The Newport Folk Festival: Day 1, "Woo Hooo!"
This might be your grandparent’s music festival… if your grandparents were awesome hippies.
The Newport Folk Festival has been a staple of the American music festival scene for over 50 years. Before there was Woodstock or Monterey Pop, there was NFF. This is the festival where Bob Dylan had his first national performance, and where the likes of Joan Baez and Kris Kristofferson came to prominence. Sprawling the grounds of a pre Civil War naval fort in the charming ocean town of Newport, RI, the festival holds 5 intimate stages within its maze. The main stage surrounded on 3 sides by ocean.
I showed up on this very rainy morning completely ill prepared for the weather conditions which turned from overcast to pouring rain within the 15 minutes it took to travel from my house to the grounds. Everyone always writes about the rain at music festivals and I’ve always thought it to be very inconsequential and boring. The last time I went to the NFF when I was in high school – during my Ani Difranco phase – it rained the whole time and didn’t bother me. But… there is a big difference when you need to take photos of everything in the rain and when you can just sit in the mud in your Birkenstocks.
This time around I enlisted the help of my brother who abandoned his final exams to trek out in the rain with me and check out the line up. Headliners Feist, Old Crow Medicine Show, JD McPherson and fellow Brooklyner Phosphorescent were on the top of our list.
What makes this festival special, beyond its history, is the bizzaro demographic. Plenty of the hippies who made it out in 1959 are still coming back and rocking/ chilling out even harder than their yuppie kids and grand kids. There are country fans, Hicks, Newport’s elite sailing crowd and wealthy tourists, families with babies and then your regular music festival going type of hipster, all coming together to find something for themselves.
This festival is not about the 24-hour party or the idea of excess, or basically everything we think a music festival is about today. It’s about bringing the musicians of this diverse genre of music together. This has been the dream of founder George Wein, who is still at it, after all of these years of being chauffeured around the festival in his golf cart, "The Wein Mobile". JD McPherson’s showmanship-infused Rockabilly is placed within the same sound space as the pure, powerful, poppy and commercially successful Feist, only to be followed up by the country, bluegrass, and banjo crazed cheerful music of Old Crow Medicine Show. It’s like a county fair that some billboard top 100 artists just happened to drop into.
The popular fashion of the day was the plastic poncho, Teva combination. NFF is arguably one of the less fashion-focused festivals in history, especially on a rainy day. In an attempt to stay dry we checked out some of the home grown acts such as experimental rockish folky group The Rice Cakes on the Museum Stage (which is basically a small building for storing life boats and old ship parts). By the time we made it out to see Feist on the Fort Stage my camera was so waterlogged its no longer turning on. Feist’s smooth, flexible and empowering voice takes on mythical qualities as the wind and rain push on. Her vulnerable performance seems to rise up out of the depths of the ocean around us and eventually battles the rain into submission just in time for Old Crow Medicine Show.
As a blaring red sunset emerges over Narragansett Bay, the ponchos and shoes come off and Old Crow Medicine Show leads the crowd into a full on fiddle induced jigging fest. Their music is so wholesome and feel good that you cant help but dance like a folk-loving leprechaun drying off in the sun. All smiles all around, the crowd departs to their respective islands on ferries, shuttle boats and bicycles but not before snapping a shot with the epic double rainbow flanking the bay.
Photos By: Sara Greco & Michael Greco