Lana Del Rey’s Newport Folk Set Wasn’t What Anyone Expected

“I’ve only wanted to play this festival since I was 14 years old,” Lana Del Rey told the Newport Folk Festival crowd during what was her first US performance in four years. For someone who’d been holding onto the dream of playing the venerated event for nearly two and a half decades, the show she put on probably would have been better served somewhere else.

The Sunday afternoon set had some dazzling moments in it, like the maypole scene during “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” and Del Rey sounded lovely in the setting sun, particularly on opener “Norman Fucking Rockwell.” She also brought out the “largest” surprise guest of the weekend in Jack Antonoff. (Some will argue Tyler Childers’ spot during Turnpike Troubadours or the two appearances by Muppets were more noteworthy, and it’s a fair point; but to the teenager who started crying to her parents when Antonoff came out, there’s really no debate.)

With her producer/friend on keys, she dusted off her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” with Antonoff encouraging her to do it from atop the piano. In what could have been a playfully staged “impromptu” moment, he also teased a few notes of “Mariners Apartment Complex,” a song choice Del Rey jovially protested. “If you want to hear me totally fuck it up, I can play ‘Mariners,’” she said through a smile. The crowd cheered her into it, and Antonoff suggested they sing along to help cover any lyrical flubs. Unsurprisingly, LDR fully delivered, and preplanned or not, it turned into the most Newport-appropriate segment of her set: major guest star, classic folk cover, “unscripted” moment.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with challenging expectations, even at a festival with such a storied history as this one. And considering it was clearly a year when the event wanted to reset expectations after a string of legendary performances (Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Chaka Khan, Dolly Parton…), LDR’s booking was an intriguing move. It’s just hard to escape the feeling that she tried fitting her carefully squared show into the festival’s lovingly carved round hole.

It began before gates even opened on Sunday, as her soundcheck started later than organizers were prepared for, causing a frustrating 20- to 30-minute delay in entrances. At a relatively small event like Newport, such a holdup can cause a cascade of issues, confusing attendees stuck in long entry lines and causing opening acts to play to sparser-than-usual audiences. Newport is a place where music and community are put higher than any artist’s particular stature, and from the get-go, there was concern LDR wasn’t ready to check her ego at the gates.

lana del rey newport folk festival jack antonoff review

Lana Del Rey and Jack Antonoff, photo by Nina Westerveldt

Then there was the production itself: A stage full of flower arrangements and gold-gilded mirrors may look fantastic at Lollapalooza this upcoming weekend, but they tipped into gaudy and blocked sight lines at Newport. Choreography that was occasionally beautiful in the oceanside setting also constantly fought to not seem, well, performative — especially when it involved her sitting out of view or with her back towards the audience. Having a dancer hand her a card on the “Bartender” line, “It’ll buy me a year if I play my cards right,” or pouring no one a cup of coffee when she sang, “Servin’ up God in a burnt coffee pot for the triad” during closer “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have It” just felt insipid.