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Newport Folk Festival 2019

In the world of music festivals, Newport Folk towers. Now in its 60th year, it has the longevity, history, and allure that other festivals can only dream of. But despite, or in part because, of its grandeur, you would be hard-pressed to find a more overwhelmingly inclusive event. It uses its towering tent poles to welcome more people into the fold. And it uses its wide reach to span generations, bring people together, and embrace them. We don’t have to go out searching for an illusory “Rainbow Connection,” we have a real one right here. The lovers, the dreamers, and anyone who wants to join. Kermit included.


This year was similar to the last nine I’ve attended in that it was both better than expected and better than previous years. Producer Jay Sweet continues to program a heady mix of old and new which fosters fun connections, and his capitulation of main stage sets to Brandi Carlile and Chris Funk for collaborations led to showcases that were simply sublime.

Carlile’s crew of The Highwomen stole the show on Friday. The troupe of Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby tore into songs from their forthcoming album, and the group can certainly expect a “Crowded Table” at their next performance. Some songs like “Redesigning Women” and “If She Ever Leaves Me” are destined to be stamped in country music canon.

By now you’ve likely heard about Saturday’s surprise guest, Ms. Dolly Parton, who checked off slews of bucket lists before even belting out a note. “Me and Rhode Island have a lot in common,” she opined. “We’re both little, but we make a lot of noise.” After “9 to 5” there wasn’t a person in the crowd not having fun, marking a perfect Saturday night closer and a historic one at that. ♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration was the first all-female act to headline Newport.

Sunday’s closing “If I Had A Song” collaboration spawned such gorgeous moments, it’s hard to pinpoint the highlights. There was Kermit the Frog (!) and Jim James singing “Rainbow Connection.” Trey Anastasio and Lake Street Dive’s Rachel Price singing “God Only Knows” backed by the Berklee Instant Strings. Eric Johnson, Robin Pecknold, and James Mercer singing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” with Judy Collins!

But the tenderest moments came on the smaller scale. The festival distributed lyrical songbooks to the crowd before the last set, featuring not only song lyrics to the performance, but lovely photos of Pete Seeger as well. It served as a tactile connection from the past to the present, and ultimately the future. It felt tender, and sweet, and hopeful. In other words, it felt exactly like Newport. 

Other highlights:


  • The Highwoman - Complete set

  • Yola - Complete set

  • Hozier (with Mavis Staples) - “Power” 

  • Cooks in the Kitchen (with Tallest Man on Earth) - “Rock of Ages”’

  • Kevin Morby, Complete set

  • Phil Cook - “Ain’t It Sweet”

  • Sheryl Crow - “If It Makes You Happy”

  • Stephen Marley,  “Three Little Birds”

  • Courtney Marie Andrews (with Brandi Carlile) - “May Your Kindness Remain”

  • Trey Anastasio - “Sample in a Jar”

  • Song for Beginners - “Better Days”

  • Jade Bird - “Uh Huh” 

  • Nilufer Yanya, Complete set

  • Adia Victoria set at Newport Blues Cafe

  • Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle

  • Caamp surprise pop-up set


Photos and Words by Brian Hodge 

Additional photos by Bethany Hodge

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