The three days of peace, love, and music that is the Newport Folk Festival were graced by beautiful summer weather and another strong lineup, anchored by its Saturday and Sunday headliners, punk rock legend Patti Smith and blues rock stirrers Alabama Shakes. Those still laboring under the notion that Newport Folk is, well, predominantly filled with folk acts might be surprised to see how this venerable music fest — the oldest in the country — has reinvented itself in recent years. Festival organizer Jay Sweet’s definition of “folk” seems to have been expanded to cover just about anyone who plays really good music. If you happen to use an acoustic guitar to do so, all the better — but that clearly is no longer a requirement. Let’s not let a silly thing like genre stand in the way of putting together a stellar festival, shall we.
Here are the 10 best things we saw at this year’s festival. They may or may not be the 10 best sets of the weekend, for there were some very good moments we weren’t able to catch in a very busy three days, but they were the 10 best we saw and they were pretty damn good.
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St. Paul and the Broken Bones
This was my first time catching this six-piece soul band out of Alabama, despite them having played Boston numerous times in the past, and they lived up to their reputation. Irrepressible front man Paul Janeway, clad in gray suit, red shirt, and black dress shoes encrusted with sequins, was a dancing dervish on stage Friday afternoon. He and his band blew through an 11-song set, drawn mostly from their debut album, Half The City, with a few new tracks off a forthcoming record due out in September and a Van Morrison cover thrown in. Janeway is an old-school soul man, full of sweat and passion, and if you weren’t on your feet and dancing with your own broken bones during this set, you may need to check your pulse.
Matthew Logan Vasquez
When he was fronting Delta Spirit, he went by the shorter, simpler Matt Vasquez. But apparently Mr. Vasquez has gone all uppity on us, and because he’s a Solo Artist now thinks he can reinvent himself as Matthew Logan Vasquez. I do declare! However, his electric set — in both the literal and figurative sense — has earned him the right to use whatever moniker he chooses. This was one of the gems that Newport is always good for — an artist on one of the secondary stages, in the middle of the day, with little hype or fanfare, delivers a blistering set that carries the audience along with him. Vasquez seemed to be having a ball. He’s always been a demonstrative front man, and he was on fire as he burned through songs off his solo disc Solicitor Returns, as well as some well-chosen covers, including “I’m Walking” (the Fats Domino song that you know even if you don’t know you know… I’m walking, yes indeed, I’m talking…), “Many Rivers to Cross”, and “Angel From Montgomery.” Cape Cod’s own Parkington Sisters joined him for much of his set.