At the beginning of August my wife Suzy and I attended the Newport Folk Festival for our first time, joining in the celebration of it’s 50th Anniversary. I suppose it’s only tangentially related to the topics of this blog, but it was such an enjoyable musical experience that it made me want to jot a few lines just to mark the occasion.
The festival is held in the Fort Adams State Park, where essentially the entire venue is surrounded by water. Boats are sailing by both far and near, many pulling up just off the shore to drift and listen to the music from the main stage. It was a blazing hot weekend, but the venue was so gorgeous and the festival was so good there could be no cause for complaint.
In purely logistical terms, it was easily the most manageable outdoor festival we’ve ever attended. The crowd was large, but not overwhelming. The three stages were far enough away from each other that there was no discernable noise interference between them. Yet they were close enough together to make for very quick and easy maneuvering back and forth to catch the all the acts you might want to see. And three stages was just the right number; enough to offer a variety of performers at all times, but not so much that you got the nagging feeling (a la Merlefest in NC) that you were always missing something important somewhere else.
Most importantly, of course, the 50th Anniversary lineup of performers was excellent: Legends and festival icons like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Musicians of all kinds from across the decades: Iron & Wine, Mavis Staples, Del McCoury, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Neko Case, Guy Clark…. Practically every name on the list was an act we wanted to see, and none disappointed.
NOTE: All performances from this year’s festival are available for listening and/or downloading on NPR’s website. I would especially recommend the sets by Gillian Welch, Iron & Wine, Billy Bragg (beware curse words and political veiws), Guy Clark, and David Rawlings Machine (whose cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ was a standout of the whole festival for me).
This was also our first time to visit the town of Newport (and the state of Rhode Island, for that matter), and we loved it. Our B&B, the Spring Street Inn, was pleasant and very comfy, and was conveniently situated just down the block from an excellent coffee shop called Spring Street Espresso. A very short walk toward the harbor was the main drag of interesting restaurants and shops on Thames Street. Basically everything we could want, all within an easy few minutes’ walk in any given direction.
Simply put, we enjoyed everything about the trip. So much so, in fact, that we’ve already booked the same room for next year.