A Letter to George Wein, Jay Sweet, and the Newport Folk Fest
Another weekend of the annual Newport Folk Festival has come and gone, as the sun set over the Newport harbor and the golden hue settled on the fort, an intense bittersweet feeling overcame me. Sure, I know I will be back next year for even more enjoyment, but the anticipation of this yearly gathering has subdued a bit. I feel drained by the dancing in the rain on Friday, the sun beating down throughout the weekend, and the incessant and untamed movement of my dancing feet (seriously, I just couldn’t stop them!). I also feel melancholy, its over but its not really over, there is work to be done for next year. Newly found music to add to the list of bands to catch when they swing through town and old favorites re-established as such. We get back to playing our own gigs, suffering through our day jobs, seeking out great music to see throughout the year, but nothing quite compares to the significance and community ambiance that the festival brings every year. I just wanted to say that I have a great amount of respect and love for everyone who sinks their time, heart, and dedication into this event every year so that so many people can feel the experience that is the Newport Folk Festival.
What it boils down to is that there is just something special and magic about NFF that other festivals cannot touch. The people are respectful and the event is extremely well organized. It’s a family friendly festival, which I don’t think truly exists anywhere else. You are hard pressed to find someone stumbling around or excessive substance use at Newport. Trust me, there was a time when I would have felt otherwise, but as I get older there is a gentle comfort I take in knowing that Newport Folk is different. I genuinely feel safe in a crowd of 10,000 people (not something I can admit often in this day and age). People are there because they love what it stands for, the history of the Newport Folk Festival and where it is going in the future. It’s a living and breathing museum that each and every attendee is part of and contributes to.
Dylan may have started something back in 1965, but the team at NFF has continued to grow, adapt, and push the boundary of what “folk music” really is. You will be hard pressed to experience two similar acts over the course of the weekend and find it even more difficult to stumble across something you won’t genuinely enjoy. WARNING: You WILL find new music that you will fall in love with. The team puts obvious, extensive efforts into their choices, and for that, I thank you! Another welcome addition this year was the open mic in the Museum, making us all feel like we are a little piece of Newport Folk as musicians who may not yet be ready for those bigger stages. I saw that banner flying behind two good friends and I felt a sense of pride and content seeing them singing their songs for the silent and attentive room. The performances both large and small are heartfelt and genuine here. I think it may be a Newport necessity that I shed tears for at least one performance every festival (Isbell, you got me this year) but other musician friends told me the same in confidence. That they were moved to shedding a bit of salty water, as well.
Last but not least, I am deeply moved by the love shown for Dave Lamb. This harkens back to the fact that Newport is truly a family. You cannot deny that both the people behind the scenes and dancing on the lawn have developed a tenderness for the music family of Newport that goes far beyond “they play pretty good music”. That to me is extraordinary. There is an authentic and deep seeded passion for the fans, the artists, and event staff alike, that is unparalleled by anything I have experienced. People applauding Mr. Wein with true appreciation, as he makes his way around the grounds in the “Wein Machine”, performing musicians standing next to fans watching another artist’s set because they are fans of the music as well, and the audience support from the Martin open-mic tent to the Fort stage are all just a tiny piece of what makes this “thing” remarkable. It’s beautiful to see so many people come together to celebrate folk music, unity, and just plain forgetting about life for a while to be swept away by the fest.
I love this festival, I love the people who make it happen, and I really look forward to all the years to come. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much for keeping the momentum going and this living piece of history, pressing on. Thank you for caring enough to develop smaller artists and present them to a broad audience. Thank you for giving deep thought and unique diversity to the acts you book each year. Thank you for caring enough to make this thing continue on. It means the world.
Red Line Roots