Newport Day Two: It’s all about choices
After a day of rain and drenched shoes squishing through mud, the second day of this year’s Newport Folk Festival was beating with sun. Arriving a little late, I took a seat at the back of the crowd around the Harbor Tent for Sarah Jarosz. Backed by Nathaniel Smith on cello and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Jarosz moved through material from across her two already-released albums, as well as a couple of selections from her forthcoming disc – due on Sugar Hill Records Aug. 6. She covered Tim O’Brien and shared one she co-wrote with Darrell Scott. It was a lovely set, marked by Jarosz’s remarkably casual dexterity on her instruments, but it was the next stage over, where the party started.
Hurray for the Riff Raff fiddler Yosi Perlstein brought the bayou to the Quad Stage, backing Alynda Lee Segarra’s rich vocals and thoughtful songwriting. It was a danceable good time, some honest-to-goodness swamp folk made by a straight-shooting troupe of young artists. They pulled up the Spirit Family Reunion for a number, increasing the presence onstage to at least a dozen people. Nonetheless, the groove was tight and the spirit was high.
Meanwhile, over on the mainstage, Langhorne Slim delighted a huge, bouncing crowd of enthusiastic fans. But, either something was amiss at the sound board, or the band was falling short. The whole arrangement devolved into random senseless banging that actually left me wishing for a banjo whose notes could be heard. (Insert banjo joke here.)
Luckily, the fervent grounds of folk festivals being what they are, there was something else right around the bend. Inside an old fort museum, Amanda Shires was quietly delivering tunes from her new album that’s due out next month. Sandwiched between a number of other Nashville-based singer-songwriters, on a sort of curated open mic hosted by Joe Fletcher. Jason Isbell joined in for backup and some lovely, understated harmonies before delivering a single song by himself. Easily one of the early highlights of the day.
From there, it was on to Shovels + Rope and Iris DeMent, holding things down for opposite ends of the modern folk spectrum. Isbell came back for an early evening set, heavy on tunes from his new album Southeastern. The crowd was rapt and drinking it all in – you could have heard a pin drop in the middle of many of those songs. But just as we were all feeling sad and sentimental, he and the band would spin into some back-to-back rock-outs on old Drive-By Truckers songs. “If anyone’s walking by, wondering who that guy is doing all the Drive-By Truckers covers,” he said, “…well, I used to be in that band and I wrote those songs.”
From there, it was all about choices, as festivals often are. I headed to the mainstage for Trombone Shorty (good choice), then back to the Harbor for Justin Townes Earle, and closed out the day watching the Avett Brothers play a frantic but fun set on the festival’s mainstage. Meanwhile, over the walls of the fort, Colin Meloy was playing, backed by members of Black Prairie and their pal Laura Veirs. No doubt that was a set to remember, but by the time the sun began to set over the harbor, there was no wrong place to be.
More today, as we catch Cold Specks, Tift Merritt, Black Prairie, Ramblin’ Jack, and more. Here’s my report from Day One.