Fruit Bats were introduced as being a major “part of the early 2000s folk movement,” so there’s no doubt they’ve earned their place here. That said, mastermind Eric D. Johnson noted this is somehow the first time they’d played Rhode Island in their decade-and-a-half existence. (Only 8 states to go.) Their gentle, unpretentious modern folk perfectly fit their early-day set. With its calming little yacht-y synths, “None of Us” especially helped the rising feeling that, yes, Newport Folk was on.
THE OH HELLOS
The Oh Hellos aren’t only a fantastic Newport band, they’re everything that’s potentially great about the modern “stomp” folk trend. A band packed to the brim with energetic members (two drummers, violinist, banjo player, multiple guitarists — despite usually being labeled a duo), it was almost too difficult to figure out where to look at any given moment. Yet even if you were so busy jumping and dancing about to focus on any particular musician, the gang harmonies and rollicking sounds were nearly as engaging. Like most of their kin, not every song was noteworthy, but their performance most definitely was. They’re likely to be welcome back to the Fort with open arms for years to come.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF AND THE NIGHT SWEATS
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats tore down the Quad stage just last year, and they returned triumphantly to the main stage in 2016. The transition was indicative of how swift their rise has been on just one solid album — as was the huge crowd they drew. It was all well earned, though, as they sparked quite a fire for a midday set. It wasn’t vastly different from everything else we’ve seen from them over the last 365 days, but it doesn’t really have to be with this band; a good time is a good time.
Every so often there’s an artist that’s worked hard enough to make it to the Fort, but isn’t exactly on everyone’s radars. Judging by all the “Do you know who she is?” inquiries, that’s likely Basia Bulat in 2016. It’s going to be hard for people not to make the Lucius comparison with her appearance, but get past it and you’ll enjoy pitch-perfect folk pop and solid stage presence. Her raspy speaking voice rings like a gentle brass bell when singing, and she can play keys as well as a 101-year-old zither harp. (She said she’d always told herself she’d bring the instrument out if she ever played Newport.) The lack of crowd response as she stomped and banged her tambourine during “In the Name Of” may mean she hasn’t won everyone over — but she made it to NFF, and she’ll win them yet.
Leave it to a folk legend to open his Newport Folk show by taking aim at Donald Trump with an opener like “Military Madness”. The modern Folk Fest set isn’t as packed with classic artists as it was in years past, but there’s always a few to bring the familiar sound, and not many have delivered it as well as Graham Nash did on Saturday. Everything he did was on point, from his well-preserved, sterling vocals to his work on guitar (“Marrakesh Express”) and piano (“Wind on the Water”). The group sing-along on closer “Teach Your Children Well” sealed the deal: True folk still reigns at Newport.