We’re here, we’re finally here: the final day of the Newport Folk Festival, 2018. We know y’all have been anticipating our secret little pick for the best performance of the year. Well, we’ve got it (and how we’ve got it!). Let’s get a-cookin’ right away.
Y’all may not know this, but we love Mahalia Jackson. So when we heard this gospel duo was going to come up to Newport, we knew we had to see if they are the real deal. Well, are they? Let’s just say we guarantee you will be fans of the self-proclaimed “Church of the War and the Treaty.”
Strange name for a gospel duo, right? Well, they take no prisoners when it comes to their music: we were blown apart.
Here they are, by the way (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer). BOOM:
The married duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter took the first slot on the Quad stage, and we have to say that their band was the surprise and highlight of the whole festival. Absolutely. Without a doubt. We’d heard their single “Healing Tide” (off their first LP of the same name, out now) and knew, KNEW this was going to be a show. But you never really know how much so, not until you see, right? Gospel, passion, soul, (sweat) and the best vocals of the festival were on the Quad. Their studio album is good (review to come soon), but really, it’s nothing compared to their live show. This is the up-and-coming band you want to bring people to. It’s absolutely enthralling and completely mind-blowing.
After catching this whole set, unfortunately only an hour long, we had to move on toward Nels Cline on the Quad Stage, a couple sets later.
Cline plus resonator (plus another guitarist not pictured) took to the music of Curtis Rogers (see fretboard above). The set was about as folk-styled as you can get it, and although Rogers’ output was in the 60s, we enjoyed the early 20th century feel of Cline’s performance. It was delightful.
On the main stage was the Lone Bellow partway through Cline’s set, and we had to include a photo of the energetic chap and lady. They were far more rock than we’d remembered from some time back, the kind of rock which played well on the main stage, certainly. And if you like rock, specifically blues rock (something akin to Jimi Hendrix, if you will), then enjoy a taste of this:
Gary Clark, Jr.’s album Blak and Blu is one of those on our playlist (after all, he does a cover of “Third Stone from the Sun” on it), and we’d wanted to catch him for some time. He took the main stage, and while his voice felt rusted over during his performance, we yet enjoyed his loud brashness. Though it’s certainly hard to get a good photo of Clark!
We’re trebly excited for this next one.
Brandi Carlile had been haunting several stages at the folk fest all weekend, and that didn’t mitigate our excitement for her main stage set even on iota. Her voice is stunning, her songwriting superlative, her energy infectious. And unlike some blues rockers, the country lady is incredibly photogenic. Her new album, By the Way, I Forgive You came out this February, and is one you need to check out as if we hadn’t mentioned that before. This was the act that had us shuffling around excitedly all weekend, and it was worth every titillating minute.
Jon Batiste hosted the final A Change is Gonna Come set, onto which a slew of Newport Folk Fest performers flocked. One of the staples of the Newport Folk Fest in recent years was there, too.
Mavis Staples was on stage! (Get it? We set up a pun, don’t you see?) Not just Staples, but a congregation (a pack? a gang? a litter?) of musicians took the stage as well. Don’t believe us? Look, here is the proof:
We see Maggie Rogers, Leon Bridges, Kam Franklin (boogieing, of the Suffers), Brittany Howard (shaking, of the Alabama Shakes), and far far too many others. The Dap-Kings backed the over-dozen musicians as they performed soulful protest songs, such as “Freedom Highway” and, of course, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” It was a blissful set, and we didn’t even get to mention Chris Thile, Rachael Price, Valerie June… just everyone. For this reason and more, the closing set at the Newport Folk Festival is the one set you cannot possibly miss on the summer weekend. It’s blissful, joyous, danceable… everything. It’s the deep spirit of collaboration at the folk fest on display, of communal music, of brother- (and sister-) hood.
It’s the reason we have music: to come together.
And we thank you for coming together today! And hanging in for our coverage of the crown jewel of the music festival circuit. Thank you! We must leave you, but only until next time.
Enjoy the waning summer!