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15 Best Things We Saw at Newport Folk Festival 2014

Mavis Staples’ birthday celebration, Jeff Tweedy’s family affair and other highlights from a weekend by the shore

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Tracy Allison

55 years after its founding – and five years after its founder almost sold it off – the world's most storied folk festival returned to Rhode Island, filling the small beach town of Newport with many of the best musicians in the country. Here are the 15 best things we heard, saw and ate over the event's three days. By Jonathan Bernstein and Cady Drell

Tracy Allison

Best Non-Folk Set: Reignwolf

One-man wrecking ball Jordan Cook literally came out swinging, spending opening track "Electric Love" rolling on the ground, playing his guitar like a stand-up bass and even getting behind the drum kit while continuing to strum. At a different festival, there might have been a mosh pit, but as it were, people didn’t stop talking about this performance for the rest of the festival. Not bad for a dude who doesn’t even have an album out. C.D.

Tracy Allison

Best Campfire Sing-Along: Robert Hunter

One of the most magical performances of the whole weekend came early, when 73-year-old Robert Hunter played an hour-long set of his greatest hits from the 1970s on Friday afternoon. "It being a folk festival, I thought I'd sing folk songs," Hunter announced early on. "I wrote them myself, but, you know, they're folk songs." That's about right: The man who co-penned nearly every Grateful Dead track opened with a stunning medley of "Dire Wolf" and "Peggy-O" and never looked back, treating the modest-sized crowd to fragile, weary versions of Hunter-Garcia classics like "Brokedown Palace," "Scarlet Begonias" and "Friend of the Devil." After a too-good-to-be-true sing-along to "Ripple," Hunter closed his crowd-pleasing set with an a cappella take on the rare solo track "Boys in the Barroom." J.B.

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