by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
The Newport Folk Festival kicked off Friday with an impressive array of music that encompassed every corner of the folk genre.
Newport has a well-earned reputation as a “special and magical” event, an experience unmatched by bigger and more visable music festivals. Legacy headline acts and lesser known talents mingled together between the 3 stages and the trademark ‘hootenanny’ aspect of the show was fully on display, with many guest collaborations occurring throughout the day.
Early highlights included an acrobatic high energy set on the Quad stage inside the fort from Liz Cooper and the Stampede, British singer songwriter Yola’s set at the Harbor stage, and 25 year old Oklahoma native Parker Millsap’s crowd-pleasing Fort stage set.
Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes began his set solo with acoustic guitar, delivering some bluesy songs before being joined by former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed on a bluesified take on a song he had originally performed by Garth Brooks, “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House.” After performing several other tunes, including a crowd pleasing “Soulshine,” Haynes closed his set with appearances by Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson and Jonathan Wilson on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
Two of the most popular sets of the day took place on the smaller Quad stage inside the fort – Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real and country/folk supergroup The Highwomen both delivered sets that had the seated Quad audience on their feet.
Nelson and his band, fresh of some European dates backing Neil Young, rode the wave of some attention they’ve earned from appearing in last year’s blockbuster “A Star is Born” remake. Nelson effortlessly played the role of rockstar – at one point playing a guitar solo with his teeth. Their well-paced set included songs from their latest album “Turn off the News (and Build a Garden),” a plea to get away from community-dividing cable news and to reconnect with one’s community.
The Highwomen, consisting of country superstars Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, along with guests Yola and Jason Isbell, provided perhaps the most popular set of the day – in fact, many people had left Sheryl Crow’s set at the Fort stage in order to catch this set and missed a cameo appearance from James Taylor who joined Crow for her “Every Day is a Winding Road.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench began his solo-piano set with a slam poem before launching into Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
Singer Kacey Musgraves performed a highly anticipated and well received set at the Fort stage accompanied by her tight band.
Friday’s sets were capped off by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and his Terrapin Family Band, which featured well played songs from the Dead canon, a guest appearance from Warren Hayes on CSNY’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” and appearances from Audley Freed, Benmont Tench, and Sheryl Crow on a set closing take on “Not Fade Away.”