Until recently, most locals agreed that it was more fun to hit up the Newport Folk Festival by boat than to go inside and watch the show. We respected the event’s gravity and history, but, more often than not, it was an excuse to have fun with some music playing in the background. But in 2008, all that changed when a new booker came on board.
This year’s show — which sold out in mere minutes months before the lineup was even announced — was again no disappointment. There were the big names (Jack White, Ryan, Adams, Mavis Staples), the indie groups with cult followings (Rodrigo y Gabriela, Trampled by Turtles, Band of Horses), and lesser known acts with barely an album out yet (Lake Street Dive, Benjamin Booker, Valerie June). And they all put their best folk forward. Even bands I didn’t care about seeing were unpredictably entertaining.
This latest iteration of Folk Fest is remarkable for its fantastic lineup and amazing people watching, but best of all is the camaraderie of the crowd. There’s no pushing, no fighting, no stealing, no overdosing. People are just decent to one another here. And even with sponsors, Folk Fest remains distinctively un-commercial feeling. “Newport Folk is not about the noise, it’s about the music, and that simple distinction could save us from losing our tradition to the festival machine,” wrote Hilary Hughes aptly in a recent Esquire article.
As the sun broke through the cloud cover at the end of each day, it bathed the Fort and the folk in golden sunshine. That this 6 o’clock gleaming is pretty typical doesn’t make it any less magical. It’s also a great metaphor for the rebirth festival itself: As this storied event has carved its way through history, the spirit of the folk has always remained the same — full of grace.