By Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
The 2019 Newport Folk Festival is in the books, and maintains its place as the gold standard of music festivals – impeccably run, a beautiful location, and well-curated sets that had a broad appeal – from relative unknowns to globally known superstars.
Festival Producer Jay Sweet knocked it out of the park again this year, and turning the reigns over to Brandi Carlile to produce the all-women Saturday Finale that culminated in a rare Rhode Island appearance from Dolly Parton was a brilliant move – she was amazing, there’s no other way to put it.
Sunday Morning kicked off with the by now traditional appearance of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which certainly broke the Sunday morning quiet in the most wonderful way.
Sunday also featured sets from such acts as Stephen Marley, a high energy set from Lake Street Dive, Courtney Marie Andrews, The Milk Carton Kids, and Bonnie Light Horseman.
Phish singer/songwriter/guitarist delivered a mellow solo acoustic set at the harbor stage in the afternoon, playing a mixture of Phish favorites and solo material, while joking and chatting with the crowd, which isn’t something that you’d typically hear at a Trey Anastasio Band or Phish show.
One of the most unique and powerful sets of the day belonged to Our Native Daughters, consisting of Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell of Birds of Chicago, and Amythyst Kiah. During the soundcheck, Giddens remarked that there were over 30 instruments on the stage, and the women of the band took full advantage creating soaring sonic landscape at the Quad stage.
An impressive bluegrass clinic was delivered by the Incredible Stringdusters at the Quad Stage, certainly living up to their name.
Hozier delivered a crowd pleasing set at the Fort stage which featured several cameos, including Brandi Carlile and Mavis Staples, who appeared to a thunderous response from the audience.
Phosphorescent delivered an experimental dreamscape of a set, utilizing synths and lops to create an ethereal mood at the Quad stage.
Portugal. The Man played to a packed crowd in the Quad, while the headlining singalong was put into place at the Fort stage.
Saturday the big reveal was the legendary Dolly Parton joining Brandi Carlile, The Highwomen, Sheryl Crow, and more for the “Collaboration” set, but Sunday’s closer was billed as a singalong, kicking off with a surprise duet between My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and none other that Kermit the Frog on “Rainbow Connection” – the beaming smiles on the faces of the crowd tells you everything you need to know about that magical moment.
Other highlights of the singalong included a duet between Trey Anastasio and Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price on the gorgeous “God Only Knows,” with backing from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Mavis Staples teamed up with Our Native Daughters for “Eyes on the Prize.”
Benmont Tench took on Dylan’s “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall,” Portugal The Man took on the Kinks’ “Strangers,” while Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold joined Jason Isbell, and Eric D. Johnson for some fantastic harmonies on CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” before being joined by Judy Collins herself (Steven Stills wrote the tune about her more than 50 years ago) to finish off the classic tune.
Collins then hushed the crowd with a take on “Turn Turn Turn” with Pecknold, she had originally performed the tune with Pete Seeger over 50 years ago.
The entire cast joined Ramblin’ Jack Elliot for the classic closer “Goodnight Irene.”
— Kermit the Frog (@KermitTheFrog) July 29, 2019
And so another Newport Folk Festival wraps up for the year. It’s no wonder these shows sell out even before the lineups are announced – it is just that damn good. We can never thank founder George Wein, producer Jay Sweet, or this year’s MVP Brandi Carlile enough.