Three words, music lovers: Newport Folk Festival. It’s go time, baby. From Bob Dylan going electric in 1965 to Joni Mitchell’s triumphant resurrection in 2022 and countless moments in between, no music fest consistently delivers historic and/or magical moments like the fest by the sea. With dozens of artists on multiple stages over three days, it can feel overwhelming. So if you’re one of the lucky ones to have tickets to the sold-out Fort Adams event July 28-30, fear not: I’m here to help. Here are seven artists you can’t miss.
Know that Newport bills their schedule as “rolling” and notes it’s “subject to change.” For example, Massachusetts native Jonathan Richman just dropped out, so take note if you eyed that; meanwhile, M. Ward is a recent add-on, as of July 22. Another tip: You can now download a Newport Folk app for iPhone and Android, which will help you be certain to catch these acts.
What Phish is to Vermont, Goose is to Connecticut: homegrown cow-funk. The quintet’s star isn’t just rising — it’s skyrocketing, here to fill the Dead & Co.-shaped hole in your heart. The jam-groove band played Newport last year, but has matured so much since then, I have a feeling they’ll set the stage on fire. Goose (not to be confused with Brooklyn’s Geese) quietly hatched circa 2014 at the Berklee College of Music. It spread its wings around 2019 with a stellar set at the Georgia Peach Festival, and is suddenly soaring. Raw natural talent tightened into a well oiled, jam machine. Know that the crowd’s not booing, they’re chanting “Goooose,” similar to those “Bruuuuuce” chants at a Springsteen show.
Rick Mitarotonda, Peter Anspach, Trevor Weekz, Ben Atkind and Jeff Arevalo have solid originals, but it’s their ear for unexpected covers that ooze a Phish playfulness: Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” Spoon’s “Inside Out,” The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” David Gray’s “Please Forgive Me.” I’m hoping they break out Fatboy Slim's “Praise You.” Fire. July 29
The Harlem Gospel Travelers
If you watch HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones” and gape in awe at the mastery of their soundtrack, The Harlem Gospel Travelers are the band for you. Note to executive producer Jody Hill: You need to use “God’s in Control,” “Keep On Praying” and “Oh Yes He Will” next season. Religion doesn’t matter when it comes to good gospel — you feel this music in your bones and soul. Get ready to jump, dance and sway those arms in the air. July 30
Incendiary. The skater kid and flatpicking supernova is the new face of bluegrass. Equally adept at psychedelic space jamming, or channeling Doc Watson or Bill Monroe, equally at home jamming with Grateful Dead alum Bob Weir or Bill Kreutzmann, or covering Ralph Stanley. The Grammy winner’s guitar picking is second to none, but it’s his voice that slays me. It feels lifted from a 1930s bluegrass band. Pure “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” vibes. The 30-year-old hailed as a "Bluegrass icon" by NPR, he’s a tattooed jam-grass prodigy who will have you dancing, hollering and clapping like you’re at an old-school barn-burner. I could listen all day. July 30
This is One’s Act 2.
The 67-year-old native of Côte d'Ivoire just released his solo debut album “Come Back To Me,” marking his triumphant return to music. He now makes his Newport Folk debut some 30 years after becoming a star in his home country. Listen to "Birds Go Die Out of Sight," "Staring Into the Blues" or "Cherie Vico" for solid examples of his unique bilingual blend of Afropop/French chanson and American folk/blues.
Born Pierre-Evrard Tra, One grew up with a love for American folk, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel, according to his website. He eventually played for stadium-sized crowds. With Jess Sah Bi, he released “The Garden Needs Its Flowers," in 1985. The duo sang in French, English and Gouro touring Togo, Benin, Liberia and Burkina Faso. They played for presidents and first ladies; their “African Chant” was used by the BBC to soundtrack Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, according to his website. In the mid-’90s, due to an “uncertain political situation in Côte d’Ivoire,” One emigrated to the U.S., eventually landed in Nashville, and for years worked as a nurse. Then, in 2018, “Our Garden Needs Its Flowers” was rereleased, earning major buzz. He rocked SXSW and the Grand Ole Opry. July 28
Rogers crushed Newport in 2019 — I especially loved her cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” — and I can’t wait to see her back at Fort Adams. This being her first Newport since festival legend Prine died in 2020, I’m hoping for more Prine covers. Her own material, of course, is stellar. She might have the crowd dancing with songs like “Want Want” off her 2022 album “Surrender,” for example, or swaying in dream-haze with ethereal vocals on softer songs, like “Light On” or “Back in my Body.” Tip: if you’ve never seen her jump onstage with Dead & Co. for a rollicking “Friend of the Devil” and goosebump-inducing cover of The Band’s "The Weight," watch now. I had to hit replay about four times. This is the kind of magic that Newport does so well — those spontaneous duets, singalongs and collaborations. I’m hoping she surprises us at Newport. July 28
Aside from being a fun Twitter follow, Isbell is a consistent fest standout. The four-time Grammy winner and five-time Grammy nominee is, of course, known for rocking with his band, The 400 Unit. But his Newport duets with unexpected artists always blow my mind — from rocking "Ohio" with the late great David Crosby and “Wooden Ships” with Croz and Amanda Shires (Isbell’s wife), to joining Lukas Nelson, Jonathan Wilson and Warren Haynes for powerful covers of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
Fun fact: he’ll play Bill Smith in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming star-studded adaptation of journalist David Grann’s bestseller "Killers of the Flower Moon," and of course stars as himself in the new HBO documentary “Running With Our Eyes Closed.” Oh, right. He’s also one helluva songwriter. NPR called his 2023 album, “Weathervanes,” “a masterclass in character study and storytelling.” July 29
Prine’s a hidden gem on the festival’s website, not listed on the main schedule page, so I want to highlight him here. The son of the late legend and Newport Folk favorite John Prine, Tommy is Newport royalty. He made a stunning fest debut in 2021 — before his first album was even out. He’s since married his childhood sweetheart Savannah, and a few weeks ago, released a stellar debut album with “This Far South.” He’s got his own distinct sound and voice, but with his dad’s sensibilities to the bone. Must-listen: “Reach the Sun.” His camp tells me he’ll play the Foundation Stage. July 30
And a few more:
Welp, I said I’d give you seven, and I’ll keep my word, but if I could round out a dozen...
- Jon Batiste: A Newport Jazz and Folk Fest fave, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” bandleader always puts on one heck of set. July 29
- Lana Del Rey: A major pop name, there will be Lana fans who go to the fest just for her. July 30
- Black Opry Revue: What started as a website is also a touring movement. Founded by Holly G in 2021, according to BlackOpry.com: “Country and roots music have been made and loved by Black people since their conception. For just as long, we have been overlooked and disregarded in the genre. Black Opry is changing that.” When they hit the road, they’re called Black Opry Revue. Listen to an NPR interview here. July 30
- My Morning Jacket: Led by Newport regular Jim James who never disappoints. July 28
- John Oates: Yes, that Oates, sans Hall, with Guthrie Trapp. July 29