The Gem that is Newport Folk Festival

I’ve been seeing live music since I was three years old.

I’ve seen a lot and yet there is only one festival that I want to attend for the rest of my life.

My parents and I have been going to Newport Folk Festival since 2009. My dad attended with a friend in 2008, and came back raving about it so we knew we needed to go as a family. We even roped in my cousin who is now just as into it as we are.

The minute the ticket sale date is announced, each of our calendars are marked. Tickets are purchased the second they go on sale. Then the same hotel we stayed at the previous year is booked. Amtrak is booked. Car service from train station to hotel is booked. Dinner reservations are made for all three nights.

In late July, we meet at Penn Station with several bags and our festival chairs to board our Amtrak train to Kingston, Rhode Island. We shuffle around for seats together and put our luggage overhead. When we arrive in Kingston, a car service driver is waiting for us with a sign that says SPERO. As we drive through Kingston towards Newport, we pass over the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge where my dad immediately plays the song, Myriad Harbour by The New Pornographers. This is done every year, without fail.

We arrive at our hotel, check-in, leave our bags with the bellman and head to the ferry to get to the festival as soon as possible. Our bags are packed with sunscreen and snacks. We wait on the ferry line with the other festival-goers. Babies as young as six-months to adults in their 80s. This is the festival for everyone.

In 2013, we looked at the lineup and weren’t wow-ed. We decided to skip the fest and sell our four tickets. I tweeted about the tickets, immediately got a response from a guy who connected me with his friend who wanted them. He introduced me to the band, Houndmouth and I started to question why I wasn’t going to the festival. I had also recently gotten into Phosphorescent and they were playing. Instead of attending the festival, I spent the entire weekend indoors watching the livestream. This was a sign that I could never skip a festival again.


In 2015, my dad’s friend Al Kooper was playing the 50th anniversary tribute to when Bob Dylan went electric at Newport Folk Festival. A few hours prior to the festival starting, I got a call from Al who asked if I wanted to come to the rehearsal. What, are you kidding!?? There I was, in what felt like an abandoned farmhouse watching Al, Dawes, Hozier, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Deertick, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Willie Watson and Robyn Hitchcock rehearse. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing — as the only non-musician or music manager in the room, I knew this was a moment I’d never forget. The actual performance at the festival several hours later was phenomenal. Only person missing was Bob Dylan.

When the 2016 lineup started rolling in, I started having similar feelings to the 2013 festival of not being sure I wanted to go. Then Father John Misty, Graham Nash, Patti Smith and Alabama Shakes were announced. And we were back in the game. Plus, Middle Brother would be playing the festival for the first time in five years. Although I wasn’t very familiar with the material, I am a huge fan of anything that includes Taylor Goldsmith so I was thrilled for this. The Newport Folk Festival podcast featured the members of Middle Brother and it got me even more excited.


The three highlights from this year’s festival were:

Case / Lang / Veirs: I had listened to the album prior to the show yet knew it would be even better live. When KD Lang sang Neil Young’s, Helpless the entire audience was in awe. I turned around and my dad was in tears. Magical moment.

Patti Smith: One of my favorite performers, ever. She decided to sing a tribute to Pete Seeger, a real legend at the festival but acknowledged how nervous she was. She sang, If I Had a HammerYes, you know it — it’s that song you probably sang in preschool. Everyone was singing along. She was so happy. It was perfect.

Middle Brother: As the words “Early in the morning…” came out of John McCauley’s mouth as they played their first song, Daydreaming, I looked up at Taylor Goldsmith who had the biggest smile on his face — clearly in awe of majority of the audience singing along. It was precious. These guys are the face of Newport Folk Festival. There is nowhere else in the world they could play and get this much love.

This is the festival where:

Nobody talks during shows — whether they’re the bands biggest fan or have never heard of them before. There’s a level of respect.

The line to get into the festival is (usually) manageable.

The security guard hands out sunscreen when you’re burnt — she’s looking out for the festival attendees.

A girl plops down in the middle of the crowd looking dehydrated. A perfect stranger hands her a brand new water bottle and a packet of Emergen-C.

The festival limits ticket sales to only 10,000 people so it’s not overwhelming. Personal space is often respected.

Del’s frozen lemonade says they don’t have any spoons or straws to provide because they weren’t recyclable. Attendees shrug and recognize that this is the festival’s way of eliminating trash too.

If people are smoking cigarettes — I didn’t see it because either it’s not allowed or people do it somewhere that I can’t smell it.

No matter how far back you are at any stage, you can still hear the musical act perfectly.

The food prices are totally affordable — water is $3, massive burritos are $10 and shots of ginger are $2.

There are real bathrooms, not just port-o-potties and they’re actually clean with not such massive lines. 
The people who want to drink are in a designated area — can’t bring their beverages out. This isn’t a wasted crowd.

There is always a path to escape. If you’re highly claustrophobic, even the pit at the Fort Stage, you can find a way to get out of there in seconds.

You can save seats at the Harbor and Quad Stages prior to acts going on and nobody freaks out on you about it.

People say “see you next year” at the end of the day on Sunday because we’re going to come back no matter who’s playing then.

Is it time to buy tickets for 2017 year? See you next year at the fort!