Music lovers have flocked to Newport during Rhode Island summers since the 1950s to enjoy open-air performances by some of the music world’s biggest names. Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Led Zeppelin thrilled audiences at the jazz fest, while Bob Dylan went electric at the folk festival.
These days, the festivals are resurgent. The folk fest, which runs for three days starting Friday, sold out long before the announcement of the acts, which include Patti Smith, Alabama Shakes, Elvis Costello and Flight of the Conchords. The following weekend, Chick Corea, Norah Jones and Angeurolique Kidjo headline the jazz fest.
The Newport Festivals Foundation, which runs both festivals, aims to capitalize on the interest by acquiring Bridgefest, a smaller local music festival that spans the weekdays between the two major festivals.
The idea is to eventually add more local music and some bigger names into the weekday mix, and give people reasons to stay for a few extra days or even the whole week, said Jay Sweet, executive producer of the foundation.
“Why come for just a weekend when you can stay for 10 days? Enjoy the beaches, enjoy the restaurants and take the nightlife up a few notches,” Sweet said.
Bridgefest was founded by a local group in 2009. This year, it features 18 events at more than a dozen venues, including intimate settings such as some of the city’s famous seaside mansions, bars and vineyards. A family concert on Wednesday happens at Fort Adams, the stunning setting of the folk and jazz festivals.
Organizers promise they plan to do more in the coming years.
“This is kind of the beginning of growing this to the next level,” said Jill Davidson, the festival director for the folk and jazz festivals. “I think it will start to be more of a weeklong celebration.”
George Wein’s novel idea for an outdoor music festival in 1954 became the Newport Jazz Festival and a model for similar events around the world. Wein, 90, who is also a pianist, is still deeply involved in the folk and jazz festivals.
Wein has performed at Bridgefest — at Rough Point, the mansion of tobacco heiress Doris Duke — and said it offered something not just for the audience but also for the many musicians who are in town during the week.
“It was very intimate, only maybe 150 people. They asked questions and you really got to know what was in the minds of the people,” he said. “It was very enlightening to get the minds of the public in general. You don’t usually get to talk to them.”
Sweet said they don’t plan anything to detract from the folk and jazz festivals, but hope to slowly scale up over the next few years and “put the spotlight” on the arts and music scene in Newport, he said. “This is to showcase our home.” (AP)