After impatiently following updates to the lineup all winter and spring, it’s a little hard for us to believe that the Newport Folk Festival is finally here. And even though Folk Fest has a very civilized attendance cap of 10,000 people, with so many amazing bands in one place at the same time, it still can be a little overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 13 experiences you absolutely shouldn’t miss, on stage or off. Folk yeah!
1. Watch a legend play.
Big names not to miss this year include Brandi Carlile, the genre-defying artist whose mashup of pop, R&B, country, and bluesy vocal unleash some serious power; Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd lyricist and bassist who also drops a new album this Friday; and J Mascis, best known for fronting Dinosaur Jr. and widely considered to be one of the best guitarists of all time.
2. Eat a lobster roll.
Where else but Newport would lobster be considered festival food? Seriously, though, the lobster rolls from from Matunuck Oyster Bar are some of the finest around, so indulge while you’re here; they’re not available anywhere else on the island.
3. Get your pong and corn hole on.
Take a break in between sets to cool off with a local brew and a view of the bay at the Newport Storm Beer Garden. (Also, let it be known that we’re still a little puritanical here in Rhode Island: Adult beverages are only available in this designated area.)
4. Check out the artists behind some of 2015’s most exciting albums.
Courtney Barnett, Laura Marling, Strand of Oaks, and Lord Huron are just starting to gain a wider audience, while The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and Iron & Wine have been around for years but are back with new music. Catch them all!
5. Shop the crafts market.
It’s not just macrame tote bags — you’ll find original art, unique jewelry, handmade candles, all-natural skincare products, and more. It’s definitely worth a stroll.
6. See Folk Fest alum who’ve made it big.
Hozier and Shakey Graves were fairly obscure when they arrived in Newport for the first time; today they headline festivals across the country. This summer, they’re back to where it all began. The Folk Fest experience often means something special to the artists, and, as a result, something special for the audience.
7. Put on a concert of your own.
If you’re musically inclined, grab a guitar or banjo at the Martin Jam Stage, or pull up a stump to create a pop-up theater amongst the audience. You never know who might be watching.
8. Welcome a first-time artist.
This year’s debut acts include the darling Swedish sisters of First Aid Kit, Boston folk-rockers Ballroom Thieves, and The Barr Brothers, whose unique quartet includes a harpist. And don’t miss Jon Batiste & Stay Human; the genre-bending New Orleans talent (who played Newport Jazz Fest last year and returns again this year) is going to blow up even bigger once they begin their gig as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show band.
9. Keep an ear out for surprises performance (and grab free snacks).
Last year, Langhorne Slim and the Spirit Family Reunion gave intimate pop-up concerts under the tiny Late July Family Tent — and they weren’t even on the official festival lineup. Bonus: Free snacks for all who come!
10. Identify the pop-up musician of the year.
For the past few fests, there’s always been one musician who shows up again and again on stage with various acts. One year we got Jim James; another, it was Mavis Staples. Who knows who it’ll be this weekend, but keep your eyes open for a recurring special guest and some unexpected super-jams.
11. Check out musicians you’ve never heard of.
Even if you’ve been listening religiously to your Folk Fest Spotify list or NFF’s own TuneIn stream, there are bound to be bands you haven’t heard yet. Last year we stumbled upon Valerie June and Lake Street Dive by accident – and left smitten. Stop by the small Harbor stage or throw a figurative dart at the lineup (mobile apps here) – we can 99.98 percent guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
12. Be a part of history.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan going electric – a monumental moment for folk music and the artist himself, not to mention for music fans everywhere. Tributes and sentimentality are certain to appear on stages across the Fort – and the mystery artists behind the ’65 Revisited slots on the lineup are sure to be full of worthy surprises. (Our best guess – and wish list – includes something in this vein.) Whatever it is, something magical is bound to happen!
10. Take pictures.
A group photo with the giant wooden letters that spell out F-O-L-K will help keep the memories alive until next summer rolls around. And looking at your fellow festival-goers’ pics (hashtag: #folkyeah) is all part of the fun. See you at the Fort!
Now that you know what to do with your days inside the Fort, plan your adventures outside its walls. Our Local’s Guide to the Newport Folk Festival can help.
Photos by Meaghan O’Neill.