Music festivals are always a bit of a grab-bag affair, even those that are carefully curated like Newport Folk Festival. The festival with Folk in its name has a long history of honoring the music traditional to communities all over the country, welcoming Cajun acts alongside singer-songwriters and Appalachian folk stringbands, bluegrass, and the ever-evolving field of “folk-rock” (nowadays better categorized as “roots” or “Americana”).
Newport is a rousing festival celebrating the kind of music we love here at Folk Alley, and still manages to keep the crowds to a manageable size despite welcoming big stars to its mainstage. This year, the Brandi Carlile and Friends set is sure to be something to which everyone in the audience flocks—Carlile has established herself not only as a certifiable star but also as a person with reliably excellent taste in the musicians she brings along with her whenever she gets a chance to curate.
Another reliably flock-worthy set will of course be Rhiannon Giddens with the Silkroad Ensemble. Giddens recently took over the reins from Yo Yo Ma and noted on Twitter that when people ask her how she’s going to fill his shoes, it’s an easy answer: She doesn’t wear shoes. Expect a set that celebrates the diversity that’s always existed but only recently begun to be celebrated in the traditional realm. Giddens, too, has proven to have impeccable taste in not only collaborators but also material.
Beyond those two massive star-led sets, however, Newport is a wonderful place for discovery. Whether you’re going this year and looking for recommendations, or whether you plan to relax on a lawn chair in your living room and play pretend via your playlists, the following artists on the 2022 Newport schedule deserve your ears.
If you have yet to stumble upon Joy Oladokun’s music, now is absolutely the time. It is never too late. She is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters to emerge in the past couple of years and her thoughtful, emotionally intelligent songs are a perfect fit for the Newport stage.
Aftab, much like Oladokun, is one of the most interesting singer-songwriters to emerge in recent years. She won a Grammy Award earlier this year for her song “Mohabbat,” which was well-deserved. Rooted in Pakistani traditional music, Aftab’s music pulls in jazz elements and various other influences to pull the tradition forward in meaningful, inspiring ways.
Nora Brown is just 16 years old, but her command of traditional Appalachian music is already proficient and emotionally exacting. It’s hard not to remember a young Sarah Jarosz when listening to her, though the two play decidedly different styles. Nonetheless, she’s likely to wow some newcomers on the Newport stage.
The Black Opry is not an individual artist, but rather a collective—a movement. Tired of seeing the country music industry prioritize white artists (especially white male artists), Holly G., the founder of Black Opry Revue, created a force to push back against that prevailing narrative. Black Opry shows have featured Allison Russell, Lizzie No, Nikki Morgan, Aaron Vance, and more.
Chances are you already know about Valerie June, but just in case, now is a good time to dig in. June’s albums have run the gamut from traditional-style Appalachian country music to something that can only be described as folk music for a magical, spiritual awakening. Her live shows are revelatory and her set at Newport, as anywhere else, is not to be missed.
Icelandic singer-songwriter Arny Margret calls to mind the debut album from Jose Gonzalez, with her quiet but stunning vocal delivery and soft-spoken guitar. Try to steal away to a quiet place to see her perform and ask those nearby to hush as well. You don’t want to miss the haunting nuance of her arresting musicality.