08 August 2022

Generating Electricity At Newport

Perhaps the Newport Folk Festival's most famous or infamous (depending on your point of view) came in 1963, when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar. 

That moment's fame might be eclipsed by something that electrified the audience at this year's Festival--and folks like me who saw it only on video.  Joni Mitchell, who performed at the 1969 edition, appeared for the first time, in any venue, with guitar in hand, since her 55th birthday--23 years ago.  Since then, she has suffered a number of health problems, including a brain aneurism in 2015 that left her unable to speak or walk, much less play a guitar.

What may not be as well-remembered as Bob Dylan's electric guitar or the electricity Joni Mitchell generated by, well, simply showing up is the way one stage's electricity was powered.  You guessed it:  Some festival-goers pedaled stationary bicycles for the Bicycle Stage, a brainchild of the environmentally-conscious Virginia indie rock duo Illiterate Light.  

Mardi Diaz, right, performs on a stage powered by festival-goers on bicycles. (Photo by Pat Eaton-Robb for the AP) 

Jeff Gorman, the band's front man, said that the Bike Stage in Newport marked the first time the idea has been tried at a festival.  The idea came to him at the 2019 edition of the festival, when about 1300 of the 10,000 or so attendees pedaled to the Rhode Island festival.  Festival-goers take turns pedaling the bike for about five minutes of a twenty-minute set.  For their efforts, they get spritzes of water from a spray bottle, a free can of iced tea and a front-row view of the performance.

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