Folk On! Festival Musings (w/Pictures!)

by | Jul 29, 2021

Above: Allison Russell on the Lawn stage Tuesday for her own set; she showed up on many stages over the course of the festival and curated the Sunday night finale.

Photos by Julia Ordog

There was a precious urgency and joy about the performances at the 2021 Newport Folk Festival, with artist after artist exclaiming this was their first time back on a big stage since “the great … whatever,” as mandolin master Chris Thile said during his set Tuesday. The COVID-19 pandemic was the long winter we had survived together and now was the time to make music in the sun. 

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Gibbard summed up what probably several of the artists were feeling, during his moving set from the quad stage Monday. 

“I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon,” he said as his opened his set. Later, he said, “This has been a really soft, delicate landing into live performance.… Thank you for getting vaccinated to come to this festival.”

Attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the first day of the festival.

The event was like being at a three-day smorgasbord for me, with more offerings then I could actually take in but boy was I going to try! I got as close up each time as I could. Both venues had large screen videos of the performers, offering lots of cool angles (kudos to the video camera artists who make that happen) but I really wanted to see these performers. Zoom fatigue? Maybe. And a desire to be on my feet and moving. 

The experience reminded me – did I really need reminding? – that listening to live music is just exhilarating. The bond between performer and audience changes the whole dynamic and makes my Spotify playlists sound dull by comparison. In the case of the Newport Folk Festival, the setting becomes a third element, with those sea breezes and breathtaking views. 

The biggest names in the Monday-Wednesday segment, Beck and comedian/musician Paul Armisen, appeared on Tuesday, with Armisen also joining Beck in a comedic bit that closed out Beck’s performance. They were entertaining. But neither of them really brought it, if you know what I mean. Not like Allison Russell, Lake Street Dive, Black Pumas, Aoife O’Donovan, Langhorne Slim, Bonny Light Horseman, Sunny War, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Katie Pruitt … shoot, there were so many great performances.

RI’s own Deer Tick closed out the festival Wednesday on the lawn stage, bringing about 16 months of pent-up energy to their performance. A straight shot of adrenaline. 

This was the 24th year at the festival for EG’s Tricia Leddy and Paul Langhammer, a tradition started when their children were little (so little they were free, said Tricia). This is the first year their children, all now adults, weren’t able to come. 

“We come to see people we like but we also get turned on to people we didn’t know,” said Paul. 

On Monday, after Billy Strings played his heart (and fingers) out – “I love you, Newport!” – Paul came up to me and said, “So that’s why we come every year, moments like that.”

As Deer Tick’s John McCauley said after a group singalong of “Goodnight Irene”: “Can’t wait until next year.” Amen.

Be sure to check out Julia Ordog’s work – she’s awesome and a member of the EGHS Class of 2012. Thanks, Julia!




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Dave Abell
Dave Abell
July 30, 2021 7:59 am

Great pictures of the folk fest! Love the captions.

Andy hartnett
Andy hartnett
July 30, 2021 11:05 am

Good review and comments, thanks! I think you should have mentioned Ben Gibbard’s performance among the highlights however.


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