For 64 years Newport Folk Festival has always had special moments. There is something about stepping onto the grounds of Fort Adams that let’s you know you’re in for a beautiful weekend. Over the past decade or so, the whole live music industry has waited in anticipation to see what the unannounced surprises are. Of course these moments are historic and unbelievable, but for those who come back every year the surprises are just a bonus.

After Joni Mitchell stunned everyone last year, as well as Paul Simon, and before that it was Dolly Parton, Kermit the Frog, Chaka Khan, and Kris Kristofferson to name a few of the legends in recent memory, it was really nice to see Newport not lean into that this year and let the music do the talking. Of course some special moments still happened, more on that later, but for the most part the bands came to the Fort and did their best to energize and wow the crowd with their art. For those who make the trek every year, this was just another year. For those who only came for the surprises, maybe there was some disappointment and a misunderstanding of what Newport Folk Festival has always been.

Newport Folk


One group of people who knew what it means to be at Newport Folk were many of the first time performers at the festival. Listening to artist after artist speak about how special it was to be on the stage and playing the festival was like watching a kid on Christmas open their present over and over again, as they see that one present they wanted so badly and didn’t think they would get. From Ron Gallo, who opened the whole festival, to Bartees Strange, who couldn’t play the guitar due to a broken finger but still gave it his all, to Remi Wolf, who made her band larger than usual to give her music some power for the set, and Alice Phoebe Lou, who wowed the crowd with her impressive song-writing, these first timers made sure to embrace the power of the festival.

Ron Gallo

Bartees Strange

Bartees Strange

Remi Wolf

Alice Phoebe Lou


Mdou Moctar, who are now stuck in the country due to a military coup in Niger, blew the roof off of the tent at Quad Stage and set the tone for the weekend early on Friday. Their powerful set had everyone out of their seats from the get go. Another band that got everyone out of their seats on Sunday was Jupiter & Okwess. They duplicated their impressive set  energy from the last time they were on the Quad Stage. Both bands, when they come back, should be on the Fort stage to give everyone the ultimate dance party atmosphere.

Mduo Moctar

Newport Folk

Jupiter & Okwess

Jupiter & Okwess


The Bike Stage, put together with the help of Illiterate Light and 11th Hour Racing, was back this year with some not to miss acts. First time Newport players Al Olender and Raye Zaragoza wowed the audiences with their amazing voices that soared from the small stage. The energy from both the Palmrya and Illiterate Light sets had the crowd rocking out as hard as the bands were on stage. The Ballroom Thieves got on the bike themselves to power the end of their set themselves. Sir Woman closed the stage out on Sunday with a powerful high energy set that was one of those that will be talked about for years to come.

Al Olender

Raye Zaragoza

Bike Foundation Stage


Illiterate Light Portrait

Illiterate Light

The Ballroom Thieves

Sir Woman


One thing that too many people missed each morning was the first hour of music at the Bike Stage that brought back For Pete’s Sake, which used to be a yearly occurrence in the museum but has been missing since COVID began. Due to long security lines that moved far too slow in the morning, these sets were not well attended and I hope they are able to be done more efficiently next year. Missing talent like Erin Rae, Valerie June, and most of J.P. Harris is not an ideal way to start each day, but these things happen.

J.P.Harris and Friends For Pete’s Sake


The Foundation Stage again had a  couple of acts that need to be on stages the next time they come through. Tommy Prine’s crowd surrounded the tent like no other act ever has in the few years this stage has been around. You could hear a pin drop during his set as the attentive crowd gave every ounce of their concentration to him. On the other end of the spectrum Grace Bowers nearly burnt the stage to the ground with her wild guitar playing as the crowd rocked out around her. To play Newport Folk on your 17th birthday is quite the feat and I’m sure there’s a lot more coming from her soon.

Tommy Prine

Grace Bowers

Grace Bowers

Newport Folk


Dan Blakeslee, after years of busking at the festival, finally took to the Fort Stage on Sunday to open the day and had one of the largest responses from the weekend. He goes hand in hand with Newport Folk and to watch him and the crowd be just as excited as one another was a great moment to witness. Another band that got a rousing ovation was Nickel Creek, who were making a grand return. The love that the Newport faithful have for them is strong and the trio put on a hell of a show and were smiles from ear to ear to be there.

Dan Blakeslee

Nickel Creek


One act that took a big step up from the last time they played were the Eastern Medicine Singers with Yonatan Gat. They were on the tiny Museum Stage last time, or more specifically the floor of the stage surrounded by the crowd. This time they took to the Fort Stage, with the addition of Lee Ranaldo, and put on rousing set that had many headbanging in the crowd. The Backseat Lovers and Goose were also moved to the main stage this year and put on great sets, showing they belonged on the main stage.

Eastern Medicine Singers

Yonatan Gat

Lee Ranaldo

The Backseat Lovers

Newport Folk



So other alums who put on great sets were Maggie Rogers and Jason Isbell. Neither ever fail to bring their A game to the Fort and each brought out a guest. Maggie brought out Del Water Gap, who earlier had played a barn burner of a set and never seemed to stop moving. Jason brought out Even Felker, lead singer of Turnpike Troubadours, who played their own great set on the Quad Stage. These are the kind of sit-ins that Newport is known for other than the major surprises and it was good to see these happen this year. All of the musicians are hanging around backstage catching up and relaxing, as this festival in particular gives off those vibes of summer camp.

Maggie Rogers

Del Water Gap

Del Water Gap

Jason Isbell

Turnpike Troubadours


Now, it wouldn’t be Newport Folk if one major surprise didn’t happen. Unfortunately Noah Kahan had to bow out of playing due to medical reasons just hours before his set. The festival called upon a local musician to fill in for him who got on their boat with their family with about 90 minutes notice. Word spread quickly, and the Quad Stage was packed for James Taylor to come out and start his new job as “emergency folk services.” It was wild to just watch him walk out and play eight songs with the last three alongside his wife and son. Another special set were Los Lobos and friends celebrating 50 years of the band. They brought out Neko Case, Nels Cline, and Jon McCauley to help them through out the set. Again, while these musicians weren’t of the ‘once in a lifetime’ of past unannounced sit-ins, it was just as exciting to witness.

James Taylor

Newport Folk

Los Lobos

Neko Case


What was great about the headliners this year is that for the most part the bands just played without anything too wild. Newport endings every year have been across every outlet, social media platform, and newspaper the last batch of years. This year it was basically throw these great bands up there and let them do what they do best. All three headliners have had great histories with the festival. My Morning Jacket, Jon Batiste, and Billy Strings have become Folk Family. Due to impending weather, Batiste’s set was cut short a bit, but that didn’t stop him from going into the crowd to end it with a short second line. The rest of his set was one of the most impressive displays of musicianship from him and his band that the fest has seen. The same could be said for Billy Strings and his band as they played to a beautiful sunset to end the last day of the festival. Watching all of their fingers fly on their instruments could make your eyes tired, but they just keep plucking away at them like there’s no tomorrow.

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste

Billy Strings

Billy Strings

Newport Folk


My Morning Jacket were the only ones with some star-powered guests. They brought out Maggie Rogers early for “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac and later brought out Margo Price for “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carol King. The rest of the set was all Jacket with the power they have been riding all year. The band has been locked and loaded this summer and with a big fall tour coming, fans of the band should be ready for anything. My Morning Jacket did save the best surprise for last as Animal, from The Electric Mayhem, surprised the crowd and sat in with them to end it with “One Big Holiday.” Muppets and Newport just go together now and it’s a beautiful thing. Animal also guested with Goose the next day on their song “Animal” and Floyd Pepper guested with Valerie June and the Folk Family Revue on Sunday for a traditional who’s who of the weekend sit-in’s to close the Quad Stage. Here’s hoping the whole Electric Mayhem comes next year.

MMJ with Margo

My Morning Jacket


Floyd Pepper and Valerie June

Floyd Pepper Folk Family Revue


Newport Folk has always been a special festival that doesn’t need the gimmick of big guests, though it never hurts to have some in your pocket. The gimmick is it’s Newport Folk and every act you see will probably blow you away. Next year is the 65th Folk Festival and I’m hoping they follow in this year’s footsteps and let the musicians on the schedule dazzle the crowd with their sets and not rely on a legend who hasn’t stepped on the stage in years, if at all, to make the festival headlines. No one would be disappointed with a major legend coming out of the wings, but no one should expect it either.

Newport Folk

Words: Lauren Byrne & Bryan Lasky

Images: Bryan Lasky



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