Rapper Common closes out the 2019 festival at Fort Adams with onstage theatrics as a dark cloud gives Newport a pass.
NEWPORT — A departure from Saturday’s sunburnt masses, the Newport Jazz Festival celebrated the closing of its 65th year at Fort Adams with smaller crowds and lots of funk.
Total attendance for the three days at Fort Adams State Park combined with Friday night at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino is 22,801. Saturday had the highest attendance with 9,145 jazz fans taking over the state park, according to figures provided by the festival.
The Newport Jazz Festival finished the weekend with headliner Common — “Chicago’s favorite son” — just as a looming dark cloud began making its way over the crowd. The festival itself tweeted a weather warning for the final set. It was anticipated to end with poor weather, but as Common looked up dramatically in the sky, speaking to God about his lost loves, the cloud broke up. He flaunted his theatrical experience with TV and movies, too, with all kinds of onstage drama — like pulling an unsuspecting crowd member onstage to personalize a freestyle about them being together and slamming the drummer’s ride cymbal on the stage floor. He performed some old-school favorites and some heart-warming freestyles, but he also played songs off of his newest album “Let Love.”
The lineup for Sunday’s festival was practically designed to explore the borders of the genre of jazz, and with vibrant musical variance, that’s exactly what it did.
Kicking off the day on the Quad Stage with the feel-good energetic group Sammy Miller and the Congregation, the concluding day of the festival began on a high note. The rest of Sunday’s lineup followed suit. Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life, a jazz/hip hop group founded by Strickland, performed with a contemporary artistry that drew the attention of passersby and filled every seat at the Harbor stage. With familial roots in jazz, Strickland has been experimenting with the genre for years — and his experience wasn’t lost on the festival crowd.
British group Sons of Kemet played the Quad Stage as well, bringing explosive beats with two drummers, a saxophonist and a tuba player. The rumbling bass of the tuba — coupled with glistening sax lines — pulsed through the bouncing crowd huddling in the shade. With beats on the verge of tribal and tasteful features of cowbell whenever possible, the Sons of Kemet set was a blast. Whoever Kemet is, they would be proud.
The energy didn’t stop there. Originality was front and center with New Orleans based Tank and the Bangas, who drew one of the most visibly excited crowds. Tarriona Ball, who goes by the name Tank, stood in the center of the Harbor Stage, dishing out quasi-rap bars and slam poetry. Performance reached its peak with Tank and the Bangas, engaging the crowd to echo Tank’s hooks and showed their full force twerking moves on stage. Tank herself led the crowd in an artistic rendition of “Happy Birthday” to their drummer, who was also gifted a birthday cake as he sat onstage.
Sunday’s crowds may have been smaller than Saturday prior, but the artistry reached a peak with free-flowing expression that ranged from soul, Afrobeat, funk, hip hop, blues and rap. After all, the fluidity of jazz is exactly what makes it so enigmatic and special.
Newport Life 2019 summer intern Sydney Dauphinais, from Portland, Oregon, is studying journalism and Spanish at the University of Oregon. Follow her on Instagram at @syd.dauphinais or on Twitter at @syddauphinais.