Last weekend I was in Newport, Rhode Island. You might ask why? Well, many people from New Orleans go north during summer to attempt to escape the heat of our Augusts. I, on the other hand, was on my way to the Newport Folk Festival with my husband.
A couple of years ago we decided that every year we were going to go to a new music fest. Last year we went to Pitchfork in Chicago (which I wrote about in a previous blog). We’ve attended Bonnaroo a few times, and now my husband attends every year with his best friend. He even went to Movement, an electronic music festival in Detroit.
For us, music festivals are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and we want to try them all. In fact, a lot of people in New Orleans know me as “the girl in the big red hat.” I wear my big red hat to second lines, to Jazz Fest, to Mardi Gras Indian gatherings and to every festival we attend. In fact, it’s probably one of my most cherished possessions (even though I have to replace it every few years as the red fades to a dull pink).
But Newport, and its folk festival, was a whole new world. The weather was lovely, never reaching 80 degrees, with an ocean breeze to keep everyone cool.
We stayed at the Black Duck Inn, a small building that’s part of bed-and-breakfast conglomerate. Ours was run by a woman who is the very definition of a broad. Every morning she’d offer us her “hot breakfast,” from French toast to scrambled eggs and sausage, and then we would walk down the hill, join the line for the ferry – which is never as long as the morning entrance to Jazz Fest – and take the ferry to Fort Adams State Park where the festival is held.
Newport Folk Festival was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There was no trash. I know that seems like an odd thing to mention, but if you’ve ever seen our Jazz Fest at the end of a full day you’ll understand why not seeing a single piece of trash, not even one cigarette butt, was something that stuck in my memory. The grass is lush, both tented stages had seating, though we preferred the hill next to the Harbor Stage, and there was absolutely no sound bleed between stages (stone walls are useful this way). Pretty much, no matter where you decide to stand or sit, you can have a view of the stage.
The vendors were lovely and the food was tasty (you can even get freshly shucked oysters and a lobster roll, next to an incredible Mediterranean platter).
But what made this festival really wonderful were the musicians. I’m not talking about their performances – though every performance that I saw had perfectly balanced sound – they were always so lovely, enthusiastic and grateful to be performing. And none of them played what could be termed a touring set; neither did they play a greatest hits set. This year’s festival was in memory of Pete Seeger, so there were a lot of covers of his music, usually with special guests. We saw Mavis Staples, celebrating her 75th birthday at the festival, guest on no less than three stages. Musicians would play with each other almost every set, seemingly without rehearsal or hiccup. From Staples bringing onstage Luscious, Jeff Tweedy and Norah Jones, to the Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir onstage with Hozier. Jack White even paused his set to say that for the first time in 12 years, he was able to “walk around like a human” and to thank us.
Even outside the festival grounds, the bands and musicians that you had seen that weekend are walking around and happy to have a conversation or take a photo (Thanks Matt Myers and Katie Toupin of Houndmouth!).
So, should you find yourself deep in the August doldrums next year, consider a trip to Newport and say hi when you spot the woman in the big red hat.