Festival Heartstrings

10 Things You Should Know About Newport Folk Festival

By: Lauren Jahoda
With Newport Folk Festival approaching, we’ve curated a list for NFF-first-timers of the 10 things you should know about this famed festival. If you have a ticket, we’re sure you have heard some of the stories and legends of the past, and the inevitable excitement to come; it’s the festival your friends arrive home from each year talking about for days, perhaps even weeks. It’s the festival that sells out before the artists are revealed. And it’s the festival that you vowed after last year’s passing that you wouldn’t miss out on again. And here you are, just a day away from an unparalleled festival experience and an opportunity to become a part of an ongoing chapter in history. So without further adieu, we bring you the 10 Things You Should Know About Newport Folk Festival, and we’ll see you at the Fort!

1. George Wein

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2. Pete Seeger

George and Pete

Photo: Bill Revill

Without George Wein, Newport Folk Festival, simply would not be possible. In 1954, while immersed in his jazz club, Storyville, Wein sat down with Professor Donald Born and Elaine Lorillard at the Copley Square Hotel, which eventually led to Wein’s visit to “Quatrel,” Elaine and Louis Livingston Lorillard’s mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. With the Lorillards’ great enthusiasm and a $20,000.00 line of credit, Wein built the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 and, alongside Pete Seeger, would continue on to deliver Newport Folk Festival in 1959, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970. Since then, music festivals have sprouted in every direction, in widely varied forms. At the age of 90, with countless honors and the same lively spirit that drove him to create NFF in the first place, Wein is still very much involved in the community which he and Pete Seeger had built.

3. Jay Sweet

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Photo: Josh Wool

Jay Sweet, previously an at-large editor for Paste Magazine, joined the Newport Folk Festival team in 2007 as a consultant and by 2010 he officially took over for Bob Jones (whose predecessor was Pete Seeger) as the Executive Producer. In the past eight years, Sweet’s curatorial mastery has been the hallmark of this now famous annual event. “Curating is the amazing part of the job. To believe that you are trusted with the ability to put together a live playlist and that people will dig it. It’s the curatorial thing that makes me get up in the morning…it’s all about collaboration. As you said, you can’t force that stuff. I’ve learned that. I always say, I just buy the groceries and hope those artists can cook up a hell of a meal…We like all our artists to feel like they’re just writing the next chapter in probably the longest ongoing music story, in America at least” (Jay Sweet, Fest300).

4. Fort Adams State Park  FORT ADAMS

Next to Gorge Amphitheater and Red Rocks, the setting at Fort Adams is incomparable. With waterfront views on three sides, it is an integral part of the NFF experience. A former United States Army post and named after President John Adams, the historical roots of this festival site run deep. Camping is not permitted, so you will need to make other arrangements for your weekend stay.

5. Lodging

cooke-house

Photo: Wellington Resort

As the site of the “summer cottages” (mansions to you and me), of the Vanderbilts, Astors and other “old money” industrialists, you might still smell a remnant of the affluent air they left behind when you book your hotel/B&B accommodations. If you’re on a budget, my advice is to reserve your rooms as early as possible, as there are indeed, good deals to be found, but they do go ever so quickly.

6. Transportation

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Photo: Jamestown Newport Ferry

When you arrive in Newport, don’t drive to Fort Adams. Surely, the best available transport is by water taxi across Newport Harbor for about $10 round-trip — a small price to pay for the beautiful sites you’ll see along the way. Launches can be found along the Newport wharf area, as well as in Jamestown across the harbor. If you’re feeling energetic, or haven’t yet gotten your day’s exercise in, hop on a bike and enjoy the scenic ride to Fort Adams.

7. Expect the Unexpected

Photo: Jacqueline Marque

Photo: Jacqueline Marque

A signature of Jay Sweet’s curatorial magic is the pairing of artists for collaborative performances that mere mortals wouldn’t have the foresight and ability to bring to fruition. This coupled with the “’65 Revisited” slot and the “Unannounced” performances (a first, this year) is just another element of the magic that is NFF. When the unannounced are announced, it is not uncommon for jaws to drop and eyes to grow wide with excitement. This year is the 50th anniversary of the notorious 1965 festival (Dylan goes electric), so ANYTHING can happen. Seasoned NFF attendees will also have you know that the lesser known artists are also not to be missed. There’s a reason why they are included on the roster at this prestigious festival. Epic performances by the same are commonplace here, as Jay Sweet will tell you, “…it’s very rarely headliner-driven, meaning it’s all about the meat in the middle for us. It’s artist 1 through 66…” (Fest300). You will also find impromptu performances by scheduled performers, as well as by talented festival-goers throughout the grounds (and on occasion, on the water taxis as well).

8. After-Shows

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After the Fort Adams performances end at 7:30 PM each night, the festivities move to the city of Newport and continue well into the early morning hours. There are 5 Newport Folk official after-shows this year. These performances are as anticipated and spectacular as those you’ll see on the Fort Adams stages. The shows are hosted by the artists themselves (there are always several surprise acts) and presently, there is still time to find at least some after-shows that haven’t already sold-out.

9. Folk Family

Photo: Brian Lima

Although 10,000 seems like an awfully large number of people to add to one’s family, you will undoubtedly leave feeling that you have become a part of a rather vast, yet close-knit “Folk Family.”

10. Plan Ahead

Photo: Brian Lima

Photo: Brian Lima

You might want to start thinking about booking your room and getting your tickets for next year, this coming Monday. As you might have already discovered, this festival sells fast, and you never know what you might miss.

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