Rice Cakes, Last Good Tooth, Death Vessel, and Vudu Sister promises to be a stunner.
Jim James (3:25-4:25, Fort Stage)
It’s just not summer unless we see ol’ Yim Yames on the stage and this will make the third time since he released his wonderful solo debut Regions of Light and Sound of God. Yes, we’re a tad obsessed but the My Morning Jacket frontman has never let us down and the future-soul of Regions will make for an amazing set of seaside listening.
Jason Isbell (4:15-5:15, Harbor Tent)
Can we just agree to give Jason Isbell all of the awards right now? The former Drive-By Trucker’s new album Southeastern is the pinnacle of what American music can and should be, the sort of masterwork that comes along once in a lifetime, the sort of record that leaves scars on your heart and heals your soul.
Shovels & Rope (2:30-3:30, Quad Stage)
Nothing quite warms our hearts like the sudden and overwhelming success of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent’s Shovels & Rope. Maybe it’s because the duo are two of the sweetest people we have ever met, but it’s more likely because they write fist-pumping folk anthems that bristle with energy, pathos and honesty.
Frank Turner (2-3, Fort Stage)
Don’t be surprised if this English singer provokes a mosh pit — slam dancing and crowd-surfing may be very un-Newport but they are practically inevitable when Turner takes the stage. Drawing on the finest of both the punk and folk traditions, Turner writes rowdy singalongs so fu they would make Roger Williams spin in his Puritan grave.
Joe Fletcher’s Newport in Nashville (1:30-5, Museum Stage)
Here’s our suggestion for an alternate title: “Joe Fletcher Presents American Songwriter’s Favorite People.” Providence native Fletcher is a Nashvillian-by-association and the stage he is curating is almost like an Eastside house show, with appearances from Andrew Combs, Steelism, Derek Hoke, Amanda Shires, Shelly Colvin, Joshua Black Wilkins and more. Definitely worth the 1,100 mile drive from our office to Newport.