The summer of the festival continues for me, as this past weekend I returned to Newport, R.I. for my second Newport Folk Festival.
I documented my first trip there in 2012, and had such a great time that I couldn’t wait to go back. This time I went there in style, obtaining a media credential to cover the festival.
I’ve been to a few festivals this year, another big one being the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware last month, and while I enjoy Firefly, it’s almost the polar opposite of Newport. They both offer a weekend-long variety of musical acts, and the comparisons end there.
Firefly has 70,000 people. Newport has 10,000.
The average age of Firefly-goers is about early-20s. Newport is the late-20s to early-30s.
People behave at Newport. At Firefly, you get frat guys with their shirts off dropping acid for the first time.
But I don’t mean to bash Firefly. It’s just that much of a testament to how great the Newport Folk Festival is. The festival has such a rich history, with the world’ biggest artists having performed there, that its iconic nature just bleeds into everybody — musician or attendee. Everyone respects one another.
When music is playing, people listen. I know that sounds obvious, but it bothers me to no end when I attend a concert, and during a break in the music, all you hear is people talking. At Newport, during musical breaks, there’s silence.
When a musician breaks out a solar — be it on a guitar, violin, cello or the mandolin (it’s a folk festival, after all) — people cheer.
The reason Newport doesn’t draw many teenagers is because its acts are not something you’d find on Z100 or Hot 97. It’s not completely traditional, bluegrass folk, as the festival has evolved over time to include contemporary, popular acts, albeit ones that are mostly alternative. This year’s biggest and well known acts were Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, Mavis Staples, Conor Oberst, Dawes and the one and only Jack White.
The Newport Folk Festival used to pride itself in being exclusively acoustic, until Bob Dylan infamously changed things up and plugged in years ago. Since then, there’s no real set etiquette. You can go acoustic or go electric. As long as you sound good, it’s all that matters.
Located in Fort Adams State Park along Newport Harbor, the scene is beautiful. You’re surrounded by open water, boats, exquisite sunsets and lots of plaid shirts. What more can you ask for?
A band of member of the folk-rock group Houndmouth said aloud to the crowd during their set, “We couldn’t wait to get back here. It’s like Christmas for us.” That’s the type of appreciation artists have to play there.
Another treat was the presence of two celebrities who played at this year’s festival. John C. Relly, with a band he called John Reilly and Friends, was one, and Ed Helms, with his group, The Lonesome Trio, was another. I’ll admit that while both were good, The Lonesome Trio was much better. Ed Helms could sing.
I made the decision, sometime during the weekend, that I never want to miss the Newport Folk Festival again.
I hope that comes true.