Every year I have the good fortune to find myself at one of the oldest and grandest music festivals in the United States, shoulder-to-shoulder with the same group of friends. It’s been called both the “grand daddy of American music festivals”, as well as “possibly the most polite festival.” The type of place where people buy tickets (all of the tickets!) before the lineup is even released. People go to Newport for the sake of Newport. Young people, older folks, and toddlers alike (there’s a sneaky-good kids tent.). We all come to this ritzy town to be rich. Rich with friends, rich with experiences, and of course - wildly rich with music.
With too many great acts to name,
When you return from the Original Gangster of festivals, the first question that gets asked again and again is, “What was your favorite?” My answer is always something unexpectedly plucked from the treasure trove, the glints of gems glistening from the stages you walk past on the way to something else, the allure of the unkown that draws you in and invites you to clap along with everyone else.
The Newport Folk Festival is known (publicly) for it’s big acts such as Ryan Adams, James Taylor, and Beck to name a few…but that is only a fraction of what this festival offers. The Newport Folk Festival is a breeding ground for up and coming artists. No only do they allow artists to play on stage; they promote them, encourage them, and connect them with other artists. These up and coming artists will not dissolve but will become part of an extended family. Some of the great acts this year that really stood out:
Traveller, three singer songwriters from Nashville, Tenn. (Cory Chisel, Robert Ellis and Johnny Fritz) touring and playing each other's songs plus some new ones. The kind of thing you can't find online or anywhere else - yet. Call it what you will, country, folk, Americana. There is a heavy dash of John Prine or Roger Miller-type humor in their songwriting styles.
The tiny Museum stage hidden yet in the center of the festival feels like a throwback to the way that the festival used to be, highlighting either the non-famous or bringing the bigger names to the small stage in unannounced sets for the lucky few that have devoted their time, waiting to see what will happen next. Allowing people the chance to "discover" their new favorites or have an unforgettable story about seeing one of their favorite acts up close and personal. On that stage was Wildwood Revival, curated by the masterminds behind a new music festival in Georgia by the same name. The stage was graced by singer-songwriters who you've probably never heard of, but should take note of. Notably Margo Price with a country twang reminiscent of early Loretta Lynn. Or Aaron Lee Tasjan who had everyone in stitches singing about seemingly random events that all led back to David lee Roth of all things.
Elsewhere, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, gave the feeling that you were at some kind of revival, making more noise than one white tent can handle.
Langhorne Slim, a personal favorite had the crowd in hysterics with his typical stage antics. Hundreds gathered under the Quad tent to belt out his catchy lyrics in unison.
Other highlights include repeat performers Spirit Family Reunion and First Aid Kit each taking another step towards make more indelible memories for those lucky enough to see them. Similarly, Hozier and Tallest Man on Earth both returned with bigger bands and bigger ambitions, wowing the waves of crowds with rock-infused folk. Festival newcomers like Leon Bridges, Courtney Barnett, and Luluc took turns turning heads on the festival’s smaller stages and pop-up sets from James Taylor and My Morning Jacket added to the festival’s legacy of jaw-dropping surprises and seemingly ceaseless wonderment.
And just like that, in the blink of an eye I find myself at the very end of the three day fest, making plans to come back next year, like always. As far as Newport is concerned, I may not be rich. But at the Newport Folk Festival, I am certainly a rich woman.
Words by Vanessa Roberts Richert