The Scene at Newport Folk Festival

Photo by Tess O'Connor

Photo by Tess O’Connor

There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that the Newport Folk Festival is first and foremost about the music.  The 56 year old festival has seen some historic things, one of which celebrated its 50 year anniversary this past Sunday, as seemingly every performer ever took the stage to “go electric,” excluding Dylan of course.  The music is not the only palpable force at play when one enters the old sailing town positioned right at the Southern tip of Aquidneck Island.  Any festival goer can attest, Newport is not just a festival, it is a scene.

You can see it as you cross over the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, the Fort, the old fashioned town, and of course the harbor.  From the second you first catch that view, you know that a good time lies ahead.  Every year in late July music fans from around the world flock to the town’s inns, hotels, and in my case, family members’ couches in order to take part in the time honored tradition that is the folk festival.  And while it’s easy to get caught up in the party, sometimes it’s nice to try and take in the surroundings that you’ve somehow found yourself in.

If you didn’t manage to get yourself a ticket to get into Fort Adams, all is not lost, find yourself a friend or family member with a boat and you’re golden.  This is where the party truly lies, anchored just off the rocky beach of the fort.  Because while the lucky ticket holders may be taking in the sights or traveling from stage to stage, the boat goers are doing just about whatever the hell they want.  From rafting up 7 boats deep to paddle-boarding with a beer stocked cooler as a lawn chair, the water crowd at the festival were having almost too good of a time.

Some people may be saying, “Ryan I came for the groovy tunes man, not some loud annoying party.”  Well anonymous music snob, I am equally pretentious and I thought that people yelling and chugging beer would get in the way of my spiritual connection with whoever was up on stage.  Luckily for me any sort of passive aggressive retaliatory response was never needed because once the music got started everyone remembered exactly why they were there.  This was never more apparent then when James Taylor took the stage, and this is not the biased ramblings of the self-proclaimed “world’s most dedicated James Taylor fan.”  When he sat down and played the opening notes to “Sweet Baby James” the people of the Aqua-Squad not only shut up, but actually clamored for the best spot to watch JT do his thing, it was truly an awe inspiring moment.

Photo by Tess O'Connor

Photo by Tess O’Connor

One of the coolest parts about the festival is that once the day was technically over, you could go to one of the local bars and find yourself watching one of the performers step up and jam.  Every second of that weekend was about the music, the party was always secondary, though it was still very easy to find.  Walking down Lower Thames was like walking through the festival all over again.  You could find old hippies in tie-dye shirts with bald heads and pony-tails chatting up frat boys about how good The Barr Brothers sounded, and make no mistake they sounded AMAZING.  The point is Newport is not just for the folkies or fans of the indie scene.  You don’t need to be a card carrying hipster or a hippie who can’t stop talking about “the good old days” to enjoy it.  Really, all you need is a love of music and the good time will be had for you.

Posted on by Ryan Schmitz in Newport Folk Festival Recap

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