Making Newport Dangerous Again: Predictions for NFF’s Speak Out Set

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On May 4th, Newport Folk quietly announced “Speak Out,” a set scheduled for Sunday evening, just before the headliner. Not much has been officially stated about the set, simply – “Since our inception artists have challenged injustice, fought for equality and exercised freedom to sing the truth. This tradition continues with SPEAK OUT, a celebration of the power of song.”

Firstly, we’re proud to see NFF shining a spotlight on protest music given the code-red status of American politics today. And secondly, since Newport is chock full of surprises already, seeing a near-headlining set shrouded in such mystery has us fiending for answers. We insatiably searched every folk-ish corner of the internet for clues, and comprised some educated guesses about what Speak Out could mean, and who it might call to the stage.

Our first hunch has been on our Newport bucket list forever – Bob Dylan. Not only does Dylan have a legendary relationship to the Festival, which stokes our constant speculation as to if/when he might ever return, but he is seen by many as a quintessential protest singer. Joining a set dedicated to exercising the freedom of song in the face of injustice would be the ultimate opportunity for Bob make his triumphant return to the Fort. And while we’d be happy with a Dylan-only Speak Out set, a closer look opens up even more possibilities.


Peter Seeger - The Power of SongSpeak Out is about “the power of song” – a phrase directly tied to the late folk legend Pete Seeger, as evidenced by his
documentary of the same name. It seems clear that Seeger’s legendary tenure as a folk-singing activist will be fuel for the set. Less clear, however, is who will carry the torch. If you’ve seen Power of Song, read about Seeger’s influence on younger generations of musicians, or evennn checked out the undercard of the poster to your left… you may notice Bruce Springsteen’s name. Yep, I’m going there – I hereby motion that The Boss will be joining us at The Fort for the very first time this year.

Let me count the ways why this is so crazy that it just might work:

1. Bruce has long been a devoted disciple of Seeger. The two played together at Obama’s 2008 inauguration, and Springsteen even has an album of Seeger covers. Bruce has spoken beautifully of his mentor, saying, “At some point, Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends.” He’s paid tribute to Seeger for years, and I can only imagine the appeal of doing so at Newport.

2. Like Dylan and Seeger before him, Springsteen is a protest singer in his own right. He’s been holding our government accountable since “Born in the U.S.A,” and given his relative silence this year, Newport may be the perfect place to speak out against the Trump administration.

3. Just last week, he showed his interest in playing smaller shows by announcing an 8-week run on Broadway. And while the Fort isn’t a 900-person theater, it’s certainly a more intimate venue than the arenas he sells out.

We’re swinging for the fences here, but a set of this weight and importance merits comparable talent on stage. Who do you predict? Let us know in the comments – and let the speculation begin!

Posted on by Caroline in Newport Folk Festival Spotlight

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