Holy Moly: The Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth

During my late teens and early twenties, I worked in the music industry, spending night after night surrounded by live music and energized crowds. You know that expression about too much of a good thing? I had a little too much, and concerts no longer hold the same allure they once did.

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch… so dreamy!

There are only a handful of bands and musicians who I still won’t miss if they come within a couple hours of home, and recently two of those artists played at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. Set up on 3.5 beautiful acres along the Piscataqua River, it’s a true New Hampshire treasure. No fixed price, no tickets, no assigned seats. Just blankets and chairs, groups of friends and families, and an overall calm appreciation of the whole scene. I have never seen anything like it.

The Prescott Park Arts Festival has been running since the 1970s, striving to “provide quality family entertainment, promote artistic excellence in the community, and maintain quality presentations of both entertainment and educational events.” While I’m sure other venues share this mission, I can’t imagine anyone achieves the level of excellence that Prescott Park does. They’re not filling their calendar with local bands; they’re bringing in internationally celebrated artists who can book any venue they want, but choose the Festival. We went to see Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who have been making their own brand of bluegrass-country-folk for twenty years now and have yet to release a bad song. Other artists playing the festival this summer include Conor Oberst, Iron & Wine, Langhorne Slim, Nikki Lane, and many more.

If you’re looking for a new experience that can only be found in New Hampshire, build a day around one of these shows in Portsmouth. Seating is first-come-first-serve, so get there early and set up your blanket or chairs. It’s a respectful crowd, so you can set up and then go walk around for hours; no one will mess with your things. We brought a little picnic, but there are plenty of food options nearby too. Alcohol isn’t permitted, but if you want to do some pre-gaming, there are plenty of awesome breweries in the area where you can get a beer before setting up: Deciduous, Throwback, 7th Settlement, Stoneface… can’t go wrong with any of them. Take advantage of this unique arts program right in your back yard. You won’t regret it!

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