Summer Festival Spotlight – Newport Folk Festival

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Imagine yourself meandering through the rustic barracks of an 18th century waterfront U.S. military fort.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Now imagine that the sun is shining, the beer is flowing, the harbor is dotted with white sails and white caps, and every single one of your favorite bands is playing.  Luckily, you don’t have to just imagine this perfect scenario–you can experience it!

Now in its 54th year, the Newport Folk Festival continues to carry the torch when it comes to stacked lineups with all of the best festival trimmings.  Over the July 26-28 weekend, the industry’s most talented musicians will land at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI and play to a–more than likely–sold-out crowd.

Here are some of the top reasons to get your hands on the oh-s0 coveted Newport Folk Festival ticket (or find a friend with a boat and post-up in the harbor), along with fan feedback from some new and slightly seasoned Newport Folk festivarians:

1. The Lineup:  Unlike other festivals, Newport doesn’t release their full lineup until well after tickets go on sale.  Savvy festivarians know to purchase tickets early, because year after year festival organizers book only the best acts.  Second-timer Karen, from Nashville, TN, didn’t need to know the lineup to know she would grace Fort Adams with her presence again this year.  “I bought my 3-day pass the day they went on sale, without a single act having been announced.  No need.  I knew it would be good–no, great,” she said.  And she was certainly correct.  Heavy-hitters include Feist, The Avett Brothers, Beck, The Lumineers, Jim James, Old Crow Medicine Show and Trombone Shorty, to name a few.  While these are certainly impressive headliners, Newport will also host one of the most impressive lineups of indie bands on the festival circuit this year.  Bands like Langhorne Slim and the Law, Shovels and Rope, The Lone Bellow, and The Milk Carton Kids, along with solo performances from Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle, are must-sees at this year’s NFF.  First-timer Blair, from Asheville, NC, is most looking forward to Langhorne Slim’s performance on Saturday, which is slated to be one of this year’s crowd favorites.  With such a stellar lineup, fans like Karen are going to have to think long and hard about where to be and when.  She added, “My only frustration is going to come from having to make some hard choices about who to see when every act is terrific.  Good problem to have, though, right?”

2. The Backdrop:  There’s nothing quite like watching the sun set over Newport Harbor as the headliner closes out the day with an inspirational performance.  The NFF has one of the most beautiful backdrops around–historic mansions nestled into vibrant, green rolling hills surrounding a sailor’s paradise.  From Fort Adams, this breathtaking scenery is sure to make any festival goer stop in his/her tracks and take in a panoramic view.  Repeat offender Karissa from Hackettstown, NJ shared her thoughts on the festival’s landscape.  “Last year was my first NFF, and I plan on going every year now.  It’s clean, it’s close, and the views are amazing.  When you’re at Fort Adams, you’re right on the water.  You can look out and see people on their sailboats dancing to Jackson Browne or My Morning Jacket.  You can see the famous Newport Mansions on your drive in and dream about spilling a few million out to live in one, one day.”  Sounds pretty magical to me!

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3.  The Nightlife: After the sun goes down and all of the lawn chairs get folded up, the festival still rages on.  On Friday and Saturday nights, Dawes and Friends will play shows at The Jane Pickens Theater  to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation.  Just down the road at the Newport Blues Cafe, Deer Tick will close out Friday-Sunday nights with performances to benefit both the Newport Festivals Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  Though frontmen Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and John McCauley (Deer Tick) are friends, collaborators, and recently appointed Newport Folk Festival Board of Advisor members, you can bet that the vibe at each show will be span the spectrum.  A word to the wise, the rowdy bunch should fall in line with Newport’s golden(toothed) boy McCauley at Newport Blues Cafe, while the more laid back fans should kick it with L.A. rocker Goldsmith and pals.  Either way, the evening events offer festival goers a chance to keep the party going, while supporting great charities.

4. The Festivarians:  Music lovers travel from far and wide to get to Newport, and these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill festivarians.  Rather, they are fans that know a thing or two about music, and that’s why they are there–for the music.   After her first NFF, Karen noticed that the crowd was one of the things that made NFF so special.  “I have been calling it an adult festival, but that’s not really accurate.  It is very mellow and civilized.  I can compare it to MerleFest, actually, now that I’ve been there.”  Karissa added, “At NFF, everyone is on the same page.  Audiences are respectful.  I didn’t see a single person stumbling around drunk, trying to push their way to the front, which is kind of hard to believe for a three-day festival!  You can look to your left and right and on either side of you is a person wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band written across the front of it–pretty amazing.  I’m all for NFF.  Best festival, hands down.”

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5. The Unexpected:  From Dylan’s 1965 plug-in to The Pixies unplugged in 2005, you just never know what kind of amazing musical treats will pop-up at NFF.  Over the years, fans have been delighted with surprise onstage collaborations, fort-top performances, and secret acoustic sessions.  It’s safe to say that NFF will deliver more unforgettable, unexpected moments this year, as well.   In 2010, The Avett Brothers, rode a scissor lift high above a line of port-a-johns and played a secret short set to those fans who able to sneak away from the other stages.  This is just one of many moments that will live on in the NFF history books:

6.  The Layout:  Due to tight capacity restrictions at Fort Adams, NFF has been forced to keep the festival numbers down, which is quite amazing considering the caliber of musicians that attend.  Having a festival with only 4 stages in a very close proximity to one another, but with ample space to keep sound separate, is a major plus for NFF.  “The beautiful thing about NFF is that it’s small. There are four stages and it only takes a minute to get from one to another.  I recently attended Firefly Music festival in Delaware and it was so crowded and the stages were so far apart, it took my friend and I forever to figure out where we were supposed to be.  We actually walked around Firefly reminiscing about how perfect NFF is,” shared Karissa.  The festival layout allows the experience to remain intimate and engaging, as if you were enjoying a private show with 10,000 of your closest friends.

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These are just a few of the many reasons to get to the Newport Folk Festival this year from July26-28th.  At the time of this entry, single-day tickets for Friday were still available.  You may have to resort to Stubhub or Craigslist for the Saturday and Sunday shows.  But, just remember that there’s always next year, so be sure to buy your tickets early.  See you in Newport!

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