Another year of the ultimate summer camp for adults has officially come to a close.
The Newport Folk Festival returned to Rhode Island, Friday-Sunday, July 22nd-24th, to full capacity after last year’s half-capacity COVID restrictions that led to the festival being spread out over six days (QRO photos). Some of these restrictions seemed to limit bands to stripped-down sets without their full bands due to COVID travel concerns. But 2022 was a return to the full-out, jam-packed Newport action that music fans took for granted before the pandemic took away our access to live music.
Day Three continued the educational aspect that is a cornerstone to the work the non-profit festival does on a daily basis. A pop up set by Celisse was a tribute to the legacy of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and keeping her name, music, and legacy alive. Valerie June continued this sentiment on the fort stage with her unique mix of blues, Americana, and folk music entwined with her effervescent warm energy. Meanwhile at the Quad Stage, punk newcomers The Linda Lindas called for “the kids to the front” and harkened to a music history that they were not even alive to see, as their band members range from 11 to 17. Newport is truly one of the few music festivals that brings center the context and history with each act of its curated lineup.
Sylvan Esso debuted their new album, “No Rules Sandy”, in its entirety that had the hot and dusty ground in front of the Fort Stage feeling like a dancehall in Brooklyn. The Roots kept everyone dancing with a high energy performance despite the heat and lived up to the hype they received when they were announced on the lineup.
Anyone who has attended the Folk Festival in the past few years knows that when Brandi Carlile is on the lineup, she has a few tricks up her sleeve. In 2019, it just so happened to be Dolly Parton (QRO photos). The Allison Russell-curated closing set of 2021 (QRO photos), gave the audience a sing along to “I’m Every Woman” with Chaka Khan. And in 2022, Brandi triumphantly introduced Joni Mitchell to the stage – her first time being back at Newport since 1969 (and first live performance in twenty years).
The stage was set up in a semicircle, with couches and a beautiful chair for the icon herself, complete with candles, orchids, and even wine. The audience was transported to the “Joni Jams” – the sacred and elite jam sessions that took place in Mitchell’s home over the last few years, with a core group of musicians that included Carlile herself and even Elton John. Here, they would play music for Mitchell over a glass of wine (or five). At first Mitchell was only there to listen, but soon she began to sing. Carlile saw an opportunity for something truly special, and knew Newport was the place where it could come to fruition.
Joni Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now” to a silent crowd of 10,000 people and the impact of the moment was not lost on a single person, including those onstage. The Joni Jam included Celisse, Lucius, Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Allison Russell, Blake Mills, Taylor Goldsmith, and others – and not a dry eye was to be found amongst them. The set alternated between those on stage singing Joni Mitchell to her (including Celisse singing “Help Me”) to Mitchell taking over and singing a full set for the first time in decades. It was the type of once-in-a-lifetime set that in twenty years you can proudly proclaim, “I was there,” as an ultimate folk music nerd flex.
Not enough can be said about Jay Sweet and Brandi Carlile’s commitment to the fight to get the recognition the legends like Mitchell deserve, and Newport has always felt like a sacred place to celebrate artists with every possible generation of music fan. Sweet and Carlile may need to resurrect Sister Rosetta Tharpe herself next year to top this weekend’s events, but luckily they have the full support and trust of the Newport family.