What's the Newport Folk Festival?
With just a few weeks until the gates open at the Newport Folk Festival, I find myself thinking about little else, at least musically. I go to a number of festivals and see a lot of shows, but it’s rare that a musical event can rob my attention well before it happens. It’s difficult to describe the festival to those who haven’t been; like anything magical, you really need to experience it for yourself to fully understand why it sells out instantly, without the fanfare of announcements and advertisements. In fact, the last ticket is sold long before the first artist is announced.
I’m always torn between trying to convince people to go to the festival and just keeping it as something secret and sacred, for me and the 10,000 fans who make it the cornerstone of their summer plans. But I always remind my friends right before tickets go on sale so that I at least feel I’ve done my part. It’s really not too different from when I would extoll the virtues of seeing the Grateful Dead to friends in high school when they were interested only in the stuff on the radio. I kept trying anyway.
About a dozen ago – not coincidentally when current producer Jay Sweet became involved with the Newport Folk Festival – I realized that I was festivaling entirely wrong. In my mind, a festival was as good as its lineup… which is still very true, but I considered a good lineup to be one comprised of bands I knew and liked. Try to apply that logic to other forms of entertainment and you’ll realize how closed-minded it is: I only want to read books by this author, I only want to see movies with these actors, I only want to try restaurants with this on the menu... Festivals with lineups of familiar artists can certainly be fun and wonderful, but falling into that trap will stunt your growth musically.
A commonality of my friends who don’t try to go to the Folk Festival is that a lot of them believe that there’s a shortage of good music currently. This couldn’t be further from the truth; we’re going through a renaissance that my other group of friends can’t even begin to keep up with. And that’s where the Newport Folk Festival comes in: this festival made me realize that a music festival is the best way to get out of a musical rut and discover new favorites. Of course, there are well known acts too, but discovering new bands is always the highlight for me.
If you didn't score a ticket this year, try for next year and start following the festival's social channels and their Spotify playlist. Pay attention to the artists as they're announced. You may not like all of them, but you’ll love some of them. And if you catch these artists when they play your town, you’ll likely have the chance to do so with just a few dozen others before they blow up and start playing large halls
So, start looking at festival lineups differently, and understand that most are selected with the sole purpose of selling tickets, while are others are carefully curated with the sole purpose of enriching your world with amazing new music.