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At 2014's Newport Folk Festival, 5 Discoveries To Stretch Folk's Limits

If you look closely, Reignwolf's guitar is plugged in. Newport's 1965 crowd would <em>not</em> be pleased.
Dana Yavin
If you look closely, Reignwolf's guitar is plugged in. Newport's 1965 crowd would not be pleased.

From its legendary beachfront locale to its celebrations of folk music's past, the Newport Folk Festival draws on more than half a century of celebrated traditions. But it's also an event in which folk's boundaries are tested: This is, after all, where Bob Dylan famously plugged in an electric guitar 49 years ago, in the process enraging the purists in the crowd.

In recent years, Newport organizers have taken great liberties of their own with folk's definition — and "great" can be read in a quantitative and qualitative sense. Scan the names atop this year's main-stage lineup (Ryan Adams, Jack White, Nickel Creek, Mavis Staples, Jimmy Cliff, Jeff Tweedy, et al), and you'll see name after name for whom "folk" is at most a supplementary ingredient.

On July 25-27, NPR Music continues another marvelous Newport tradition, as we showcase and archive a diverse cross-section of the Newport Folk Festival's impeccably curated main-stage concerts. But in the meantime, we've also got this glimpse of some of the event's most promising up-and-comers — complete with a chance to download a song from each.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a host, writer and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist and guest host on All Songs Considered. Thompson also co-hosts the daily NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created with NPR's Linda Holmes in 2010. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)