The Newport Folk Festival was full of surprises again this year -- most notably thanks to a cameo by Dolly Parton.

“Me and Rhode Island have a lot in common,” Parton quipped. “We’re little, and we’re loud.”

Parton -- backed by Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and many of the other women playing the festival -- ran through some of her greatest hits, closing with “9 to 5.” 

It was a cameo sure to bring joy to many who managed to snag a ticket to the long-ago sold-out festival -- and, perhaps, to the hundreds of ticket-less listeners floating in the waters off Fort Adams State Park.

Dozens of boats gathered near the rocky shore, eavesdropping on the sounds emanating from the festival's main stage. Being off dry land also means being free from the festival's regulations on alcohol consumption. Many in the flotilla appeared to take full advantage of this.

One of the boaters was Amy Coleman of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We have tons of food and… libations,” Coleman said. “We’ll have friends join us. They’re coming on kayaks. And [we’ll] just have a great time on a beautiful sunny day in Newport.”

Coleman was among the thousands of out-of-towners who descended on Newport for the festival, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this summer. The festival’s relationship with its host town has changed considerably since those turbulent early years. (There are now few, if any, college-aged attendees sleeping on beaches or knocking on local residents’ doors, hoping to find a bathroom or cot.) 

Rick Massimo, the longtime pop music reporter for the Providence Journal who wrote a history of the festival, says this is no coincidence. After thousands of Navy-related jobs left Newport in the 1970s, the town’s economy began to rely more and more on visitors.

“Newport itself found that it needs events like this,” Massimo said. “It needs tourist events. It needs entertainment and exciting events that bring people into town.”