Folk lovers, get ready. Mecca of folk festivals, Newport Folk Festival, is just around the corner, with dozens of performers on multiple stages over the course of three days. If you’re one of the lucky ones to have tickets to the sold-out festival, the opportunities to see live music in Fort Adams July 22-24 are dizzying, but don’t worry: I’m here to help. . Here are six artists you can’t miss.
The man, the myth, the legend.
Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr. in Harlem in 1942, Mahal actually has local roots: His family moved to Springfield when he was young, and he later studied agriculture and ranching at UMass Amherst. There he joined an on-campus party group, the Elektras. (I like all that.)
After graduating, Fredericks went to Los Angeles and, influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, took the stage name “Taj Mahal” in 1964. He joined the Rising Sons and opened for Otis Redding, the Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas; “mixed with” Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sleepy John Estes, according to his site.
Today, the 80-year-old’s voice has turned into a rough, almost raspy growl, tailor-made for the back porch blues. Sometimes his growling voice almost seems to me Louis Armstrong-esque. “TajMo” – his 2017 Grammy-winning album with Keb Mo, Mahal’s third win to date – is outstanding. A must listen:Dive into the duck blues.” 22nd of July
All greet the new queen of the country.
It’s like feeling Morris, 32, quietly and slowly built a following until she exploded as a solo star. In April, his album “Humble Quest” established a Amazon Music world record for most day one and week one streams of a female artist’s country album.
Being a fan of both John Prine and Dead & Company, I’m in love with his cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” and dug his duet with John Mayer on her solo tour (she is also featured on his “Last Train Home”). But it was her work with supergroup The Highwomen – featuring Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires – that hooked me. (Yes, it’s a female version of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson’s outlaw supergroup, The Highwaymen. I love it.) I also love this Insta video of the band duet with Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Fest in 2019. Listen to their Grammy-winning track “Crowded table.” And if you missed Highwomen jam with Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and Yola at Newport Folk in 2019, catch two of the Highwomen soloing this year: Morris and Carlile. July 24
Brandi Carlile and her friends
Newport Folk was a special festival for John Prine and his fans, and many know Carlile through Prine, between live duets or his support for his albums – especially on his latest album. (His tribute to Prine at the 2021 Grammys was magnificent.)
Carlile is, of course, a certified folk/country star in his own right – of playing SNL to accommodation Ellen’s Show co-star in rock documentary now touring festivals “The Return of Tanya Tucker: With Brandi Carlile.” The six-time Grammy winner and 17-time Grammy nominee is also a vocal lawyer for LGBTQ+ causes. She told NPR in 2018: “I think in America, our politics are particularly personal… So when I sing about politics, it’s tied to my marriage, which couldn’t have happened a few years ago in sadness.” I don’t know who “the friends” are here – they aren’t billed on the Newport Folk site – but you’ll want to see Carlile. A strong personality who says what she thinks and sings with all her heart. For a taste, listen “broken horses.” July 24
Whether you’re a bluegrass fan or just appreciate the genius when you hear it, two words: Béla Fleck. The winner of 15 Grammy Awards and 36 times nominated is considered the most technically proficient banjo player in the world. Get closer to the stage for this one. The virtuoso is a sight to behold, deft fingers that can seem to flash across banjo strings at the speed of sound.
Born in New York and named after classical composers, Béla Anton Leoš Fleck fell in love with the banjo when he heard Earl Scruggs on “The Beverly Hillbillies”. After a career that has taken him across many genres – including a Latin Grammy Award-winning collaboration with late jazz master Chick Corea – Fleck’s latest album “My Bluegrass Heart” is a return to his first love, bluegrass. For a taste, listen to the classic breakdown, featuring Billy Strings and Chris Thile, “slippery eel“and the fingering that stands out”vertigo.” 22nd of July
Fort Adams will dance to the beat of these Philadelphia legends. The home group on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the hip-hop/soul/alt rap group has been churning out funk since the late ’80s. Groove throughout a live set by the founders Tariq “Black Thought” Walker and drummer and Oscar winner Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson. The three-time Grammy winners and 14 nominees brought down the house — well, the Fort — at Newport Jazz Festival in 2017. They have collaborated with everyone from Erykah Badu to john legendand their 2020 Grammy Awards performances with Gary Clark Jr. was intense. Their shots are the subject of epic workout playlists. July 24
Valerie June first landed on my radar about 10 years ago when she performed at Fall River’s Narrows Center for the Arts. Since then, his star has truly risen. His stellar latest album, “The Moon & Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers,” features covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” I also like its ethereal blanket from “The Blues Run the Game”.
Everything about June is unique. Her voice can sound almost otherworldly, almost similar to Alison Krauss’; she is a sacred finger picker and banjo player. I would like to see her pull out her big old resonator guitars. In her Instagram bio, she calls herself a “yogi, healer, poet, illustrator and creative”. A poet for sure, and his music can be felt as healing balm for the soul. I could listen to June sing the phone book – and I’m not the only one. In a 2017 interview published on his website, Bob Dylan says he’s a june fan. (Bob, what should we call ourselves? “June bugs?” You can answer me.) July 24
And a few others:
I told you I would name six, and a promise is a promise – but here are a few more. Catch them if you can.
- Black Opry Review (July 23)
- Bonny Light Horseman & Friends (July 23)
- Dinosaur Jr. (July 22)
- Durand Jones and the Indications (July 23)
- Lucius (July 23)
- The Felice Brothers (July 22)
For more information, to join the ticket waitlist or for FAQs, visit the Newport Folk Festival website.