Ian loves music. The more obscure, the better. So when friends with similar musical affinities highly recommended Newport Folk Festival, Ian decided it would be his dream to go. We saved up, and as soon as tickets went on sale in January, purchased our two-day passes. And then we found out said friends who love NFF wouldn't be able to attend this year on account of their new baby's due date being right around the festival weekend. I got worried. I enjoy music but I'm not an avid fan like Ian. I didn't know anyone in the lineup. And I'm an introvert. What business did I have at a music festival with no veteran friends to guide us and hang out?
It turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Our friends assured us it was fun and low key, and they were right. Ian did a great job of planning everything. We lined up a room with a fun quirky family through Airbnb, rented a car, and borrowed a bike rack so we could exercise while bypassing festival traffic congestion and simultaneously ogling the gigantic mansions all over Newport.
Saturday morning, we headed to the park and ride, hopped on our bikes, and arrived at Fort Adams about 30 minutes before the gates opened. We admired the view of the harbor until we were allowed to speed walk to the Harbor Stage, our carefully selected home base for the day. We left blankets on a couple chairs, then went to window shop at the festival store and vendor booths until the first performer took the stage.
Willie Watson: It's like listening to a solo artist from 1920 (think O Brother Where Art Thou). Both you and your grandma will love him.
John C. Reilly and Friends: Star factor (sweet berry wine!). This set also sounded like it was from 1920 (and John C. Reilly's guitar Charlie is 60 years old, if memory serves) but was much more of a quiet hymn vibe than Willie Watson.
The Oh Hellos: We only caught the very last song, but it was the one Ian wanted to hear. And they broke into a wordless version of "Come Thou Fount" that was heart exploding.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business: All rock and roll, and they put on a great show.
Shaky Graves: NPR must listen for a reason. Unbelievable. One of my favorite performances of the weekend.
Deer Tick: We headed to the Fort Stage early to catch Nickel Creek, and heard the end of Deer Tick's set. Not too shabby.
Nickel Creek: When they first broke into the music scene, I missed the memo they were folk, not the pop-twang-country (*cough* Toby Keith *cough*) I avoid. So talented, and so fun to watch.
Jack White: Crazy. Really crazy. Superstar status. Did I mention crazy?
After the last set, we rode back to the car, then drove to Newport Creamery for dinner and an Awful Awful. The food wasn't bad, but the Awful Awful tasted like Nesquik strawberry milkshake and it made me feel like I was eight years old in a good way.
Sunday, we repeated our morning routine despite the looming weather forecast, spread out our blanket under the Quad Stage tent, and settled in. The performances began with a weather related announcement: take cover in the event of a thunderstorm. We crossed our fingers, and despite a torrential downpour that resulted in us standing for a few sets before finally snagging less comfortable but dry chairs, we had a blast. By midafternoon, it cleared up, and the sky was gorgeous as we headed to to the Fort Stage to catch the end of Mavis Staples.
Berklee Gospel Choir: Who says church doesn't happen at a music festival?
Leif Vollbekk: Soothing music for a relaxing, rainy morning.
The Lonesome Trio: Again, star power thanks to Ed Helms (what's up with comedians moonlighting as legit folk artists?). They're seriously talented and seriously funny.
Gregory Alan Isakov: He was the artist Ian was most excited for on Sunday, and he delivered. He and his band even gathered around an old-timey microphone for a true acoustic set for a few songs. Listen to "Suitcase Full of Sparks." You'll melt.
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Not my first choice in folk music, but great at what they do.
Trampled by Turtles: I did feel slowly trampled by folk music, but in a good way. Fun fact: Mavis Staples kept calling them "Tramplin' Turtles."
Rodrigo y Gabriela: My favorite performance of the weekend, hands down. We were going to bounce early to catch more of Mavis, but we couldn't tear ourselves away. They have a joy and passion they exude when performing, and it's captivating.
Mavis Staples: A legend and entertainer. She was celebrating her birthday, and had lots of special guests, including Norah Jones. ("Little Norah!")
For lunch between sets, we grabbed chicken pot pie and peach pie from Humble Pie Co. Yum. And Del's Lemonade was a refreshing afternoon treat.
We haven't decided yet if we'll attend next year, but if YOU'RE going, these are the tips from friends that came in handy (along with a few lessons we learned firsthand).
- Scope out the bands ahead of time and plan which stage you want to see each day. The NFF app was great for this!
- Use the bike park and ride. Fast, easy, and a beautiful ride.
- Arrive 15-30 minutes early; when the gates open walk fast (don't run) to your selected stage.
- Be considerate when claiming spots for a long amount of time. You can leave a blanket and chairs or stake claim to a couple venue chairs and wander (just don't leave your valuables). Most people are kind and respect your space. But if you plan to bounce around, don't reserve the best seats at all four stages at once, then try to kick people out of your seats in the middle of a set. In fact, if you don't plan to be at any one stage more than one or two sets, consider not claiming a spot at all. If you are at one stage all day but want to leave for a set to catch another artist or event, make friends and invite them to enjoy your spot until you come back.
- Prepare for a variety of weather scenarios; bring a sweatshirt, lots of suncreen, a poncho, and/or large plastic bags, and a Ziploc bag with a spare set of dry clothes, just in case.
- And about that possibility of precipitation... bring a tarp and/or chairs. Being under a stage tent doesn't guarantee the ground underneath you isn't a low spot that will turn into a miniature river if it rains.
- Pack snacks and not-glass water bottles. There are food vendors around, but you don't want to get stuck in a long line and miss your favorite artists.
- Bring toilet paper in a Ziploc bag and antibacterial hand gel. The porta-potties were fine, but you really don't want to get caught without either of these vital items.
- Make your festival/band merch purchases first thing, before they sell out of your favorite style.