Folk genre shines a light on Newport, Rhode Island's musical heritage

Folk genre shines a light on Newport, Rhode Island's musical heritage
Copyright euronews
By Sarah Dean
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With a superb coastline, great food and charm, the city of Newport is rich in artistic heritage. The art and beauty it inspires have made it famous for its live music culture.


Newport, Rhode Island, is a stunning harbour city, 90 minutes from Boston. Home to a surprising musical heritage, its thriving folk scene has imbued this seaside town with a national reputation for live music.

This amazing city has so much to do. There are all kinds of restaurants, live music bars, and blues venues. There are local bands playing in the local bars. And there is so much to do.

The highlight of the city comes every year with the Newport Folk Festival. Legendary artists such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell have performed here. We caught up with Jay Sweet, the festival's executive director, to find out more:

"Honestly, it's for the people that have a little bit of that, anti-authoritative, kind of egalitarian spirit. A 'if you have no home, you have one with us, because you're probably doing something that's non-conformist' vibe. I basically define that as my audience. I consider that 'the folk'," says Sweet.

A safe space for 'misfit musicians'

The Newport Folk Festival sells out within 30 minutes and without announcing any artists. Something that, according to Jay, sets Newport Folk apart from the rest.

"There's a lot of trust. Our job is to give them an experience that makes them feel alive," he says.

From the very first festival, the idea was to create "a safe space for all the 'misfit musicians'", explains Jay. There needed to be a safe haven for artists who "speak truth to power" to have a place to do so. According to him, "It's a pretty heavy flame to keep lit."

Bob Dylan's first electric performance took place at the festival in 1965 and is now considered a pivotal moment in rock history. But Jay believes that to fully appreciate Newport, you have to venture into the waters surrounding the city.

A place to get away from everything

Newport has over 400 miles of stunning bays and inlets to discover in every direction. Rose Island is home to an old lighthouse that visitors can rent and spend the night inside, accessible only by boat.

"It's basically a bed and breakfast without breakfast. So you bring all your own food, cook on the gas grills and have a nice place to sleep for the night. You can definitely come here and rent the whole lighthouse if you want." explains tour guide David McCurdy.

For Musician Foy Vance, the lighthouse feels like a place where he can get away from everything.

"This is genuinely a place I'd love to come and just ... It's ideal to write songs," he says.

Original music and an "underground community

Newport is the place to find music, original music in particular, along with good food, a great atmosphere and great outdoor events. 

That's the view of Bill Bartholomew, local musician, journalist and folk enthusiast, who told us about some of his favourite places in Newport:

"This island has a really important indigenous history. It also has a very important colonial history. There's also been a tradition of writers and painters. If you go back through the history of Newport, you see a continuous development of this sort of magical, cultural, epicentre. And obviously, it's a great infrastructure for us as artists, but it's really for anyone who wants to get into this kind of scene."

Pour Judgement is one of those places. According to Bill, "there's always something interesting going on most nights of the week." For this local musician, the best thing about Newport's music scene is the "underground community," which is totally open to the public.

Newport is a wonder. It is a city with a rich artistic heritage, and a vibrant live music culture, all set against a calm and peaceful coastal landscape.

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