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Life Lessons Learned From A Folk Festival

Having recently spent several days in Newport at my beloved Newport Folk Festival (live music again – yay!), I’ve realized why I love it so much beyond the music. It’s about how it’s run which also dictates the amazing community (#folkfamily) that shows up faithfully year after year.

In thinking about things I’ve witnessed or experienced over my many years of dancing around the festival grounds of Fort Adams, I realize that much could be applied to the way we might want to live our lives, run our businesses or even just host our gatherings.

So here are 7 Powerful Lessons You Can Learn From A Folk Festival:

1. Don’t judge people by the way they look or act.

Say “Hi” instead of passing judgment. Your first impression might not always the best indicator of who or what a person is about. What if you simply said “Hello” or asked them a question about your common interests that brought you to this common place. My sister and I met terrific new folk friends that we are sure to stay connected to in the future simply by chatting on the ferry, at the check-in gate and while waiting for bands to take the stage.

2. Get out of your spot. You never know what might happen or who you might meet.

While staking your spot and throwing down the blanket and chairs at a festival is a typical first thing to do, don’t limit yourself to staying put in one spot, or you are certain to miss other shows, acts, people, food or scenes. Go with a sample mindset of giving everything a try if you can – it will greatly broaden your experience and your perspective.

3. Be an inspiring leader. It sets the tone for everything.

The executive producer of the Newport Folk Festival, Jay Sweet, is so meshed into the mission of continuing to the make the festival the best it can be, while carrying on 60 years of legacy, that it oozes out of every interaction he has with his team, the artists he curates, the attendees and with the public in general. He gets the best out of everyone – sometimes even more than anyone knew they could be.

4. Make sure you have a capable, fun team.

Even if you are a volunteer who has to tell people to move or clear a lane, or dump out a water bottle (if it’s not filled with water), it can be done in a fun, safe and community focused way that makes it engaging for all. Make sure your team, whether paid or volunteer, is having as much fun as the people they are supporting.

5. Over-communicate to manage expectations but still leave room for surprises.

From the first day of getting the news we had festival tickets, through the decision to cancel last year and reschedule this year, to showing up at the gate on the first day, every email, social media post and app alert from the festival organizers was clear about what was happening, what we could expect and what was expected of us, the attendees. And even though the line-up was typically announced last minute or “with surprises” that was OK because we had been told that would happen – and we even got excited guessing who might show up!

Photo by JJ and Michael Kingsbaker via Instagram.

6. Always leave room for collaboration and connection – you never know what magic might be made. 

Life shouldn’t be a solo act, it should be one of creation and connection and making things better. That’s what happens when artists from different bands, genres and locations get the opportunity to create music together and sit in on each other’s sets or even create their one-off bands (High Women, Middle Brother) or relationships. It pushes boundaries and limitations and opens up potential that often lasts well beyond a set on a stage. 

7. Fly your freak flag and/or dance like nobody’s watching.

A festival, especially this one, is one of people who are interested not only in the music but also the community. It’s a safe space, so go ahead and be you! Wear your festival outfit (or not), sing at the top of your lungs (even if it’s off key), and dance your heart away (even if your son calls it a bobble-head dance 😁 ). We only have one go around – and I can’t imagine you’ll regret it. 

And if you can’t tell by now, I love music festivals, particularly this one that I’ve been going to off and on since 1990 when I was scooping ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s cart (see pic above) where I discovered this thing that is the Newport Folk Festival. If you’re curious about going to festivals or learning more about this one, let me know. Also, check out Season 2 of this wonderful podcast called “Festival Circuit” where you’ll hear about the festival as it unfolded in real time.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what life experiences or life lessons you are learning right now!

Head over to my calendar here and let’s schedule some time to chat!