By the time you read this, our staff will be headed to one of our favorite festivals of the year, The Newport Folk Festival. Aside from developing a rich history and countless memorable moments in its 53 years, the festival is still going strong in 2012 with an impressive lineup that includes big-name acts like Jackson Browne, My Morning Jacket, Iron & Wine and Conor Oberst.
In celebration of this weekend’s festivities, we’re taking a look at 10 great non-headlining acts we think you should check out at the festival. Take a listen to all of the artists below, and let us know who you’re excited to see in the comment box.
10. Jonny Corndawg
Hometown: Esmont, Virginia
For Fans of: Dawes, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine
Set Time: Saturday, 12:35 p.m. (Quad)
Jonny Corndawg, the ever-mobile country singer with a devoted following, easily justifies making it out to Newport early on Saturday. Corndawg is touring behind his latest album, Down on the Bikini Line, and his live show brings equal parts style (look no further than his studded-out guitars), substance, humor and twang in his country-rooted tunes. We’d say more, but we think his “about” section on his Facebook nails him down pretty well:
...You won’t find him on CMT. His music is more in the vein of that obscure ‘70s gay country that housewives would discover on a Bear Family reissue in twenty years. In addition to pursuing the lost art of the Real Deal, Corndawg is an airbrushing, leather-working, marathon-running, truck-driving American. Born and Bred.
9. Blind Pilot
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
For Fans of: The Decemberists, The Avett Brothers
Set Time: Saturday, 4:20 p.m. (Harbor)
This six-piece knows how to make angelic-sounding music. Their dreamy, layered harmonies blend perfectly with their rich arrangements, combining acoustic sound with a variety of unique instruments, including the vibraphone and dulcimer. Blind Pilot is the perfect way to unwind on your Saturday evening at Newport. —Mariah Czap
8. Jonathan Wilson
Hometown: Forest City, N.C.
For Fans of: Thurston Moore, John Grant
Set Time: Sunday, 1:40 p.m. (Harbor)
It is no coincidence that Jonathan Wilson’s latest album is titled Gentle Spirit. His sound is mellow and familiar, drawing inspiration from the classic California psychedelic rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Aside from his own music, Wilson has also produced for artists such as Dawes, Erykah Badu and Elvis Costello. This multi-talented songwriter is definitely an act that stands up with competing time slots in Rodriguez and New Multitudes.—Mariah Czap
7. The Apache Relay
Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
For Fans of: Dawes, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons
Set Time: July 28, 11:30 a.m. (Alex and Ani Harbor)
Before heading off to support Mumford & Sons on their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour, Nashville’s The Apache Relay is kicking off Newport festivities at Alex and Ani Harbor. One of our favorite up-and-coming bands from Tennessee, the band’s fusion of polished American and modern-roots rock is a great way to kick off your festival experience.—Lindsey Hughes
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
For Fans of: Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson
Set Time: Sunday, 1:35 p.m. (Museum)
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez’s influential sound was overlooked for decades, at least in the U.S. His ‘70s folk-rock songs did make an impact in Australia and South Africa, though, where he became a cult-status icon. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man made its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has now reignited recognition and appreciation for Rodriguez’s music. The songs on his albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality are now finally getting their well-deserved respect in the states.—Nicole Oran
5. Ben Sollee
Hometown: Lexington, Ky.
For Fans of: My Morning Jacket,
Set Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (Museum)
Cellist and songwriter Ben Sollee has been a staple in the Kentucky music scene since 2005. His unmistakable take on the instrument has led to collaborations with the likes of Jim James, Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck. We’ve already had a small taste of his fourth studio album, Half Made Man, which is set for a Sept. 25 release. And if the new track “Unfinished” is any indication, Sollee has another rock-solid set of songs under his belt.
4. Frank Fairfield
Hometown: San Joaquin Valley, California
For Fans of: Blind Boy Paxton, Woody Guthrie, early Bob Dylan
Set Time: Saturday, 3 p.m. (Museum)
You aren’t going to find a more traditional folk artist than Frank Fairfield. His fiddle, banjo and warbling voice would have played just as well at the 1962 Newport Folk Festival as they will at this weekend’s 2012 edition. He looks and sounds like he was plucked right out of the Dust Bowl, and his mixture of old American folk standards and pieced-together original compositions transports listeners back to a simpler time, full of hardship, struggle and high-waisted pants. What comes through most, however, is Fairfield’s mastery of his antiquated instruments, as well as the stark honesty and passion he brings to his music.
3. Of Monsters And Men
Hometown: Garður, Iceland
For Fans of: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Arcade Fire
Set Time: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. (Quad)
It didn’t take long for Iceland’s Of Monsters And Men to make a name for themselves in the U.S. Their debut, My Head Is An Animal, is full of infectious folk-pop tunes led by standouts “Little Talks” and “Dirty Paws.” With only one full-length album out, the amount of sold-out shows on their current string of tour dates and festival appearances is a testament to their success stateside.—Nicole Oran
2. First Aid Kit
Hometown: Enskede, Sweden
For Fans of: Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes,
Set Time: July 28, 3 p.m. (Alex and Ani Harbor)
First Aid Kit—which features two angel-voiced harmonizing Swedish sisters, Klara and Johanna Söderberg—became somewhat of an internet sensation in 2008 after covering Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” Sure, the circumstances that surrounded their tunes were interesting; The duo, after all, was barely old enough to buy cigarettes in America, yet they were doing Americana better than most new acts. But their sophomore album, the lush, Mike Mogis-produced The Lion’s Roar proved that they were more than just YouTube sensations that could harmonize well—the Söderberg sisters are songwriters.
1. Robert Ellis
Hometown: Houston, Texas
For Fans of: George Jones, Kris Kristofferson
Set Time: July 28, 11:35 a.m. (Quad)
Last summer, country crooner Robert Ellis released his debut album, the fantastic Photographs. Ellis’ lyrics reflect on home life and failed relationships, all in front of a backdrop of colorful slide guitars and carefully picked acoustic parts. If Photographs is any indication, Ellis is no doubt a promising new voice to look out for.—Tyler Kane