Newport Folk Festival sells out so far in advance, that most of us are left wondering what it’s like to actually attend. This year was no exception. Before half of the lineup was released, the iconic Rhode Island folk festival saw all of its passes purchased and excited patrons lined up at the gates. Getting there early is key. Headliners are an obvious shoe-in for best act of the day, but it’s the festival’s early acts, the underrated locals and worldwide underdogs, that leave the strongest impression.
After a dusty, joyful, hippie-filled three days, we’ve returned from the water-lagged grounds with five rising acts we’re confidently putting our money on. Wait five years and these fellas will be the next Sufjan Stevens and Bela Fleck.
A Canadian who hides stereotypical kindness behind lyrics is a Canadian worth trusting. Andy Shauf creates the type of detailed backstories and remarkable personification that seems too vivid to not be true. Let’s hope that’s not the case otherwise this kid will be jailed for all the murders he’s committed. See him without his band. His stories wrap themselves neatly between the lonesome, hypnotic chords of his acoustic guitar, making those tales of death and isolation all the more chillingly cold in his delivery.
THE BALLROOM THIEVES
Word on the street is we’ve got some good bands in our backyard, huh? Fresh off the release of their debut full-length, The Ballroom Thieves took over the Newport stage with impressive gusto and warped acoustic layerings that see cello and kick drum jumping from muffled warmth to spirited percussive jolts. Start your day or end it with a few listens to their material. For a mere three people, they sure know how to fill out their sound.
HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER
Hiss Golden Messenger is the North Carolina act that refuses to give up hope. With four albums under his belt, M.C. Taylor uses harvest as a theme of representation and reinvention, but live, he goes from acoustic meanderings akin to Bob Dylan or the Tallest Man On Earth to jam rock blues spilling over with spirit. When the day is breaking and you need a reminder of what’s worth pushing on for, give Hiss Golden Messenger a spin.
JON BATISTE & STAY HUMAN
Here comes the next big thing for music and television alike. Louisiana native Jon Batiste is an unbelievable multi-instrumentalist and vocalist that parades around onstage (and off) with contagious energy, zipping through heartfelt covers (“Blackbird”, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) and jazz-soaked variations (“Killing Me Softly”, “If You’re Happy And You Know It”) that punch your heart. That phenomenal pool of talent comes from a long lineage of musicians from the Batiste family of Louisiana — and it’s certified him a job as the music director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. If you’ve never experienced a party in the streets of New Orleans, Batiste and his tuba-totting crew have got you covered.
MADISEN WARD & THE MAMA BEAR
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear isn’t just a cute name; it’s real life. The Kansas City duo are a mother and son devoted to the raw origins of folk and its backporch simplicities. As such, they capture the tranquil intimacy of lyric-fronted songs about family, death, and the snapshots of our everyday lives. Come for the charm, stay for the effect. Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear will leave you free of worrisome thoughts and bring you several steps closer to finding true peace of mind.
Read our recap of Newport Folk Festival Day 1 here.
Read our recap of Newport Folk Festival Day 2 here.
Read our recap of Newport Folk Festival Day 3 here.