Let me start off by saying that I cannot believe that this was actually my virgin voyage up to The Newport Folk Festival, especially since anyone with a true appreciation and love for live music, knows all too well about this legendary weekend in Newport, RI. I’ve been invited and even egged on to go many-a-time, but man, am I glad I finally just said “what the hell, why not?!”, and went this year! I can certainly understand what all of the hype is about and considering this Fest has been around since 1959, gives it good reason to be perfectly seasoned into one of the most appreciated festivals around.
Not only is The Newport Folk Festival held in one of the most ideal locations I’ve ever visited, it is possibly one of the most family friendly, cleanest, and well-organized events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. There’s a lot to be said for all of the staff working the festival as well, from their friendly attitudes to their overall helpfulness. Again, things could not have been any better organized and put-together…but still, why was it my first time here?!?! I’m still trying to find out the answer to this, as I’m not sure what kept me away all these years.
Newport is held at Fort Adams State Park and most of the festival is held within the quad of the fort. The main stage is outside of the quad, but it is facing the harbor, and is nothing short of a beautiful sight for the artists. There’s a lot going on there with a total of five stages with music going constantly, not to mention music in various other areas of the fest. It was pretty spread out, yet easy enough to get around for sure. The festival actually puts a cap on tickets at 10,000/day to keep things at bay from what I understand. Honestly, it seemed like a perfect number of attendees from what I could tell. Things weren’t too crowded, lines weren’t too long, yet there was enough people there per day to make it feel bigger than an intimate gathering, yet small enough where it wasn’t overwhelming.
In addition to the five main stages, there was a little hidden gem of a place though, called “The Paste Magazine Ruins” which various artists played in throughout the fest, and this was sponsored by Sennheiser microphones and headphones. The room was setup like a recording studio equipped with a full rack of microphones, video camera, mixing boards, lights…etc., and even a pile of wireless headphones for the crowd to be able to listen in on the mix. But, the environment of this place is what really did it, as it was a dilapidated looking room with rock and cement walls which were falling apart, this damp feeling inside, almost dungeon like, but for some reason added this amazing amount of warmth to the aura of this place. I was lucky enough to be able to get inside for Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers performance there (this article’s featured image is from this as well as others within the gallery).
The lineup of music at Newport had a little bit of something for everyone, and was not lacking by any means. Just as you would expect from a “folk festival”, there were names such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Blake Mills, The Avett Brothers, Beth Orton, the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Andrew Bird and this year’s festival veterans, The Lumineers. But, there were also names such as Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Jim James, Justin Townes Earle, Bombino, Michael Kiwanuka, and wrapping up the festival on Sunday evening, Beck. So, as you can see, this has weekend has certainly grown from a folk festival into something that caters to most musical tastes. (Download the full lineup and schedule here in PDF format).
There were smiles to be seen all around throughout this festival, and it was obvious why…it’s just that good of a time and something that should be experienced at least once by anyone and everyone that loves and appreciates live music played at its roots. There was nothing “over the top” at all about this festival, it’s not over-marketed, and it’s not over-hyped by any means either…it doesn’t need to be. From what I can tell, Newport has been a constant success for so long now simply because of the music, and for the love of it which the people that produce, work and volunteer at this fest, as well as its fans have deep in their hearts.
I still can’t give a good enough answer to my question earlier of why this was my first time there, as I really have no excuse other than sheer lack of knowledge, but I can certainly assure you that this was not my last year there either. This has certainly made it to my summertime “must see” list, and I’m looking forward to 2014 already.