If you know Newport, R.I., you know about the tradition that is Newport Folk Festival. Held in Fort Adams, the festival has played host to legendary performances from the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Levon Helm and boasts a history of over 50 years. Newport is as respectful of the past as it is mindful of the future, so it’s naturally a place to watch young bands progress from smaller stages to headlining slots. Check out a few of the bands on the lineup who have made a big impression in just a short amount of time.
1. The Lone Bellow
The band’s eponymous debut album is filled with impassioned lyrics and rich harmonies, but you’re cheating yourself if you still haven’t seen these guys live. The chemistry between these vocalists is palpable.
Taking cues from classic rock with a healthy dose of their own distinct twang, Houndmouth’s debut full-length, From The Hills Beneath The City, was released earlier this year to an ever-growing following. Spirited instrumentals are the apt foundation for Katie Toupin and Matt Myers’ harmonies, and on-stage the band’s spunky personality is as much of a draw as the music itself.
3. Rayland Baxter
This Nashville-based songwriter has shared stages with The Civil Wars and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, touring almost constantly behind his fall 2012 release feathers & fishHooks. Clearly an artist who thrives in a live setting, Baxter is releasing a five-song live EP in August, and with the new material this guy is producing we can only hope a sophomore full-length is coming up soon, too.
Didn’t see Steelism on the line up? Look closer, my friend. Newport Folk veteran Joe Fletcher has gathered up a slew of talented Nashvillians, and among the impressive list of musicians on this Nashville to Newport lineup lies Steelism. The project between Spencer Cullum and Jeremy Fetzer, both artists you’ve likely seen on stage with folks like Jonny Fritz and Caitlin Rose, and it’ll make you listen for the steel guitar in a whole new way. Check out their debut EP The Intoxicating Sounds of Steel Guitar and prepare to be, uh, intoxicated.
5. Shovels & Rope
Shovels & Rope is a name you’ve probably seen on a lot of the big festival lineups this year, making it easy to forget that the husband-and-wife duo behind catchy tracks like “Birmingham” only released their debut full-length, O’ Be Joyful, late last year. This pair’s momentum hasn’t slowed since, and while a listen to their record evokes memories of greats like Loretta Lynn, this duo is developing a country-rock sound all their own.
6. Nicki Bluhm And The Gramblers
Bluhm may not be new to recording (or to the stage at Newport Folk) but this soulful singer-songwriter from California has a stage performance that really highlights her strong vocals thanks to the strong instrumentals of band The Gramblers. Their debut album as Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers is set for release in August, and this summer the band hasn’t wasted an opportunity to show festival audiences exactly what they have to anticipate.
7. Kingsley Flood
Although this band may not feel like a new face to those familiar with the music scene in Boston, this hardworking band is rapidly making an impression nationally. Their recent album Battles holds several tracks that translate into rowdy on-stage anthems, and the band has been anticipating their appearance at Newport with a video compilation marking just how far their fans are traveling for the legendary weekend of music.
8. The Wheeler Brothers
The Wheeler Brothers have been performing together since high school, but this is the summer they’ve really hit the big stages. With appearances at Forecaste and next week’s Lollapalooza surrounding their set this weekend at Newport, the Austin five-piece melds innovative indie-rock elements with their Americana sound.
9. The Last Bison
The Last Bison has a disctinctive style of chamber music that may appeal to the Mumford generation of suspender-wearing, foot-stomping music lovers, but don’t generalize this folk group just yet. Their theatrical vocals and unique blend of instruments including mandolin, organ, melodica and violin already feels classic.
10. Spirit Family Reunion
Spirit Family Reunion broke out at last year’s Newport Folk Festival and is already a well-recognized name with those who follow folk, even though the band only just releaased their debut full-length No Separation last year. The array of instruments, sheer excitement on stage and a unique flair for audience involvement makes this a band I’d see perform year after year.