Sold Out Newport Folk Festival Kicks Off

Emmylou Harris. (AP)

Emmylou Harris. (AP)

Blue skies and strong ticket sales blessed this year's Newport Folk Festival, two days of veteran acts and up-and-comers from a variety of musical genres.

An estimated 10,000 people attended the long-running festival Sunday at Fort Adams State Park, and they were treated to performances from Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Wanda Jackson and more than a dozen other acts on three stages set around Newport's historic fort.
Hundreds more fans listened from sailboats, kayaks and rafts just offshore.

"We've been trying to get here for 40 years," said Terry Reese, of California, who attended the festival with her husband, Donn, to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary. "We wanted to hear real music, music that's not canned or packaged."

The festival, first held in 1959 and known as the place where Bob Dylan went electric in 1965, sold out in advance for the first time this year. Festival creator George Wein decided earlier in the year to make the folk festival -- and its sister, the Newport Jazz Festival -- non-profit in an effort to ensure their long-term survival.

The event's mix of musicians from country, rock, blues and independent genres pleased festival-goer Jason Rosenstein, of Rhode Island. He said that while the festival could rely on only older, established acts, it successfully injects a more youthful spirit by including many younger, up-and-coming bands.

"There's a lot of connecting going on, younger bands, older bands, different genres," he said. "It's a very positive energy."

It was a sentiment echoed by musicians including Taylor Goldsmith, of the band Middle Brother. Goldsmith said the Newport festival is his favorite festival for performing. The waterfront venue, with views of Newport's harbor, is one reason. The crowd and the lineup are others, he said.

"It's less about the festival, less about the acting crazy and more about the music," Goldsmith said.

Harris performed the final set of this year's festival, which began Saturday. Harris said she remembered hearing about the festival when she was a high school student listening to albums by Dylan, who was cheered by fans as an acoustic folk singer at the 1963 and '64 events but was jeered when he performed with an electric guitar in '65.

"I knew there was something going on out here, and there still is," Harris told the audience.

As an encore, folk pioneer Pete Seeger took the stage alongside Harris and several other musicians to lead the audience in singing two classics, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

The Newport Jazz Festival kicks off Friday at the same site.