A Newport Folk Festival Playlist

Jack McManus on July 24, 2012

Tucked in America’s largest coastal fortification at the mouth of Newport’s bustling harbor, the Newport Folk Festival attracts the biggest names in acoustic folk, bluegrass, and indie rock as well as music fans from around the country. With roots in the 1960’s folk revival (keep an eye out for the older fans with “I Saw Dylan” buttons), Newport Folk has become a celebration of American music that transcends generation gaps, with recent lineups featuring legends like Pete Seeger, John Prine and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot alongside newcomers like The Avett Brothers, Iron and Wine, Punch Brothers and Jim James (who will headline this year with My Morning Jacket). Aside from the unbeatable lineup, musicians and fans alike flock to Fort Adams for its sheer beauty – only at Newport Folk can you watch sloops and schooners cruise by while listening to some of the best bands in America.

With a strong roster of young talent and old favorites like Jackson Browne, this year’s lineup is hard to beat. To help you get ready, we’ve assembled a playlist of the songs we hope to hear at the Fort this year.
Dawes “It’s Gonna Be All Right” *
After rocking the harbor in 2010 and making a surprise appearance last year during Middle Brother’s set, Dawes returns once again to Newport – check out their live set closing sing-along “It’s Gonna Be All Right” and get practicing on those harmonies!
Johnny Corndawg, “Keep Your Body Happy Through Exercise” *
Esteemed renegade country-western singer, leatherworker and marathon runner Johnny Corndawg is one of the most colorful characters in music today. Not only is “Keep Your Body Happy Through Exercise” a great example of his clear, funny songwriting but it also packs a useful message for everyone.
Sara Watkins “Long Hot Summer Day” *
The only thing more impressive than Sara Watkins’ angelic voice might be her ripping fiddle solos. The former Nickel Creek vocalist and fiddle player tours with her brother and longtime bandmate Sean on guitar, playing their trademark mix of traditional and contemporary folk tunes. Chris Thile will also be at the festival with his new group Punch Brothers, so a brief Nickel Creek reunion isn’t completely unfeasible.
Deep Dark Woods “Sugar Mama” *
These Canadian folkies put out a great album called “The Place I Left Behind” earlier this year, showing their knack for relating specific feelings in their songs that range from depression to sunny optimism. Given the environment, expect a more upbeat set from these guys at the Fort.
*tUnE-yArDs “Doorstep” *
Merrill Garbus and her bands have been wowing audiences worldwide with their dynamic take on West African-influenced pop. The band’s quirky aesthetic and loop pedal magic keep everything exciting, and Garbus has a voice so powerful it’ll shake the Newport Bridge.

More from Newport Folk…Ben Sollee “Captivity” *
Progressive folk cellist Ben Sollee puts a unique twist on the acoustic singer/songwriter formula, pushing the boundaries of his instrument by picking and scratching his strings for unexpected but fascinating percussive effects. Floating above his cello stylings, fresh, clever lyrics and catchy melodies make his songs relatable and easy to love.
Megafaun “Real Slow” *
These North Carolina-based psychedelic folkies started out in the growing musical hotbed of Wisconsin, and they’ll be making their first Newport Folk appearance supporting Wilco on the night before the festival proper, which will be one of the first Fort Adams shows after dark.
Jonathan Wilson “Can We Really Party Today?” *
Another mainstay in the psychedelic folk rising, Wilson infuses his traditional song structures with progressive acoustic and electric guitar work and his hoarse, Dylan-esque vocals. Having toured with Tom Petty, Wilco, and festival headliner Jackson Browne, Wilson’s live show is crowd-tested and ready to impress the Newport faithful.
Sharon Van Etten “Give Out” *
Starting out as a moody acoustic songstress, SVE’s sound has expanded in recent years, adding an extra dose of power with a full backing band and more electric guitars. These changes have especially benefitted her live show, backing her emotional vocals with heavy, bold drums and bass. A talented songwriter in his own right, Doug Keith’s contributions on bass and guitar are especially impressive.
*Frank Fairfield “Nine Pound Hammer” *
Even though he was barely alive in the ‘80s, this 24-year old picks the guitar and banjo like a member of the old guard. Especially at Newport Folk, where the spirits of bluegrass legends like Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson live on in full force, Fairfield’s traditional picking and dusty vocals will feel right at home.