Just over a week ago, Glen Hansard smiled at the crowd watching him play the Fort Stage, and announced in his glorious Irish accent, “Don’t worry about what note comes out of your mouth, cause when you’re singing from your heart, you’re always in tune.” Hansard, who was scheduled to play the Newport Folk Festival Solo, did nothing of the sort.
Throughout his fifty minute set, Hansard rewrote Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” penning his own verse for Donald Trump and dedicated his song “Winning Streak” to Bernie Sanders, stating, “He won more than I think he knows.” He was accompanied not only by Elvis Costello (who later performed) and other musicians in the wings, but also by a crowd of devoted fans, one in particular, an Irishman, who was pulled on stage to sing the Irish folk song “The Auld Triangle” – the final song of the set
Glen Hansard’s set was my favorite on Sunday, because it embodied everything the Newport Folk Festival is really about. People coming together, connecting through music. Expressing what’s really important to them and finding others who care enough to listen.
I was born on Folk Festival Weekend of ’96. The first time I remember attending, I was ten years old. My father took me and we’ve been going every year since. When the tickets go on sale, one of us is online waiting. We always choose Sunday; it’s our day.
I love the way the Newport Folk Festival works. The lineup isn’t announced until long after tickets go on sale, yet two and three day passes sell out almost instantly. Returnees know they will never be disappointed when the acts are finally introduced and the Folk Festival’s reputation speaks to any newbies, bringing them to Fort Adams in the end of July. Many come by bicycle, constantly breaking records. This year, a total of 3’900 bicycles were ridden (my father’s and mine included in that count). The atmosphere at the festival is electric, buzzing with excitement and energy. The shoreline around the fort is filled with people in kayaks and boats, content with just listening from the water. Through rain or sweltering heat, the crowds still gather.
So, just over a week ago, my dad and I stood in the massive crowd pushing their way into Fort Adams. We ran to put down a blanket and then made our way inside the fort to Quad Stage.
First, we watched the River Whyless, who completely blew me away. Their lead singer got choked up between songs because she really got what it meant to be playing there. Their music had an infectious beat, and during one song the band actually wrote when they were on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard (“we had to go in the winter, because we’re musicians,” they explained) a long musical interlude portrayed a shipwreck. Their instrumental talent was astounding.
The Stumbellas followed with conversation between songs that was just as good as their music. Their lead singer harassed the crowd and earned a roaring round of applause when he shared an anecdote mid-set. The whole exchange went a little like this – “It took me years to convince my mom to let me be a musician rather than a teacher. So I’m gonna have you all sing the chorus of this next song, and someone needs to take a video. You, in the red shirt. Yeah, you. You got a camera? Yeah, perfect. We’re gonna take a video and send it to my mom, so I can say ‘eat shit.'” His bandmate proceeded to ask, “But, eat shit in a nice way, right?” and the crowd continued to laugh.
My father and I spent the rest of the day at the main Fort Stage watching Glen Hansard, Middle Brother, and Elvis Costello before running back to the Quad to catch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Then, just a half hour later we were running back to catch the Sunday headliners, Alabama Shakes. When everyone comes together before the Fort Stage at the end of the night, it’s an incredible moment. Thousands of people singing and dancing together, not wanting to be anywhere else.
It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve realized how important this festival really is, and how important it is to me. People don’t just come to see their favorite band or to hear their favorite kind of music; they come to be inspired. They come to be a part of the better part of the world. I know that I will be in attendance for many years to come, and I truly urge you to do the same.