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Remembering John Prine’s Guest-Packed Newport Folk Festival 2017 Set

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In a normal year, a few thousand lucky ticket-holders would be descending on Fort Adams in Rhode Island right now for the Newport Folk Festival, gearing up for a series of one-off performances in one of the most stunning settings imaginable.

One unforgettable Newport performance happened in 2017, when John Prine headlined with an all-star set. His guests included Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon — who sang “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” — Jim James (who covered “All The Best”), Margo Price (“In Spite of Ourselves”), and Nathaniel Rateliff (“Sam Stone” with Prine.) 

The biggest surprise of the night came at the end, when Roger Waters walked onstage. The Pink Floyd legend had not been on the Newport Schedule that year. Waters, Prine, and Lucius delivered a heartbreaking “Hello in There,” Prine’s empathetic song about elderly loneliness.

Prine came back to Newport the following year to introduce Margo Price for fun, and said his Newport set with Waters and others came together at the last minute. “I can remember sitting here and it was just a swirl of activity and before I knew it there was 50 people onstage all singing ‘Paradise’ with me,” he said backstage. “And I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’”

“l didn’t know all that was going on till I got here,” he continued. “I was in my dressing room and one person after the other came in and we went over one of my songs, and I realized I had about eight duets to do and I was trying to rearrange the set and everything and it all kind of happened. It didn’t really register till I saw the paper the next day with a big picture of everybody at the festival onstage with me. “

“I still get chills talking about it, I still get a little choked up,” Jay Sweet, executive producer of the festival, said a year after Prine’s 2017 appearance. Sweet still remembered his favorite Prine lines from the stage: “The best line he said was ‘Who’s next, Santa Claus?’ Or, ‘With friends like these, who needs cheese pizza?’ That was another good one of John’s.”

Sweet also gave a behind-the-scenes account of how Waters came to join Prine onstage. Waters, who had closed his 2015 Newport set with “Hello in There,” ran into Prine on tour in Denver. When Prine said he was gearing up to play Newport that year, Waters offered to join him. “He said, ‘If you’re playing, maybe I’ll fly and sing with you,’” Sweet recalled. “John said sure. Skip ahead a couple months and Roger, on his one night off in, I don’t know, a 30-day run of massive stadium tour dates, flew his own jet across the country with Lucius to sing one song: ‘Hello in There’ with John.”

While we can’t attend the festival this year, tune in to Newport Radio to hear performances from past fests.

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