The times they are a’ changin.’
For years, many in the Portsmouth area knew Common Fence Point as a spot to go live folk music.
But starting in May, the nonprofit concert presenters, Common Fence Music, rebranded to Newport Live.
They’ve got a new address — with offices at old Newport Congregational Church at 73 Pelham — and a new mission: “to celebrate diverse music traditions by offering access to all our vibrant performances.”
Newport Live’s summer series at Middletown’s Norman Bird Sanctuary kicked off in June with Kyshona. Next up: Mark Erelli with guest Rachel Sumner July 8, Lisa Morales Aug. 5, and The Suitcase Junket Sept. 16. They’ll also host Laura Veirs at Newport Vineyards July 21.
They’ve also announced their first-ever concert at their new home-base: the North Carolina-based soul/gospel quartet, Dedicated Men of Zion, July 30. Newport Live recently received two grants, says executive director Dick Lynn. “One from The Firestone Foundation to provide music equity towards our concerts, so that local residents who might not be able to ordinarily afford tickets to national level concerts might now attend. This will be used for Dedicated Men of Zion and for Lisa Morales,” he said. They also recently received a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to produce an Indigenous Music Festival.
Newport Live, previously known as Common Fence Music, was established by Ed Nary in 1993 “to make folk music accessible in Portsmouth, RI,” according to Newport Live’s website. “Decades later, our concert series has evolved to providing diverse music across Newport County, continuing to attract audiences from all over New England to performances featuring GRAMMY award-winning songwriters and musicians, and other highly acclaimed music artists from across the globe.”
Why the rebrand and town change? The Globe called Lynn recently to talk about this new chapter.
Q: Why the name change?
A: For many years we were confused with Common Fence Point. Common Fence Music presented diverse folk music at Common Fence Point. Last year, during COVID, we had to livestream and do outdoor shows. [The outdoor shows] were very popular, but people said, “Who are you?” They didn’t understand the distinction [between Common Fence Point and Common Fence Music.]
It wasn’t an overnight decision. But we realized the name “Newport” carries a lot of meaning nationally and we do national acts. It aligns us with the region as opposed to people thinking of us as a neighborhood community center. It’s a great neighborhood community center — but we’re not them.
…I realized we needed a name change so that we’re delineated from the community center when we’re seeking grants. I think that’s important. I think that probably did happen in the past where it was thought that if they gave to one, they gave to both.
As Newport Live, we decided to base it in Newport. We moved into the former Newport Congregational Church. I think the combination has proven successful. We have a different audience than we did. We have younger attendees. We have walk-ups on the day-of, which was tougher to do in Portsmouth. The name “Newport” is an international name and it makes sense for us to identify with the region if we’re doing national shows.
Q: And how did you come up with the name “Newport Live”?
A: [laughs] Well, that was a number of board retreats. That was a long process. We talked about what we intend to do, what our philosophy would be. We could’ve done any number of things with the name “Newport” in it. We did this at the same time as developing a logo and a new mission statement.
Q: What do you mean that you’ll have “more diverse music”?
A: When I say diverse, I guess, I’d like to reach a wider demographic of audience members, whether it’s Latino, Black, Asian-American, the audience that we have had over the years. I think there’s room for everyone to enjoy great roots-based music.
Q: You used to live in New York. How long have you been in Rhode Island?
A: We moved here in 2007. I live in Jamestown. We moved here from Pittsburgh, and I moved there from New York. I grew up in Iowa.
Q: How did you get involved with Common Fence?
A: I was asked [to be executive director in January 2022] because they knew my background [as a music booker, manager, and as executive producer for PBS affiliates.] I think they wanted a fresh viewpoint.
Q: Why change the mission statement?
A: Well, this is a new board, and it’s probably a collaboration between me and the current board. I think the previous board was interested in that as well. I think we wanted to be able to present more diverse music that includes all demographics. I think it had gotten to be a very specific demographic from what I looked at when I was looking at the audience.
Q: Meaning an older white demographic?
Q: Are you still going to use Common Fence Point as a venue?
A: I am. I talked to her about sub-branding a Common Fence Folk Series. It might just be a few the first year; we’ll have to see how it goes.
Q: Where would you want to see Newport Live in five years?
A: It would be great if we were on super-solid footing financially, doing diverse music that served a wide audience. I’d like to be doing it on a weekly basis. If we get to a point where we’re doing a few a week, that would be the best. If we can do broadcasts, that would be great. I’d like to take the Newport name out to the rest of the country, the world, as an interesting place for music. I know it already is because of the festival, but I’d like to have us be a part of that.
Interview has been edited and condensed. Show info at newportlive.org