Newport Folk Festival 2022 Flourishes with Momentous Sit-Ins
Lucius with Brandi Carlile taking in the sights, shortly before the special Joni Jams set
(Photos by Dean Budnick and Caroline Budnick)
More than 60 years since its founding in 1959, the Newport Folk Festival continues to entertain and inspire. The festival concluded last night at Newport, R.I.’s Fort Adams State Park, following a weekend that featured artists in rare raw form, as well as collaborations between legendary musicians and powerful new voices.
Friday’s lineup immediately set the bar high at the waterfront venue. The first-ever recipient of the festival’s John Prine Songwriter Fellowship, Leith Ross, opened the gates with heartfelt sonic explorations on family, love and grief. They were followed by performances from Arooj Aftab, Goose, Taj Mahal and collaborations including Dinosaur Jr. with Courtney Barnett, Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart all-stars (which welcomed Noam Pikelny for a tune), an incredible performance from The Silk Road Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens, and more. Goose made their NFF debut, and the band members remained on site throughout the weekend. The National also welcomed a wide array of guests during their set on Friday, with Cassandra Jenkins on “I Need My Girl,” Bonny Light Horseman’s Anaïs Mitchell joining during “Rylan,” Hannah Georgas on “I am Easy to Find,” and Adia Victoria on their 2007 hit “Fake Empire.” For the final song in their set, they welcomed all their guests on stage for “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”
Saturday offered another stunning array of sonic delights, despite COVID-19 interceding to preclude the appearance of Bonny Light Horseman, who were set to play Wilco and Billy Bragg’s album Mermaid Avenue. The festival adeptly arranged a special set that featured a number of musicians already on site, who, as Executive Producer Jay Sweet explained, volunteered their time to support the larger cause. Mitchell opened Clusterfolk with a performance of Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” before Natalie Merchant performed “Carnival” and “Kind and Generous,” Lukas Nelson covered Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why,” and Craig Finn closed the impromptu set with a cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
The day also saw a performance by Lucius with special guests including Celisse and Goose’s Rick Mitarotonda and Peter Anspach on “Strawberry Letter #23.”
Neal Francis was a dynamic presence over at the Harbor Stage, while Clairo performed material from her latest album, Sling, at the Fort Stage with producer Jack Antonoff looking on from the photo pit.
Bleachers’ set on Saturday included a soaring rendition of the National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from their 2010 LP High Violet. During the song Bleachers, frontman Antonoff welcomed Clairo and Lucy Dacus, who both had their own sets earlier in the day; they were also joined by Mitarotonda on guitar. Notably, all three also appeared with Antonoff at his Bonnaroo superjam this year.
Another blessing of a performance on Saturday was The Black Opry Revue, where a variety of artists shared a wide-ranging display of prowess in both their playing and their songwriting: the blues inclinations of Chris Pierce, pickings of Buffalo Nichols, the tender anecdotes of Leon Timbo, the sensibilities of Autumn Nicholas, the fire of Derek Campbell, Brandon Campbell of The Kentucky Gentlemen and the soulful Joy Oladokun all shined equally.
The biggest highlight of the day was arguably Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ “American Tune Review,” a tribute to Paul Simon, during which Simon himself eventually appeared. Before Simon joined Rateliff and his ensemble and special guests including Courtney Marie Andrews, Marcus Mumford, Lee Fields, Adia Victoria, The Silk Road Ensemble, Lukas Nelson, and more explored his iconic discography until he joined them for “Graceland,” “American Tune” with Rhiannon Giddens, and then a massive group sing-along on “The Boxer.” The set closed with a solo acoustic take on “The Sound of Silence.”
Early in the day on Sunday, Sylvan Esso surprised fans with a performance of their entire new album, No Rules Sandy, marking the official launch of the next chapter for Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. Meath offered, “[it] feels like who we actually are. It just feels like us. We’re not trying to fit into the mold, just happily being our freak selves.” The day before the duo showcased their new label Psychic Hotline, which featured many of collaborations. Temperatures peaked in the high 80s but the performers were not deterred, with notable sets from Anais Mitchell, Blake Mills, Oladokun, Maren Morris, and more. The Roots responded to the incredible heat with unmatched energy.
Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s set was originally slated for his wife, Mandy Moore, who remained home due to health reasons, as the couple anticipates the birth of their second child in a few months. The audience spilled out of the tent as he opened solo with “The Game” and moved to fan favorite “Mr. Los Angeles.” Members of Goose then joined him for “Comes in Waves,” recreating some of the magic from 2021’s Fred. the Festival at the LOCKIN’ Farm, in Arrington, Va (Goldsmith had also sat in with Goose the previous night for covers of “Atlantic City” and “Don’t Do It” during an official aftershow at the Newport Blues Cafe). A couple fans then joined in for a take of Dawes’ beloved song “Things Happen,” harmonizing line for line. Towards the end of the set, Blake Mills and Goldsmith swapped tracks as Mills (and Mitarotonda) joined Goldsmith for “Roll With the Punches,” after which Goldsmith covered Mills’ “Hey Lover.” Sweetly, Goldsmith closed his set with a tribute to his wife by covering her song “Save a Little for Yourself,” backed by the Newport Children’s Choir, which originally had been planned for her performance.
Like the evening before, there was a particular standout and iconic performance on Sunday. Joni Mitchell, with the loving care of Brandi Carlile, returned to the stage for her first full set before the turn of the millennium. The performance also marked her first return to Newport Folk Festival in 53 years. The two recreated their shared and secretive “Joni Jams,” which have taken place over the years at the artist’s Los Angeles home. They were joined on stage by the likes of Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith, Wynonna Judd, Lucius, Allison Russell, Blake Mills, Celisse and more.
The show got underway with “Carey,” which saw Mitchell add her signature vocals to the number which initially appeared on the esteemed Blue album. Next, Goldsmith helped out on “Come in From the Cold” before Celisse took the stage and lent her talent on one of Mitchell’s greatest hits, “Help Me.” Throughout the set, the Blue singer-songwriter shared stories with the audience, reflecting on her life. She also took up the guitar, stunning many audience members who thought she was unable after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015. Other highlights from the set included “Summertime,” “Both Sides Now,” and set closer “The Circle Game.”