Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images
Newport Folk Festival 2022 Recap: Taj Mahal, Brandi Carlile With Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon & A Crowdsurfing Singer
After taking two years off from their normal format, Newport Folk Festival returned with much heart. From Rhiannon Giddens' soul-stirring performance to special guest appearances by Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, GRAMMY.com recaps three days of joy.
Newport Folk Festival is so much more than just another music event. At its heart, it's actually a family reunion — both on stage and off — with moments you simply will not experience anywhere else. As Christopher Capotosto, the festival's chief creative officer told GRAMMY.com, "We don't make the magic that is Newport; the artists do that."
But the Newport team does make and hold the sacred space to foster that magic. The artists know that, and so does the audience. And, after taking two years off from their normal format due to the pandemic, the 2022 Newport Folk Festival was as magic-filled as ever. Here are some highlights:
The Living Legends
Newport came out blazing by giving Lee Fields the first Fort Stage set of the weekend. Reminding the 10,000 folkies in attendance why he's nicknamed "Little JB," the legendary soul man worked through songs from across his 53-year career, being sure to touch on his latest single, "Ordinary Lives."
At one point, he seemed to sing so hard that his mic cable detached. Pro that he is, Fields quickly sorted it out and got right back to asking the crowd, "Where's the party?" while he scanned the sea of revelers dancing before him.
Later in the day, Taj Mahal returned to Newport’s Fort Stage for the first time in 34 years. Like Fields, Mahal proved that he's still got it, as he treated the audience to classics like "Queen Bee" and "Corinna." Although Mahal has been singing his hits for seven decades now, they never get old.
Even though Newport Folk Festival is known for far more than folk, singer/songwriters still stand at the heart of the event. This year, that torch was held high by Anaïs Mitchell, John Craigie, Madi Diaz and the Dead Tongues, each of whom brought new releases to vibrant, beautiful and occasionally hilarious life.
Mitchell was also supposed to perform with Bonny Light Horseman, but the band had to cancel their set a couple of days prior. In its stead, Mitchell led "Clusterfolk," with Natalie Merchant, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Lukas Nelson, Robert Ellis, and others all chipping in with a song or, in Merchant's case, "Legacy artists get two songs," Merchant said, much to the delight of the Quad Stage's packed house.
Friday's audience at the Quad Stage witnessed two incredibly special performances. First, Arooj Aftab blended stunning art and sardonic wit with songs from her gorgeous Vulture Prince album. The Pakistani singer (whose songs are primarily in Urdu) told the captivated crowd, "These songs are about being drunk and not in love, in case you couldn't tell." Aftab closed her utterly mesmerizing set with "Mohabbat," her 2022 GRAMMY-winning "banger," as she likes to call it.
Rhiannon Giddens and the Silk Road Ensemble took to the same stage a few hours later and owned the day with their rendition of "O Death." It was hard to know how they could follow themselves after that opener, but the group somehow continued to raise the musical bar, with each ensemble member having moments to shine.
The Rabble Rousers
If Rhiannon Giddens won Friday, Adia Victoria made an early case for her own victory on Saturday. Victoria set the Fort Stage ablaze with a blistering set that sparked off with "Far From Dixie" and went on to include more from her stellar A Southern Gothic album. This might've also been the only performance of the weekend that included a crowd surfing singer.
Joy Oladokun moved mountains of emotions during her time on the Quad Stage Sunday afternoon, introducing "I See America" with a teary speech about how it's simply not okay that trans and queer kids are no longer safe in this country. But Oladokun didn't just leave it there, she channeled her rage against the right-wing machine, moving from "I See America" directly into a bit of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," her fans responding in appropriate grunge fashion by bouncing up and down.
The Soul Restorers
Sunday morning started strong with a Spiritual Helpline Gospel Revue curated and led by Phil Cook with the Guitarheels plus special guests Sister Lena Mae Perry (who is 83 years old), Thomas Rhyant, the Union (Leslie Gardner and Simone Appleby), and others
Cook met these astounding gospel singers in North Carolina and is working with them to release live records through his indie label. And live is most definitely how they should be experienced. After a thoroughly rousing set that included gospel classics like "You’ve Got A Friend/Precious Lord" and "I Don't Feel Noways Tired," the group invited some onlookers (Natalie Merchant and Valerie June, among them) to join for the soul-giving finale of "This Little Light of Mine." To borrow from Cook, everyone left that performance feeling better than they did before it.
The Surprise Guests
The closing sets on Saturday and Sunday of every Newport Folk Festival famously include special surprise guests that attendees spend their weekend trying to surmise. This year, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats recruited Paul Simon to make his Newport debut by joining their American Tune Revue (which also featured Marcus Mumford, Lee Fields, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lukas Nelson, Adia Victoria, Natalie Merchant, and others).
Together, the group thrilled the crowd with Simon classics like "Cecilia," "You Can Call Me Al," "Homeward Bound" and many more. Simon then joined the band for "Graceland," before duetting with Rhiannon Giddens on an updated version of "American Tune." Against a glorious Newport sunset, a solo Simon closed the evening with "The Sound of Silence."
It's hard to imagine that Brandi Carlile could somehow match that magic on Sunday night, but she darn well did by bringing Joni Mitchell to Newport for the first time since 1969. Along with Wynonna, Taylor Goldsmith, Celisse, Allison Russell, Sista Strings, Lucius and others, Carlile recreated the "Joni Jams" which she has been organizing at Joni's house for the past few years. The musicians all sat in a semicircle with Mitchell at the summit sporting a glass of wine and a huge smile. Everyone took turns — Mitchell included — singing songs from her catalog, along with a few standards.
Mitchell eased into it all, singing a line here and there, eventually playing an instrumental version of "Just Like This Train," which Carlile proclaimed was her best attempt yet. Before the night had ended, the stunned audience had heard "Both Sides Now," "Come in from the Cold," "A Case of You," “Carey” and "The Circle Game," among others, from one of the most brilliant artists of our time who, very likely, was responsible for introducing so many to folk music in the first place.
Recording Academy Memphis Chapter hosts a reception celebrating the 2018 Blues Music Awards; Photo: Greg Campbell/WireImage.com
Keb' Mo', Taj Mahal, Samantha Fish, Mavis Staples: 2018 Blues Music Awards
Annual celebration in Memphis, Tenn., brings together blues performers, industry representatives and fans to celebrate the best in blues recordings and performances
Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' are riding a steady wave of blues momentum. The dynamic duo emerged as the big winners at the 2018 Blues Music Awards on May 10, taking home Album of the Year honors for their acclaimed TajMo project. This recognition follows their shared GRAMMY win for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 60th GRAMMY Awards.
At the Blues Awards, TajMo also captured Contemporary Blues Album honors. In addition to their joint wins, Mahal won Acoustic Artist and B.B. Entertainer of the Year while Keb' Mo' took Contemporary Blues Male Artist.
"It's a great honor," says Mo'. "I don't know what to say. I'm just really surprised."
Designed as a showcase of the year's best in blues recordings and performances, the annual Memphis, Tenn.-based celebration doled out 26 awards. Like the GRAMMY Awards' American Roots Field, which includes awards for contemporary and traditional blues, the Blues Music Awards recognize the artists who have helped bridge blues' storied lineage and those who are pushing the genre into an exciting future.
Surely an apt title for the awards, "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere" by Rick Estrin & The Nightcats picked up Song of the Year honors. The band also earned Band of the Year and Estrin, a master harmonica player, took home Traditional Blues Male Artist.
Blues/soul band Southern Avenue — comprising five young musicians, fronted by Tierinii Jackson — picked up Best Emerging Artist Album for their eponymous 2017 debut album. Released on the legendary Stax label, the LP has been likened to a breath of fresh air for the genre with its own unique blend of gospel-tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting.
A star surely on the rise, Samantha Fish earned Contemporary Blues Female Artist honors. In 2017 the Kansas City, Mo., native released Belle Of The West, an LP produced by Luther Dickinson that authentically incorporates blues, Americana and country elements.
A trio of formidable blues women were also recognized. GRAMMY nominee Beth Hart, who can wail and sing as quiet as a feather, was honored with Instrumentalist — Vocals. The legendary Mavis Staples took home Soul Blues Female Artist and Ruthie Foster won the Koko Taylor (Traditional Blues Female Artist) award.
Host Steven Van Zandt lent an enthusiastic voice to the event, showing his respect and support for the genre that started it all.
"Whether it's soul music or rock music, it's all kind of based in the blues," said Van Zandt. He went on to talk about how the music serves to get more young people involved. "It's putting a lot of instruments in kids hands, and the more of that we can do the better."
On the day prior to the awards, the Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place, honoring performers, music industry professionals and recordings of stature.
"The Blues Hall of Fame is the pinnacle honor for anyone who's worked in or performed in the blues industry," says Barbara Newman, president and CEO of The Blues Foundation. "It is an honor of a lifetime of achievement in blues."
Performers inducted into the blues hall this year included the Aces, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Sam Lay, Mamie Smith, and Roebuck "Pops" Staples. Among the recordings recognized were B.B. King's 1967 album, Blues Is King, Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man," Joe Turner's "Roll 'Em Pete," and the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted "Green Onions" by Booker T. & The MG's.
In all, the action in Memphis proved the blues are more than just the foundation of the music we love — they are alive and kickin'!
Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo' Win Best Contemporary Blues Album | 2018 GRAMMYs
Blues duo takes Best Contemporary Blues Album for 'TajMo' at the 60th GRAMMY Awards
The other nominees were Sonny Landreth's Recorded Live In Lafayette, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm's Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, Robert Randolph & The Family Band's Got Soul, and Tedeschi Trucks Band's Live From The Fox Oakland.
"This stews like some 'Lord have mercy!' wrapped up with some 'Thank you Jesus!'" exclaimed Taj Mahal in the pair's acceptance speech following the win. "This project is filled with much gratitude .. for all th epeople and all the fans that help us keep food on our tables," added Keb' Mo'. "We are grateful for everything that happens."
TajMo's win for Best Contemporary Bues Album marks Taj Mahal's thrid career GRAMMY win, and Keb' Mo's fourth.
Who's Paying Tribute To Tom Petty? Foo Fighters, Don Henley, Norah Jones And More
Dhani Harrison, Jakob Dylan and more also set to perform at MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Tom Petty on Feb. 10
Additional performers have been added to the 2017 MusiCares Person of the Year tribute concert honoring Tom Petty on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. Multi-GRAMMY-winning artists Jakob Dylan and Taj Mahal, GRAMMY-nominated bands Cage The Elephant, the Lumineers, and artists Dhani Harrison, the Head And The Heart, and the Shelters join previously announced performers Jackson Browne, Gary Clark Jr., Foo Fighters, Don Henley, Chris Hillman And Herb Pedersen, Norah Jones, Elle King, Jeff Lynne, Randy Newman, Stevie Nicks, Regina Spektor, George Strait, the Bangles, and Lucinda Williams. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers will close the evening. Multi-GRAMMY-winning artist and producer T Bone Burnett will serve as musical director.
Petty will be honored as the 2017 MusiCares Person of the Year in celebration of his extraordinary creative accomplishments and significant charitable work. Proceeds from the annual Person of the Year tribute provide essential support for MusiCares, which ensures music people have a place to turn in times of financial, medical, and personal need.
The MusiCares Person of the Year tribute ceremony is one of the most prestigious events held during GRAMMY Week, which culminates with the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on Sunday, Feb. 12. The telecast will be broadcast live on the CBS Television Network at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns
Joni Mitchell Gets Candid In New Biography
GRAMMY winner finally opens up about her life in David Yaffe's 'Reckless Daughter: A Portrait Of Joni Mitchell'
Joni Mitchell has led a notoriously press-averse life — until now.
In a new biography from David Yaffe titled Reckless Daughter: A Portrait Of Joni Mitchell, the GRAMMY winner has candidly opened up about her life in the world of rock and roll, and she doesn't hold back.
Rolling Stone highlights some of the notable moments, including her thoughts on one-time lover James Taylor, working with David Crosby as a producer, her thoughts on Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, singing while high with Neil Young, an encounter with Miles Davis, and sets the record straight about breaking up with Jackson Browne.
Her uncensored memories serve as illuminating tidbits to complement the rest of Yaffe's chronicle of the famed singer/songwriter's life. Starting with her childhood, he works his way through all of her albums and their recording, her move toward jazz, and finally through her life-threatening aneurysm in 2015.
Pick up your copy of this portrait of a legend for all the details you don't want to miss.