So Much Time So Little To Do / Travel

The Newport Folk Festival Primer for Families

Unlike other big summer music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, Newport Folk offers a more manageable atmosphere with decent size but not overpowering crowds. The pace of life at this festival is tailored made for your child’s first concert/festival experience as both days run from 11:30am to only 7pm which means you can be back home or to the hotel in time to put your tired kids to bed at a normal hour.

There can be few things better than spending a warm summer’s day outside listening to music, surrounded by water and sailboats. Held each August at Fort Adams state park the festival takes place over two full days (in addition to a Friday night indoor concert to kick off the weekend) and can feature upwards of thirty bands and artists. We attended both the 2004 and 2005 festivals. Our daughter was 5 months old at the 2004 festival and 17 months old last year. On both occasions we attended only on Sunday. We arrived early both years, I would recommend that you do the same because while parking space at the Fort is robust, it can and does run dry (which will force you to more expensive parking options in town and then a ferry ride to the location). Upon arrival you will be ushered to a tiered parking lot and may have a fairly sizable walk with your little one(s) to the base of the lot where big yellow school buses wait to take eager festival goers to the entrance. The bus ride can be cramped as most all passengers are toting blankets, coolers, and children but fear not it takes only a minute or two to reach your destination. Festival programs are offered when you depart the bus. These are not free, but can be useful if you are not familiar with many of the performers. The program can also be used as a convenient place to collect autographs of the acts (which are free and offered behind the Borders Books retail tent – see schedule and plan in advance if obtaining signatures is something you desire as the lines, while swift moving, can get long and the signing times may overlap with a band you and your family wants to see on stage). You will enter the Fort grounds and will pass the small but charming waterfront stage. This is the smallest of the three venues on site so expect to see the smaller acts of the weekend performing here. We saw Old Crow Medicine Show rip through an energetic set here to start our day in 2004. There is the larger Harbor stage (called Border’s stage in the past) behind you as you walk into the Park’s shopping village. The Habor stage had a large canopy which can hold well over a hundred people and will protect from the sun which is a plus (we will discuss weather, best blanket location and more later on) as this stage is on the side of the Fort and gets very little breeze off the water. The shops are very diverse and can be a great chance to expose your children to handmade musical instruments, clothing, crafts, etc. The kids should love exploring the colorful crafts and artwork…and of course tie-dyed shirts and such. The main stage is at the front of the Fort and the grass in front extends to a dull point out to the water. This is a beautiful location and about as picturesque a spot as you can find with the water to your left, right and back regardless of where you end up, the city of Newport and the bridges are ever-present and boats will be sailing by all day. Flanking the large main stage to the left and right are a variety of interesting food vendors. BBQ Ribs (very good but difficult to eat sitting on a blanket with minimal napkins), Gyros, Burgers, chicken, and more. There is an adequate selection of food for kids but no “kids” options per se. Beverages are plentiful, from soda to fresh squeezed lemonade, and bottled water but no Milk despite Dunkin’ Donuts being the 2005 sponsor – as they are again in 2006 (so be sure to plan ahead if you little one craves ice cold Milk each day). You are able to bring a cooler and 8×10 blanket and while carrying these items along with a child or two may seem a daunting task – you should without a doubt do so. A blanket is a must and we would recomment setting up shop to the right of the main stage. It will be a bit less densely populated, is very close to the water for a simple and easy diversion for the kids, and gets abudant breezes around the right side of the Fort. The downside of this location is the distance to the shopping village and the other two stages. But you will have less crowded food vendors and bathrooms and some room to run around – which you will most certainly not have the closer you are to the shopping areas.

What to bring for sure:
Low-to-the-Ground chairs (nothing tall will be allowed in)
Cooler with water, other beverages)
Easy to eat snacks (preztels, crackers, etc)
Toys/Books/etc (if you will have small children) – the blanket will provide a nice little play area for your baby.
Sun Tent – one of those little domes for babies would be a perfect way to shield your child from the sun while he or she naps.
Camera – there is an area 2 feet from the main stage which is open to non-professional camera users during band set up and the first 10 minutes or so of each artist’s set. Your kids will love the close access to the artists as they set up and perform.

Where to Stay:
We decided to fly in to Providence on Southwest (very cheap) and stay in Warwick, RI near the airport. We had about a ½ hour drive into Newport with very little traffic mid-morning and the prices on some quality hotels (Hilton offers a very nice Hampton Inn and Suites and a Homewood Suites) are a third of what you will pay in Newport proper. The drive away from Newport on a summer Sunday evening can be rough as the masses leave Cape Cod and other oceanfront locales. So, if you are not flying out on Sunday night – think about spending one more night and departing on Monday.

Official Newport Folk Festival Website

*Jan 2012 Updates:

  • Southwest Airlines has discontinued service to Providence and Boston (Boo!).
  • We’ve been staying at the Hampton Inn in Kingston, RI.  It is a lovely place with free breakfast, indoor pool, and an easy 15 minutes to Newport.  This is much preferred than the drive back and from the Providence Airport.
  • Lots of other things have changed as well, including the price of admissions (higher) but the quality of acts has gone through the roof!  What hasn’t changed is that The Newport Folk Fest is still the best and most family friendly of the big, multi-day festivals and got even more so in 2011 with the addition of the LEGO Duplo Kid’s Stage (which saw many adults acts like Freelance Whales, David Wax Museum, and Pete Seeger come by for intimate, impromptu performances).
  • Trio in Narraganset is recommended for dining, and you should order the tortelloni + lobster.  It is one of the best meals I’ve ever had (all 4 times I’ve had it!).
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