The footsteps we formed were unique, and our own; the paths that we followed held the echoes and whispers of those who had come before. We got what we needed, not always what we wanted. We held a sacred space open once again for the potential of what we, a community and festival whose main currency and trade is energy, could create. Newport 2015 has fulfilled on its promise.
Day 1 of the Newport Folk Festival was a musical pinnacle in my life, and in the lives of many friends and strangers I shared space and conversation with. Our crew experienced seeing one of our favorite bands—My Morning Jacket—play with a musical legend, Roger Waters. The light rain that fell during their set was a welcome addition to our sun-soaked bodies. We collectively willed the lightning away and shared in a special musical moment as our reward.
I imagine many people who write about a music festival will write about the music—who played what stage and when; who joined whom on what stage and which songs they played. For me, Newport Folk Festival is all about the energy. The energy present at Fort Adams State Park over these three days in July 2015 were unlike anything I’ve had the privilege of experiencing before. Let me be clear: it was a PRIVILEGE to be a part of this festival. If you’ve spent any time around NFF yourself, you will hear artists and listeners alike comment on how this festival is all about the music. In other words, it’s about the energy as music is energy. We, the receptors, the listeners, take in what is played for us and respond with our own energy in kind. And the people that made their way to Newport for these three days in July 2015? Well, they really know how to elevate the conversation around musical interpretation.
We knew this was going to be a memorable weekend from the start. The energy and presence of NFF has been revitalized since Jay Sweet took over the helm, and, in my opinion, since Deer Tick so clearly committed themselves to elevating the experience of the Rhode Island music scene on a year-round basis. One of the most visible corporate sponsors is Alex and Ani, a Rhode Island company that’s built a business on the foundation of positive energy. Last year Jack White expressed his gratitude for the people of Newport Folk Festival for giving him the gift of “live and let live” for a weekend. He was able to be at the Festival without the constant attention of fans wanting photos, autographs, or conversation. He was able to be with the music. And we, collectively, were able to give that to him because we, as a group, just want to be with the music. Sure, we want to eat lobster rolls and buy cool artwork and watch the boats go by on one of the most scenic coastlines in America as well; but the overwhelming desire to escape into the music is what had us buy our ticket in the first place, and it’s what keeps us coming back.
I’ve had the good fortune in my life to connect with a group of friends who are music lovers. We’ve logged many collective hours experiencing music. We each have our favorite bands just like anyone else, but put us in a room with a solid jam and we can give anyone’s dance party a run for their money. Of all the friends I’ve made in my lifetime, the friendships that are sourced by music have an ethereal quality to them. These are the friends that my soul resonates with most profoundly. These are the friends that have felt me experience my most elevated states of joy, freedom, and connection with the energy that is available to us if we are willing to open ourselves up to it.
We, as a group (#bestcrewever), have participated in many Folk Festivals over the years. As many of us call Rhode Island and Massachusetts home, the Folkfest is the easiest way for us to get our yearly festival fix. Some of us are able to make it the whole weekend; for some of us it’s an accomplishment to get childcare handled for a full 8-36 hours so we can claim our own piece of the magic. Personally, 2015 was shaping up to be a magical festival from the outset. As the festival producers put their finishing touches on the incredible lineup, my mom put her own finishing touches on one chapter of her life as she sold her home in Florida and moved north to live with me and my family, thus beginning a new chapter of connection and support, grounded in a great leap of faith. What this move translated into for my festival experience is the ability to BE with the Newport Folk Festival in a way that I haven’t been before. I’ve been blessed to have great support from family and friends over the years, and over the last few years that support has allowed me to partake in much of what this July weekend has to offer. But this year I was able to be present and accounted for at a greater magnitude than I’ve experienced in prior years, and I was able to sustain that experience for a longer time.
I walked through the gates at approximately 11am on Friday (this is a weekend where I gladly lose track of time) and checked my worries, concerns, and limiting thoughts at the door. I put my cell phone on vibrate; the only reason I carried it at all was for emergency and meetup purposes. I gave myself to the magic of the Festival, tuning in and allowing myself to be where I was, fully and completely. I embraced the path of least resistance, honoring the power of the Universe to move me to where I ought to be to get what I needed. I stayed open to miracles and engaged with the energy of those around me to create a space that was warm and welcoming, safe and playful, free and light and full of joy. We picked a spot to settle down and left our bags and blankets behind to wander around, knowing that our things would be cared for and respected by our fellow humans. We allowed space for intimacy and connection, at the same time granting peace and freedom to be—to ourselves and to those around us. I saw people lose themselves in the music, find themselves in the music, and create themselves in the community. I felt people support each other and forgive each other as the words and the melodies and the ocean hummed in the background. I felt known, understood and accepted exactly as I am, and exactly as I am not. These are the gifts of Newport Folk.
We frequented the shops and food trucks (lobster rolls and crafters from Cranston for the win!), we chilled out on the pier and in the beer garden, we all wore our custom Festival shirts on the same day, and we danced. We danced alone and in corners; we danced together in the middle; we danced in our seats to Leon Bridges; we danced with friends, with strangers, and with our falafel raised high to the sky (maybe that was just me), relishing the moment and contributing our own vibrations to the feeling of joy and celebration present in the air.
We expressed ourselves and the many facets of our inner beings. We were subtle superheroes and flower children; we were strength and light, love and joy and sadness. All of these experiences and emotions were traded and transacted throughout the weekend. In the shelter of the folk at the festival, OUR folk, we were enough.
As a group, we commented on how this weekend was one of the highlights of our lives; on how Friday was a pinnacle of musical perfection; on how happy we all were to be right here, right now, with no desire to be anywhere else. For me that feeling was a continuation of my experience of life earlier in the week. For others it may have begun when they walked through the gate into Fort Adams State Park. For all it meant a profound feeling of peace.
I can’t help but feel like I was a part of something important this weekend. The energy in the air was electric. We celebrated Bob Dylan’s landmark electric performance 50 years ago, and we honored the musicians and festival-goers of years past by putting forth a collective energy of love and of freedom, of peace and of joy, of presence and of acceptance, of healing, of forgiveness and of community. I believe that life is energy and I believe that the energy present in Newport this weekend has the power to create a ripple effect that can impact the world.
Newport Folk Festival 2015 is now behind us. The late night Deer Tick shows have run their course. But the energy will live on. We will carry it forth to our families and to our friends, to our neighbors and to our co-workers, and of course into our dancing. I feel a great sense of gratitude to Jay Sweet, Deer Tick, My Morning Jacket, Lucius, Roger Waters, and all the musicians who came and stayed and surprised and elevated us with their talent, their time and their tunes.
Our crew will be floating around the festival next year, wearing our custom shirts (I vote for yellow, just sayin’), riding our bikes, dancing by ourselves and in a group. And you can be certain that when all is said and done, when the Folkfest gates have closed for the evening and the fine people at the Newport Blues Café are mopping the floors, we’ll leave a disco ball light bulb burning bright as we groove to our own late night dance party, riding the waves of our collective energy for just one more song.
P.S. Deer Tick, I loved the new tunes. Nailed it!
This post is dedicated to all beings and music I’ve encountered on my journey that have elevated me and helped me to find my True North.