There may be a few less Coolattas consumed at this year’s sponsor-free Newport Folk Festival, but it won’t be any less refreshing. Ever since Dylan plugged in (gasp!), the fest has preserved a noble tradition of ignoring what folk is supposed to be in favor of defining the stuff for itself. How else could Cat Power and the Black Crowes share the same stage — let alone the same audience of Parrotheads? (Yes, Jimmy Buffett headlines Sunday.) Thus, in addition to the impressive and varied line-up of big-timers (Levon Helm, Jakob Dylan, Gillian Welch, and Jim James), there’s a host of lower-profile folk (and non-folk) folks. We know you’re freaking out to see Zooey D. with She & Him, but don’t sleep on these four:
Kaki King, “Pull Me Out Alive”
The multi-talented Kaki King’s jangliest number is also her catalogue’s best ambassador, demonstrating both her lyrical playfulness and her penchant for simple, enduring melody. There’s a clever little video to boot, even if it does sort of look like a Sprint commercial.
The Honors, “Ghosts”
Meet the Honors: a somewhat recently formed local four-piece with a conspicuous love for Coldplayish power pop, a big vat of song polish, and no qualms about admitting in their press material to regularly covering the Bravery. Never have the jawlines on stage at Newport been so defined, the ties so skinny.
Young @ Heart Chorus, “Purple Haze”
As it happens, a lot of people enjoy attending this event stoned batty. If you fall into that category, don’t miss this color-coordinated gaggle of elderly people singing Sonic Youth and Springsteen songs in rhapsodic unison. The chorus, aged 73 to 92, has way more jams in its repertoire than you might expect (though just as many Helens and Miriams). You want old-school?
Jesca Hoop, “Enemy”
The music of Tom Waits’s former nanny (well, his children’s) could be considered more in line with traditional notions of folk if her voice weren’t so unusual. Her songs try on genres as if they were shoes, but its her oddly enchanting tone that allows her to go from elaborate orchestrations to frail little numbers like “Enemy” without losing power.