Newport Folk Festival: The Kossoy Sisters

Newport Folk Festival is all about tradition and family. It isn’t odd to see various artists hopping on stage with one another for a vocal cameo or just to join in on the fun of another band’s sound. Friends are made and kept for many years to come. So having Newport Folk Festival welcome back The Kossoy Sisters isn’t unheard of. What is crazy to realize, though, is that they performed here before… back in its first year.

The Kossoy Sisters, Irene Saletan on guitar and Ellen Christenson on the 5-string banjo,¬†were last playing at the Newport Folk Festival 53 years. But now, in 2012 instead of 1959, they’re not looking to wow any big crowd. Instead, the sisters took the stage to deliver peaceful folk music as if they were sitting on a porch back home with¬†Neil Rossey accompanying them on violin.

In some ways, the sisters are like the newer Swedish act First Aid Kit. Instead of singing peaceful, woodsy songs though, the duo covered Woody Guthrie’s “Belle Starr”. “Belle Starr was an outlaw, but this song doesn’t talk about her exploits except for in her love life; She had eight different lovers, all of whom had a very bad end,” Irene laughed. They then went on to tell the story of lovers who passed away from blowing their brains out and were murdered by the girl.

The crowd patiently sat throughout their set, which included numerous silly songs that got everyone cracking up as lyrics after lyric were revealed. One song about someone constantly robbing banks and how she realized she “needed a new hobby” got a roaring applause from the crowd and big smiles from the sisters.

Outlaws seemed to be their theme for the morning as they also played “Rake and Rambling Boy”, a song about a man who steals the highway for his wife that he loves and ultimately dies because of it. Their renditions avoid sounding eerie or haunting by keeping things simple.

“We went to the movies once and then found out we were singing in it. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” said Irene to which the crowd gave a supporting applause. “That was odd. We didn’t know we were in it until we saw it! But yes, we still play this song a lot,” she continued before launching into their hit “I’ll Fly Away”.

The highlight of The Kossoy Sisters’ set was hearing their original songs. The process, they explained, is done by going through newspaper articles. One of the songs they sang was actually about Cambridge, “a town that you all know.” With an original song, they made me feel at home. Maybe it’s their voices or maybe it’s because they’re one of the original acts of Newport Folk Festival, but The Kossoy sisters were a treat to catch this Sunday morning.


By Nina Corcoran

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