See more photos from Newport Folk and Newport Jazz below
It was a time of celebration. Not only was it Newport Folk Festival’s 55th anniversary, but it was the (belated) birthday celebration of Mavis Staples, who regularly celebrates her birthday at the festival. Newport Folk is one of the nation’s top five music festivals, and thanks to NPR, we can all listen to sets from the festival – on repeat. Though the intended listeners for those recordings were likely fans unable to attend the festival, it’s safe to say that with such an abundance of incredible music, I cannot be the only attendee with the insatiable urge to relive several of those well spent hours.
It didn’t hurt that the headliners, in addition to Staples, included Ryan Adams, Jack White and Jeff Tweedy. Of course we all look forward to the headliners, but festivals teach us that talent isn’t limited to the big names and that lesser-known artists can be equally extraordinary in their own way. Festivals are about the journey of discovering new music. Reignwolf was easily one of the most fantastic discoveries at this year’s festival, with a sound that was fresh and rough around the edges. At just 23 years old, the brilliant New Orleans-based guitarist Benjamin Booker sang as though he’d been on this planet for quite some time.
Then there were those I suspected would impress, like Shovels & Rope, Pokey LaFarge and my most recent loves, Hurray for the Riff Raff. It was a show to remember. The crowd walked away with their musical appetites well satiated, and also with the burning question (I’m looking at you, Ryan Adams): what’s the deal with songs about “wrecking balls”?
Has the world forgotten what jazz used to symbolize? It’s funny to think that jazz once had the reputation of being provocative, under-the-radar music, elusive to some and understood by even fewer. While I am not a jazz junkie by any means, I left Newport this year pleasantly surprised by my new jazz discoveries.
Admittedly, some things likely went over my head, but those that didn’t, such as Jon Batiste & Stay Human, blew me away completely. The way he combined traditional and modern sounds while still staying true to the music was absolutely enthralling. His presence was so consuming the audience immediately fell into the palms of his hands, staying there as long as he commanded them to. Later, the evening concluded with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis, which was absolutely magical. It was most certainly a moment history. Other artists that really stood out would include Gregory Porter, making me swoon from the moment he hit the stage. Bobby McFerrin closed the festival with, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” his most popular song, though he’s most often forgotten as the original artist.
I left the festival inspired and contemplative, inspired to find a way to reintroduce jazz to a new audience. It’s too good to be isolated and undervalued, especially considering how much it influenced where music is today.
– Alicia Gallagher
All Photos: Kyra Kverno