Best Birthday Bash: Mavis Staples
Staples, who made her Newport debut 50 years earlier, served as the festival's grand matriarch throughout the weekend, making surprise cameos when groups like Lake Street Dive, Lucius and Puss n Boots were onstage. Finally, on Sunday evening, 88-year-old George Wein, who founded the whole thing in 1959, came out to personally introduce her performance, which doubled as a 75th birthday celebration.
What a wonderful celebration it was: Queen Mavis's joyous set spanned a half century's worth of soul, gospel, country and R&B, from the first song Pops Staples ever taught his children in 1950, "Will the Circle be Unbroken," to the singer's recent comeback hit with Jeff Tweedy, "You're Not Alone." Tweedy (or "Pops Tweedy," as Mavis called him) was just one of many special guests Staples brought onstage Sunday evening – others included Norah Jones, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Lucius, Trampled by Turtles and legendary Muscle Shoals session pianist Spooner Oldham. After a rousing, extended call-and-response finale of "I'll Take You There," the day's performers came out to accompany Staples on one final song of the weekend. Dedicating the tune to Pete Seeger, Mavis then led the crowd through a closing sing-along of "We Shall Overcome," blew out her cake and said goodnight, putting a close to one unforgettable birthday party. J.B.