Review By Bob Rose || Photos by Bob Rose and Ron Ozer
Attending the Newport Folk Festival for the first time, I now understand fully why the magic that surrounds and celebrates one of the oldest folk festivals in the country has captured the hearts & musical souls of those whom attend. This is probably one of the reasons the festival sold out in advance this year in spite of the current economic decline in the US.
Located on one of the most picturesque locations on the Eastern seaboard at a perfect setting steeped in history, at such an historic site, The Newport Folk Festival takes place every year at Fort Adams State Park. There are three stages and the main stage sits looking out at Newport Harbor and the famous Claiborne Pell Bridge. Patrons wonder around the fort to the other two stages (Quad and Alex & Ani Harbor Stages) while continuing to absorb the history and tranquil setting.
What began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival fell on hard times in the later 1960’s, even closing its doors for a number of years beginning in 1971. But the fest was revived in 1985 and has since become one of the major folk music festivals in the United States, alongside the Philadelphia Folk Festival which began in 1960, and Newport Folk Fest is now the longest continual running music festival in North America.
The performances were excellent as each artist seemed to be caught up in the beautiful setting under sunny skies. Standing on the main stage and overlooking the harbor and the hundreds of boats and people enjoying not only the music, but each other is one of the reasons Newport is so special. When Decemberists lead singer asked for those on boats to blow their horns in unison he created a chorus for one of the songs he was in the midst of singing.
Each day there were 18 main stage performances and each stage seemed to have great audiences enjoying familiar performers as well as being introduced to many new ones for the very first time. Since many of the performances overlapped, tough decisions had to be made as to whom to see or how to split your time and catch one, two, or three acts in the same time segment. For example, on Saturday Mavis Staples, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and The Decemberists were all final acts for the day. Earlier a tough decision was made betwee Earl Scruggs, Delta Spirit, and Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three. It was also great to hear for the first time such diverse artists as PS22 Chorus, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Typhoon, and Freelance Whales among others. Also, each day of the festival you were treated to a guest performance by the legendary Pete Seeger at various times throughout the weekend.
Some of my highlights from the first day were seeing, for the first time, Gilllan Welch, Delta Spirit, Typhoon and PS22 Chorus. It was also great to again experience artists like The Decemberists, Gogol Bordello, The Felice Brothers, and a Song Circle which included Dar Williams, Ellis Paul, John Gorka among others.
If you thought day one was great, it was incredible to see such a amazing lineup on day two, and again for me, seeing some these acts for the first time. Overlapping stages caused me to miss some performances, but I was able to see partial or complete sets from Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Justin Townes Earle, The Civil Wars, Amos Lee, Wanda Jackson, Trampled by Turtles, The Secret Sisters, Chris Thile & Michael Daves, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and The David Wax Musuem.
For three consecutive nights after the festival in downtown Newport at Newport Blues Cafe, Deer Tick and Friends played to soldout crowds with all proceeds benefitting the Newport Festivals Foundation and Cancer Research. Some of the artists that joined Deer Tick included: Dawes, Middle Brother (which includes the lead singers of Dawes, Delta Spirit and Deer Tick). M. Ward, The Felice Brothers, Johnny Corndawg and more. We had the opportunity to attend one of these shows and the amount of energy in the room was incredible along with the performers on stage.
All and all one can say the Newport Folk Festival is an incredible weekend of music, a beautiful historic and unique setting, a well-balanced lineup of new and familar artists, great selection of crafts and food vendors. With a crowd limit to 10,000 people per day, it was easy to wander between stages, find a spot to sit and/ or stand and take it all in.