What is “Folk”? Newport Folk Festival is Shaping the Future of Folk Music
Okay, this isn’t late breaking news, or even news of the past decade. The family at Newport Folk Festival has been shaping what the genre is and means since Dylan went electric. NFF is not just re-defining what folk music is and can be, it is paving the way and setting an example for what it should be. Very simply put, folk music is music for folks. That is, for people to play, people to sing, and people to enjoy. This year’s festival is a firm validation of that, with music that, genre-speaking, is all over the map. But, in the end, its music for the people by the people.
Of course, Newport wouldn’t be Newport without harkening back to the heyday of traditional music and paying respect to how this class of songs has evolved over the years. “For Pete’s Sake” will give homage to the late, great Pete Seeger (the namesake of the workshop) and a whole spectrum of curated stage performances, discussions, and I am sure a host of other activities. This is something I am especially looking forward to as it somewhat differentiates Newport from other festivals that focus only on musical performances. I imagine this being much more interactive and tactile for festival goers — something that makes this event so very special.
Moving onto performances, you will see everything from solo gents and ladies with an acoustic Martin guitar to full blues bands, rock and rollers, and bluegrass outfits. I think what’s so incredibly unique and singular about Newport is that is covers a broad range of music without coming across as not making any sense. There is always a reason why they pick these bands and, somehow, it all meshes in this beautiful and perfect way.
Jack White, Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, Jeff Tweedy — those artists in and of themselves are a cross section of some of the most influential songwriters of the past 15 years. Couple that with some of the best “newer” roots superstars like Shovels and Rope, the Milk Carton Kids, and Dawes (new is a relative term — I suppose youthful or younger could also be used). Then sprinkle in that Newport always adds its own Rhode Island flavor and home state love with Deer Tick and Death Vessel. There is really something for everyone at the Fort.
The bill this year, as every year, is completely stacked. I honestly don’t even want the actual schedule to roll out, because for days on end I will become obsessed with planning how I can see at least half of everyone’s set. Are they going to have Nickel Creek and Jack White overlapping on Saturday? Oh no, I don’t know if I can handle that pressure!
The family behind the scenes isn’t just defining folk music for a new generation, they are folk music. To all you wonderful people sinking your hearts and minds into making this a thing — thank you. Thank you from our little blog family here in Boston and also from the thousands of fans that will ascend on Fort Adams in just under two months’ time.