THROUGH THE LENS: The Newport Folk Festival – The Highwomen, Dolly Parton, Our Native Daughters, and More
Brandi Carlile and Dolly Parton - Newport Folk Festival 2019-Photo by Anthony Mulcahy
This week is a first for the Through the Lens column: the Newport Folk Festival. From Pete Seeger to Bob Dylan to Brandi Carlile, the festival has always been not just a showcase of the music that binds us, but also a platform for social change.
Women made big statements this year, including a much-buzzed-about appearance by brand new supergroup The Highwomen (Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, and Carlile) on Friday night. And on Saturday, Carlile acted as a curator of the first all-female headline act at Newport, pulling together a master class of women artists whose diversity of talents is astounding.
Anthony Mulcahy, a New York musician and photographer who’s shot the festival before, provides us with a report and scads of photos for this week’s column. You may have already seen some of this photos on social media, including in posts from Carlile, who shared several.
Anthony was also able to get several artists to sit for portraits for him, and some of those are included. Many thanks to him for going above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his first time reporting for the Through the Lens column; I hope it is far from the last.
60 Years of The Newport Folk Festival
Since 1965 when Bob Dylan, The Chambers Brothers, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band plugged in, many artists have gone electric at the Newport Folk Festival. These days it’s eclectic as well, as the range of genres represented at iconic Fort Adams is about as wide as the Narragansett Bay that the main stage overlooks. From Newport’s early days with Pete Seeger and friends singing “We Shall Overcome” to Mavis Staples and Friends closing out the festival in 2018 with “A Change Is Gonna Come,” it’s clear that the core message hasn’t changed in the past 60 years, only the faces flying the flag.
With the festival widely known as one of the folk scene’s most important events to play, people make the pilgrimage year after year from all over the world to hear what Newport has to offer and experience the tricks up its sleeve. The cornerstone of this amazing weekend has never changed, with inclusivity, diversity, and equality championed among musicians and fans alike. It’s always a wonderful feeling to be #oneofthefolk.
The three-day marathon of music takes place in Fort Adams State Park, which is just a short boat ride from downtown Newport, Rhode Island. The three outdoor stages, Harbor, Quad, and main stage The Fort, become the home for many incredible talents over the course of the weekend. An indoor stage, The Museum, hosts an array of different features as well as the pillar showcase, “For Pete’s Sake.” After being here for a few years, you begin to recognize and nod at familiar faces in passing and get hugs from those with whom you may have shared a moment along the way. The sense of community around the whole event is like nothing I have ever experienced, and the festival organizers love to embrace it wholeheartedly.
The Highwomen, Brandi Carlile, Dolly Parton, Judy Collins
The Highwomen’s first festival as a band (in fact, one of their first ever live performances) set the stage for what was to become Brandi Carlile’s defining moment at Newport. Granted, over the years she has lent her voice to many an artist whenever and wherever at the Fort, but 2019 will be remembered as the year that Carlile took it home. With her incredible supergroup, the time was now. Yola made a guest appearance and was another one of those magical moments that lifted her from a stranger to one of the most talked about artists by Sunday evening. Carlile commanded the stage as well as the audience, and when the Saturday night set “♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration” got underway we knew we were truly in for something special. An all-female cast gave blistering performances in the evening sun as Carlile took the reins and called upon Judy Collins to set the course for this historic performance. Courtney Marie Andrews, Maggie Rogers, Yola, Sheryl Crow, and Linda Perry all shined brightly as we came down to the special, unannounced guest: Dolly Parton. We got the hits, we got the tall tales, and together with Carlile the duo took us for a ride that Newport will never forget.
Our Native Daughters, Graham Nash’s “Songs For Beginners,” and More
Picking highlights from the Newport Folk Festival is an almost impossible task. There is an endless amount of magic taking place at any given time. Our Native Daughters stole the Quad Stage on Sunday, and the supergroup comprised of Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell, whose music is centered around folk revival, drew a packed house. There is a depth in there that was sometimes even too much for the women, who were visibly overcome by the reactions for the songs and drawing from the immense energy in the space. This is a true folk community.
Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” set, a tribute comprised of Newport alumni covering the record from end to end, was an absolute gem. Performances from Hiss Golden Messenger, Mountain Man, The Ballroom Thieves, and more were met with many a standing ovation.
Traditional Irish band and Newport debutants Lankum took us down the rocky road to Dublin on the Museum Stage, Erin Rae stole some hearts with her beautiful performance as a part of “The Future is Female” showcase, while the incredible I’m With Her dropped jaws at the Quad Stage on Friday afternoon. Folks trust the lineup; there’s a reason why this festival’s popularity is through the roof. The finger is firmly on the pulse.
The Old Folk Line Finale
Sunday evening wound down with late afternoon performances from Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle, as well as Hozier with Mavis Staples leading us into the closing set, “If I Had a Song.” With a little lyric booklet being handed out to festivalgoers, Kermit the Frog and Jim James got the ball rolling. Judy Collins returned for a performance with Robin Pecknold, and festival producer Jay Sweet made sure that the audience didn’t just sit back and take this all in by pumping up the Fort for this hour-plus-long singalong.
Many familiar faces from the weekend came back to close out the 60th anniversary of this very special festival, and none other than Ramblin’ Jack Elliott brought the show home with “Goodnight, Irene.” Collins and Elliott both performed in the first incarnation of the festival, which was from 1959 to 1969, and to see them back at the fort over 50 years later was a beautiful way to pay homage to all the folk greats who cemented the foundations for this event. It didn’t feel like a passing of the torch so much as a gathering of as many around it as possible to protect the flame. Long may that light shine.
Note on Anthony Mulcahy: While Anthony has been a musician for over 20 years, in 2016 he decided to get into photography to more completely express himself. It came to him naturally, and quickly — in that first year he shot over 500 bands. In addition to shooting for a number of publications, he began working directly for bands on their stops in New York. He has worked with Iron & Wine and Glen Hansard, is one of the house photographers at The Levon Helm Studios, and is the official photographer for several festivals in New England. As if that were not enough, Anthony shoots overseas as well. You can see his more of his work on Instagram, @mulographynyc.
Now, onto Anthony’s astonishing photos.