10 must-see artists at this year’s Newport Folk Festival


The A’s brings together Amelia Meath from Sylvan Esso (who play Sunday) and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig from Daughter of Swords (the two are also members of Mountain Man) with yodeling mode fully engaged. They’ve been playing together in this configuration for a while, but just got around to recording what they do as “Fruit,” which features marvelous, delicate, harmony-laden renditions of songs from Shelley Duvall to the DeZurik Sisters. It’s whimsical, and zany, too; as Sauser-Monnig puts it, “If it doesn’t make you cackle or cry, it doesn’t belong.” They’re debuting the album at Newport.

Arooj AftabVALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images


The word that appears again and again in discussions of Arooj Aftab’s music is “minimalist,” and for good reason. There’s a restraint, an abiding, echoing stillness to her music, which draws on where she came from (she was born to Pakistani parents and sings mostly in Urdu) and where she came to (she emigrated to the United States in 2005, earned a degree in jazz composition at Berklee, and moved to Brooklyn after graduation). One of the songs you can expect to hear her perform, “Mohabbat,” won the inaugural Grammy for best global music performance.


Bendigo FletcherJimmy Fontaine


This rising Louisville, Ky., outfit comes to Fort Adams with its first full-length album under its belt. “Fits of Laughter” shows a band skating across genres — a little folk here, a little R&B there, a little rock ‘n’ roll over there. (In a recent interview, singer Ryan Anderson described the band’s music as “bubblegum elf rock,” which it decidedly is not.) A prediction: When the band plays the massively trippy, shapeshifting song “Evergreen” Sunday (and here’s hoping they play it really loud), the crowd will go wild.

Black Opry RevueNewport Folk


Birthed by a website dedicated to rectifying the lack of presence of Black artists in country music, the Black Opry Revue takes to the road with various aggregations of such artists, which means that you’ll likely get something different every time you attend a BOR show. The lineup for Newport is full-to-bustin’, with Buffalo Nichols, Julia Cannan, the Kentucky Gentlemen, Lizzie No, Autumn Nicholas, Chris Pierce, Leon Timbo, and Joy Oladokun scheduled to take part. Nichols and Oladokun will also play solo sets at the festival.

Bonny Light HorsemanD. James Goodwin


The trio of Eric D. Johnson, Josh Kaufman, and Anaïs Mitchell have a new album coming out in the fall, but that is not going to be the focus of their set at Newport (at least, not of their announced set). Instead, they’re going to gather “friends” — Natalie Merchant, and others yet to be revealed — to perform “Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 1,″ the ghostly collaboration of Wilco and Billy Bragg with Woody Guthrie, in its entirety. Why that record? Says Kaufman, “24 years ago this album was released and planted seeds in us collectively that folk music can and should be remade/reharmonized and recontextualized to shadow the times as they evolve.” It sounds like the sort of moment that Newport is famous for.


DakhaBrakha Leon Neal/Getty


As their name suggests (“give/take” is a rough translation), DakhaBrakha gives and DakhaBrakha takes; the taking is from the folk traditions of old Ukraine, and the giving is the transformation they make to those forms, injecting the “rhythms of the surrounding world” via the instruments that produce them. They’re the only band I’ve ever come across that lists an “ideologist” as one of its members. They are playing with a particular urgency at present, heeding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call: “Fill the silence with your music! Fill it today to tell our story.”

Phil CookShervin Lainez


Singer-songwriter Phil Cook (Megafaun, Hiss Golden Messenger) wanted to preserve and celebrate the gospel music tradition of North Carolina, the state where he makes his home. So he started record label Spiritual Helpline to do it, and for the label’s debut release produced a live record with the Branchettes, a regional gospel group that has been singing for half a century. On Sunday, Cook and the Branchettes will join together onstage as “A Spiritual Helpline Gospel Revue.”


Ryan Gustafson, who performs as The Dead TonguesCharlie Boss


Ryan Gustafson contemplated walking away from music in the early days of the pandemic. Instead, he discovered new ways of relating to making music, and a new Dead Tongues record, “Dust,” was the result. Its songs are a bit more electric than previous endeavors (both guitar and pedal steel are much in evidence), and it shows Gustafson continuing to make folk music of rare intensity and weight. He’ll be highlighting songs from the new record at Newport.

Hermanos GutiérrezJim Herrington


Hermanos Gutiérrez comes as advertised as far as the name goes: The group is brothers Alejandro and Estevan Gutiérrez. And when you hear the music they make — an all-instrumental western-Latin mashup produced by the pair, one on guitar, one on lap steel — you might think that it comes as advertised as well, that they hail from somewhere south of the border. In fact, the Gutiérrez brothers are from Switzerland, the sons of a Swiss father and Ecuadorian mother, and their cross-cultural excursions were pollinated by the music their maternal grandfather loved. Wherever they’re from, a commenter on one of their YouTube videos captured perfectly where they end up: “They’re just a vibe.”

Taj MahalJohn Davisson

TAJ MAHAL (Friday)

The bluesman has been here on several occasions — he performed at Newport Folk for the first time in 1968 — but it’s been a long 34-year while since the last time. His inaugural appearance came hard on the heels of his self-titled debut record; since then, he’s released a couple dozen records that have taken him to electric as well as acoustic blues, ragtime, reggae, zydeco, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and more, a body of work that led the Encyclopedia of the Blues to aptly label him “the most eclectic and international of bluesmen.” Consider him this year’s festival elder statesman.


Stuart Munro can be reached at sj.munro@verizon.net.


At Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I. July 22-24. newportfolk.org

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