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Sara Watkins took the Fort stage early on Sunday to get festival-goers excited for the second full day of music, and even gave the crowd a sneak preview of two big acts who would be playing later in the day. The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys had whet the audience’s appetite with a short bluegrass gig at the Fort, and with all the festival-goers now settled into their lawn chairs and beach towels, it was time for Watkins to take over with her thoughtful lyrics and fiddle-playing skill.
Having listened to her music beforehand, I was worried how her pretty, fragile voice would translate to such a big stage and audience, but seeing and hearing her onstage erased any doubt; her voice filled up the stage perfectly, and her fiddle playing was just as good.
Watkins talked to the crowd about having played Newport before, but not as a solo artist; she performed under the name Nickel Creek, with a band she said she grew up with. The 31-year-old bluegrass and folk artist has released five albums with the band, and in 2009 her self-titled solo album debuted. While she still had Nickel Creek member and older brother Sean Watkins with her onstage, however. Watkins then gave the audience a surprise when she invited The Head And The Heart’s Charity Rose (another WERS favorite!) to come play a song with her. Together they played a sweet rendition of the Everly Brothers song “You’re The One I Love”.
She sprinkled her set with little gems like a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, and then surprised the people on the main lawn by bringing out none but Jackson Browne. Browne and Watkins have been touring together for the past several weeks, so it was really a treat to see them both in one spot, and his appearance was surely a teaser for Browne fans eagerly awaiting his headliner time slot later in the day. Watkins, however is no stranger to touring with Newport’s favorite artists: she’s traveled around with The Decemberists as well, playing everything from guitar and percussion to the violin and keyboards. Browne played the acoustic guitar as he and Watkins sung her song “You And Me”. “I love that song,” Browne told the crowd after their rendition. Watkins and Browne stuck together till the end and played an additional song called “Take Up Your Spade”, which made for a delightful conclusion to her set.