The 2017 Newport Folk Festival – Friday Highlights

The 2017 Newport Folk Festival kicked off with the charming, bluesy finger-picking guitar and clever lyricism of L.A. Salami, a London-based singer-songwriter who’s debut album “Dancing With Bad Grammar” was listed among Bob Boilen’s Top Ten Albums of 2016.

Big Thief stole everyone’s hearts as the audience quietly took in songs off the band’s latest offering, Capacity, musical poetry performed solo by Adrianne Lenker, with lines that offer a moment of reflection: “You were outside kissing another/She was a friend of mine… There are no enemies/We’re make-believing everything.” Guitarist Buck Meek gazed at Lenker with adoration for the first few songs, before joining her for older favorites, including “Paul” and “Masterpiece.”

Hurray For the Riff Raff leaned heavily on their latest offering, The Navigator, an album inspired by AKA Nevita Milagros Negrón, a fictional character dreamed up by lead singer Alynda Segarra. The Navigator, is a “street kid,” based on Segarra’s own childhood, who finds herself wandering back to her roots. Segarra dedicated “Hungry Ghost” to “all the queers out there” and spoke out against gentrification in “Rican Beach.”

Alone and Together, a Newport tradition of bringing together musicians to cover one another’s songs, featured Kevin Morby, Sam Cohen, and Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats, joined by multi-instrumentalists Joe Russo and Josh Kaufman.

South-Carolina-based Shovels and Rope seemed to let the world fall away during their set, sharing one microphone until their lips nearly touched, barely breaking eye contact only to throw their heads back to roar their high-spirited tunes. The married singer-songwriter duo largely drew from their 2015 album Swimmin’ Time, harmonizing vocally and instrumentally on songs like “The Devil Is All Around.”

Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard’s solo set began with a cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” followed by a few newer Death Cab songs including “Black Sun,” and finally earlier hits like “Passenger Seat” and “What Sarah Said,” lulling the audience into a peaceful reverie.

“It’s such an honor to be here,” Gibbard said after the first few songs. “In the historic place where Donovan went electric.”

When Regina Spektor graced the stage, seated at a shiny Steinway and smiling ear to ear, she greeted the crowd like a beloved old friend. The New-York based singer songwriter pianist worked through her most celebrated songs, from “Folding Chair” to “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” to an enraptured audience, eventually meandering over to newer songs including “Small Bill$,” off last year’s poppy, electronic-inspired album, Remember Us to Life.

Finally, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold took to the stage for the headlining act, the band’s first performance at Newport Folk since 2009 — “a better time,” Pecknold joked, “there was no economy.” The set ranged from newer material off of this year’s album, “The Crack-up” and “Helplessness Blues” favorites, from “Mykonos” to “Grown Ocean.” Pecknold’s time away from music evidently served him well, with a clear voice and a sense of joy at the very act of performance, paired with multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson, who bounced between flute, horns, an upright bass and percussion throughout the set.

Photos by Tori Bedford