Friday, 1:50, Quad Stage
Phox hails from Baraboo, WI, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers' Circus. I'm not sure if that is connected to their music or not, but Phox has an otherworldly charm and a magical feel. They come across as a more grounded St. Vincent or a less intense version of early Tori Amos. Their music is simply beautiful and uplifting.
Friday, 2:55, Quad Stage
Truly pushing the boundaries of what can be considered "folk" are Reignwolf. Reignwolf is Jordan Cook, who sounds like a mixture of The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age, mixed with just a little hint of shoegaze. It definitely breaks the folk festival stereotype of mellow acoustic guitars, and I'm heartbroken I won't be able to attend and see his set on Friday. Let's hope for a surprise Paste Ruins appearance over the weekend, although he might be too intense for the tiny space.
Saturday, 11:05, Quad Stage
I have been a fan of Rachel and Petra Haden for decades, starting with their 90s band that dog., and their collaborations with Beck, The Rentals, Weezer, Petra's a capella work, and more. As The Haden Triplets, they team with Tanya to bring some of the most beautiful three part harmonies you'll hear all weekend. It's very traditional folk, much more on the lines of The Secret Sisters than First Aid Kit (to keep the sister band comparisons active). It's a change of pace from what we're used to from them, but I adore their debut album.
Saturday, 1:35, Quad Stage
Last year I fully planned to catch Shovels & Ropes' set at Newport, but I got sucked into Frank Turner's. I did catch 3 songs of Shovels & Rope, and while I didn't exactly regret my decision, but I was disappointed I missed them. As soon as it was announced they were playing again this year, I was determined to see their entire set. Until they were paired against Benjamin Booker. I have become truly obsessed with the 2 songs that have been released by Benjamin Booker so far. I would literally miss any of the other acts at Newport this year to see him. His blend of Delta blues mixed with late 60s Detroit proto-punk hits me perfectly. If his set is anything less than the highlight of the year, I'll be disappointed.
Saturday, 2:50, Quad Stage
Another act I fully planned to see last year but missed at the last minute, Houndmouth are back at the Fort. I heard maybe half of "Casino (Bad Things)" last year and fell in love with their upbeat alt-country sound. It's a perfect blend of male/female harmonized group vocals with great hooks and guitar solos. They remind me strongly of Summerteeth-era Wilco.
The Deslondes were formerly known as The Tumbleweeds (in the playlist below they're known as Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds, to make it more confusing). They play old time Sun Records era country in the most raw, edgy form possible. Their official website calls them a "New Orleans-based country-soul, swamp-boogie band," and that pretty much nails it. They are the perfect way to ease you into Sunday morning at the Fort.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Sunday, 12:40, Fort Stage
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down's version of alt-folk are so absurdly upbeat, it's my initial reaction to recoil from them. But it's just so damn catchy and fun. It's almost the danceability of the current alternative dance music, but with quirky guitar. "We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)" might end up being the must fun moment of the entire weekend.
Sunday, 6:15, Fort Stage
I know this entire post is to highlight some of the lesser known bands, and Mavis Staples is headlining the weekend, but I also know a lot of people tend to take off before the Sunday headliner. I get it, it's a long weekend and people have to start heading home. I was shocked by the exodus before Beck last year (but, then again, any time Lumineers fans leave, it can't be all bad), and you owe it to yourself to see Mavis. Under any other circumstances I hate gospel singers, but she has the most powerful voice I have ever heard in person. It's the kind of voice that makes an entire crowd gasp as she starts. Beyond the National Treasure that is Mavis Staples, it's billed as "Mavis Staples & Friends," so you know you'll miss something you'll never forgive yourself for if you don't stay.