This year our friend, photographer Jacob Blickenstaff, made it to Newport Folk Festival to check out the scene and meet some of the musicians who make up this unique gathering. At a festival known for surprise appearances, the headline-grabbing sets were Paul Simon’s return from retirement at his own tribute, led by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and the remarkable return of Joni Mitchell to the stage after a 22-year absence, due partly to the slow recovery from a brain aneurism in 2015. The historic set was made possible by the nurturing guidance of Brandi Carlile, who recreated the informal, therapeutic gatherings at Mitchell’s home — loosely called “Joni Jams” —with musicians on comfy couches in a semi-circle supportively playing Mitchell’s songs who sat in a gilded chair in the center. Mitchell delivered a moving solo performance of “Both Sides Now” and also donned a Parker Fly guitar for an improvised solo on “Just Like This Train.”
But besides these momentous surprise highlights, there is a lot more to see and experience at Newport, which returned to its three-day format after two years of pandemic disruptions. As is typical, the bookings were a blend of “Folk Family” artists — alumni who have played the festival multiple times (Lucious, Langhorne Slim, Rateliff, Rhiannon Giddens, Courtney Barnett, Hurray For the Riff Raff ) — larger acts that obliquely fit the “folk” framework (The Roots, Japanese Breakfast, Dinosaur Jr.), and up-and-coming artists in the roots/indie/Americana fields, such as Buffalo Nichols, Nora Brown, Bendigo Fletcher and Sierra Ferrell.
With a community dynamic amongst fans and artists alike, surprise collaborations and drop-ins were a regular occurrence. Courtney Barnett joined Dinosaur Jr. on a thunderous “Feel the Pain.” And Taylor Goldsmith invited both Blake Mills and Rick Mitarotonda of Goose to play during his set and also recruited members of the audience.
In pictures, here are some of the artists we met, sets we caught, and the guitars they played.