Newport Folk Festival

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Newport Folk Festival
Newport Folk Festival.png
Newport Folk Festival.jpg
Status Active
Genre Folk music festival
Frequency Annually
Venue Fort Adams State Park
Location(s) Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
Coordinates 41°28′41″N 71°20′08″W / 41.478056°N 71.335556°W / 41.478056; -71.335556Coordinates: 41°28′41″N 71°20′08″W / 41.478056°N 71.335556°W / 41.478056; -71.335556
Years active 58
Inaugurated July 11, 1959 (1959-07-11)
Most recent July 22, 2016 (2016-07-22) – July 24, 2016 (2016-07-24)
Next event July 28, 2017 (2017-07-28) – July 30, 2017 (2017-07-30)
Capacity 10,000

The Newport Folk Festival is an American annual folk-oriented music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, which began in July 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. The festival features performances by folk, blues, country, bluegrass and folk rock musicians, and since the 1990s has featured performers from related contemporary genres, such as alternative country, indie folk and folk punk.


Baez and Dylan at Washington, 1963. The photograph was made by Rowland Scherman, on assignment for USIA to cover the March on Washington.

The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman.

The festival is renowned for introducing to a national audience a number of performers who went on to become major stars, most notably in the first festival of 1959 the appearance of Joan Baez who was invited as an unannounced guest by Bob Gibson,[1] and Bob Dylan, in turn a guest of Baez at the 1963 festival. Newport was not strictly limited to folk performers. In the 1960s, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf were featured. José Feliciano debuted in 1964. The festival also included many musicians from the pre-World War II country blues era who served to influence the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

The festival in its initial guise ran from 1959 to 1970, with no festivals scheduled in 1961 or 1962. Many of the concerts have provided a rich source of recordings. Murray Lerner directed the 1967 film Festival based on the 1963-1965 festivals.

The Electric Dylan controversy[edit]

Bob Dylan's 1963 and 1964 performances solo and with Baez had made him popular with the Newport crowd, but on July 25, 1965 festival headliner Dylan was booed by some fans when he played with backing from band members from the electric blues/rock and roll Paul Butterfield Blues Band, including electric guitarist Mike Bloomfield, themselves later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It is usually said that the reason for the hostile reception by a small number of fans was Dylan's "abandoning of the folk orthodoxy, or poor sound quality on the night (or a combination of the two). The controversy regarding the reaction of the audience at this event is often overplayed, as it was not the general reaction of the audience, but rather that of a small number of folk "purists", and of the organisers themselves, including Pete Seeger. The reaction of "the crowd" to Dylan's performance, certainly from eyewitness accounts, was generally quite enthusiastic. This performance, Dylan's first live "plugged-in" set of his professional career, marked the shift in his artistic direction from folk to rock, and had wider implications for both genres. The performance marked the first time Dylan performed "Like a Rolling Stone" in public. [2]

Despite the musical transition, Dylan's growing status within the larger counterculture ensured that his place in the expanding movement would remain secure.[3]

The comeback[edit]

The Newport Folk Festival fell on hard times in the late 1960s, even closing its doors for a number of years beginning in 1971, but was revived in 1985, and has since become one of the major folk music festivals in the United States, alongside the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which began in 1962 and is now the longest continuously running music festival in North America, and the Kerrville Folk Festival which began in 1972.

The Newport festival has run without interruption ever since 1985, although in a different form from its 1960s heyday; the event has gone from not-for-profit to for-profit, the crowd has shrunk from 20,000 to 10,000 and evening concerts have been canceled.[4] Furthermore, the festival has enlisted the aid of major sponsors, including Ben & Jerry's and Dunkin' Donuts. The 2007 festival featured musicians such as Linda Ronstadt, who was the Friday night headliner, in addition to other well known musicians such as the Allman Brothers Band, Emmylou Harris, Alejandro Escovedo, Cheryl Wheeler, Hazel Dickens and Ralph Stanley. In recent years, the folk festival has expanded to include performances from folk-influenced indie rock artists and acoustic rock bands, such as the Decemberists and the Low Anthem.

The 2008 Newport Folk Festival headliners included Jimmy Buffett, Stephen and Damian Marley, the Black Crowes, Levon Helm and Jakob Dylan

Recent years[edit]

2009 marked the 50th celebration of the Newport Folk Festival, featuring established folk artists like Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Pete Seeger, along with newer musicians like the Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, the Avett Brothers, and Neko Case. 2010 was headlined by Levon Helm, John Prine, the Avett Brothers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.

SPIN Magazine described the disparate music of the 2010 event as part of the festival's "rich history of uniting disparate genres of music...The one common thread: each artist's sound is celebration of American music, thus qualifying it as "folk," or "carriers of culture." [5]

Rolling Stone described the festival: "The venue featured plenty of high-energy performances from both old timers and young indie acts. There were veterans like Doc Watson, Ritchie [sic] Havens and John Prine alongside the manic O'Death and freak folk troupe Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros." [6]

In January 2011 it was announced that the festival has returned to being a non-profit event which will be produced under the umbrella of Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc.

The 2012 festival was headlined by My Morning Jacket and Jackson Browne, the former of which had their performance cut short due to inclement weather.

The 2013 festival was headlined by Beck, The Avett Brothers, and Feist. ([1])

The 2016 festival was headlined by Flight of the Conchords, Patti Smith, and Alabama Shakes.


The Newport Folk Festival takes place every year at Fort Adams State Park, in Newport, Rhode Island. The Friday evening before the festival kicks off for the weekend with a performance at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in downtown Newport. Fort Adams houses four stages, the main one of which sits looking out at Newport harbor and the famous Claiborne Pell Bridge. The festival is known for its beautiful setting- as the music blog Consequence of Sound puts it, "Located at the gorgeously scenic Fort Adams, in Newport, Rhode Island, glimmering, clear blue water surrounds the small vivid green peninsula. Look out from the fort towers and you’ll see hundreds of beautiful boats rocking along the water." (Consequence of Sound). My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James told Spin Magazine, "You've got the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair. It's magical here... It's just magical." (SPIN at Newport Folk 2010) Brandi Carlile says "It's one of my favorites so far if not my favorite." (Brandi Carlile Interview)

WMVY began streaming the festival in 2005 and was joined by NPR Music in 2008. WMVY's Archives contains both performances and interviews from Newport Folk and NPR music has recorded sets available for listening here: NPR at Newport Folk 2010.


The festival has made efforts in being green-friendly, teaming with many groups to do so. They partnered with Clean Water Action and Rhode Island Resource Recovery to collect 1.5 tons of recyclables. CWA worked onsite picking up trash and recycling, and set up composting stations to curb the waste generated during the event. A portion of beer and wine sales went to CWA to support their work. The official beer of the festival, Vermont-based Magic Hat used plant-based, 100% compostable cups. The festival also partnered with CLIF Bar, who set up a bike valet to encourage people to cycle to the event and participate in their 2-Mile Challenge. They worked with New England Wind Fund to offset power used during the festival, and Klean Kanteen to provide reusable water bottles. They also partnered with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to incorporate local foods into the vendors' fare.

Newport Folk Festival Tour[edit]

Beginning in 1998, a multi-act bill, only loosely centered around folk music, has toured the United States under the Newport Folk Festival Tour moniker.

That first touring lineup included Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Alison Krauss, John Hiatt, Newport veteran Joan Baez, Wilco, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, Lucinda Williams and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.[7] A New York Times review found some similarities between the acts but a loss of the folk sensibility in its original purpose.[8]

Albums recorded at the festival[edit]

The following albums were issued by Vanguard Records after the 1963 Newport Folk Festival[edit]

The following albums were issued by Vanguard Records after the 1964 Newport Folk Festival[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]