Newport Rocks, John Frederick Kensett, 1872
Newport, Rhode Island serves up a heady mix of past and present. There’s so much history here, both famous and unknown, but this outsized little town is also home to a bright, creative and proud community today.
Across town and across time, these five fascinations have us eager to be “where the city meets the sea.”
Summer music festival energy like nowhere else.
The summertime one-two combination of the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival underscore this town's outsized importance to American musical heritage. The Folk Festival’s most notorious moment, of course, came in 1965, when folkie icon Bob Dylan plugged a guitar into an amp and changed ’60s music history. In Wildsam's field guide to Newport, we've got Broadside’s immediate reaction:
"It seems there are some people who don't like electrified, amplified, reverberated, echo-chambered, rock'n'rolled Bob Dylan."
The Jazz Festival’s stage, meanwhile, has seen equally legendary moments unfold–like the 1970 duet between Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, which in our book becomes the subject of an original essay by jazz writer Shannon Ali. As present-day sax phenom James Brandon Lewis told us in an interview: “Getting the opportunity to play the Newport festival–I’m not even going to front. I was pretty damn excited.”
MANSIONS AND MORE MANSIONS
From the 1820s onward, America’s auld elite flocked to Newport for a summer escape. Their opulent architectural tastes (and budgets) followed, creating an extraordinary domain of art, design and bygone lifeways of the rich and famous. The Breakers, a glowing symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s wealth, features 70 rooms shaped by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who channeled Italy for its Renaissance Revival style. At Marble House, the ruby-hued bedroom that once belonged to Consuelo Vanderbilt served as the fictional sleeping quarters for railroad tycoon George Russell on the HBO series The Gilded Age. Lots to see here.
Rhode Island’s signature drinks: They’re bananas.
What is an “Awful Awful”? A Rhode Island classic, made by blending ice milk and flavored syrup. First served at Newport Creamery in the 1950s, this frosty treat was named by a customer who deemed it “awful big and awful good.” The coffee version is historically known as a Coffee Cabinet. With Autocrat coffee syrup, you can do this at home. Meanwhile, Del's Lemonade is a Newport summer sacrament: Frozen lemonade, frozen watermelon or half-and-half. No straws.
They codified croquet here.
From the sports-history classic Croquet: As Played by the Newport Croquet Club (1865):
No man invented whist or chess, and croquet like them seems to have been evolved by some process of nature, as a crystal forms or a flower grows—perfect, in accordance with eternal laws.
History aside, this town is alive.
The hottest spots of the here-and-now include Midtown Oyster Bar, where the fresh seafood comes in towers, Jamaica homestyle treasure Hummingbird, the freestyle Italian apertivo stronghold Giusto and farm-focused TSK. The vibrant food-and-drink scene, as so often, is a sign that beneath the glamour and sunshine, a strong community of committed, hard-working people treasure this town. The feeling is shared.