It was hot, humid and sunny at the 2023 Newport Folk Festival last Friday. To try to keep cool, most festival attendees wore as little clothing as possible. But at half past high noon on the festival mainstage the Eastern Medicine Singers, an inter-Tribal drum group from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, wore long deerskin pants trimmed with beads and fringe, cherry red ribbon shirts, feathered headdresses and face paint.

Bandleader and Woonsocket resident Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson is Pocasset Wampanoag from the Pokanoket Nation. He said repping traditional regalia from the region was worth the sweat, especially for the mostly white audiences in Newport.

“A lot of people expect to see a Native from like out West, so I think it's important that we specify that this is an Eastern culture. This is our style of dress,” Jamieson said.

All that regalia is handmade by regional artisans. 

“George Thomas, he's Pequot, and he makes a lot of the accessories for us and the head dresses,” he said. “These ribbon shirts that we have, made by our good friend Birdie up in New Hampshire. And we all make our own different leggings.”

And equally important for showing Eastern Indigenous culture is the singing, which is all done in Algonquin, a language with just a few thousand native speakers. The band members all hail from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, making the music a refreshing burst of hyper-local flavor for festival goers.

Dan Dahari discovered the group several years ago at the Folk Festival and has been following them ever since. 

“A few years ago they played a small stage. I did not see it, but I heard about it afterwards,” he said. “I immediately found the next show that I could find. And we drove to New York and saw them and they just, they were in a basement but blew the roof off of the place. And it was just absolutely unlike anything I've ever seen before.”

He especially loves when the drum group plays with guitarist Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth and Israeli producer Yonatan Gat, who both joined the Eastern Medicine Singers on stage.  

“What they're doing is amazing. It's taking the past and making it the future and the present,” Dahari said.

That blend ends up as a soulful concoction of punky, spacey Sonic Youth riffs, middle Eastern chromatic tones, and heart-rending chanting.

Dahari is half Diné, which means Navajo, and half Israeli, so it’s like the music is speaking to him specifically.

“To me it's huge, because walking around here I don't see a lot of faces that look like me,” Dahari said. “So it's really nice to see that reflected, especially see that reflected up on stage.”

The music does for Dahari exactly what Black Eagle hopes it will. He said he named the group Eastern Medicine Singers because hearing the Algonquin language and seeing Tribal regalia can be healing for Indigenous audiences. The group often performs at powwows and other Indigenous gatherings. 

But the music isn’t only medicine for audiences. It’s also a way for the band members that grew up outside of their Native culture to be able to reclaim it, like East Providence resident Wayne Eagle Feather Williams, who is Seminole and Blackfoot.

“It was sad at first because I missed a lot of years that I could have been steeped in my culture. But then it was rewarding to actually be able to connect at some point in my life with it,” Williams said.

And now that he has reconnected, he’s psyched to get to share his culture with the audiences at Newport Folk Festival, first on the mainstage, then in a workshop where the band taught attendees group dancing. 

Superfan Dan Dahari says even having the band perform twice at the festival isn’t enough. There’s a lot of work left to be done in bringing Indigenous music to the forefront, after centuries of genocide and cultural suppression efforts. 

“You could have two whole festivals of Indigenous music for three weeks consecutive, and we'd still be making up for lost time,” Dahari said.

Metro reporter Olivia Ebertz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @OliviaEbertz