On Saturday, July 28, 2012, my friends and I arrived a little late to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. I immediately noticed the irony that the sea of hippies before me was getting high and feeling the “vibes” inside the Historic Fort Adams (active during five major wars). When I mentioned this juxtaposition later on, a friend at the festival said, “Well, that’s what they were fighting for… freedom.” I thought about that as another waft of weed-smoke hit me in the face from the puff-puff-giving sixty-year olds in front of me swaying arythmically to the music of “My Morning Jacket” as the band closed out the day…
… I’m getting ahead of myself though. Before the show closed, I was on the prowl for some good eats. First things first, we made our way to the “Beer Garden” or “Beer Pier” to get some drinks. The setup was extremely poor. You either stood in one line to pre-pay for tokens to get beer or you had to stand in long lines to pay cash or credit. We chose the token line because that apparently streamlines the process later on (i.e. you can just walk up, slap a token down and walk away with a beer). You also had to stay in the fenced off beer areas, so you couldn’t walk around the festival and drink liesurely. The drawback is that if you don’t use your tokens by the end of the day, you basically lose the $7 per token you spent on overpriced, small (about 10 oz.) beers. A problem for some (ahem, cough, cough, my friends know who they are), but not a problem for me. I promptly used all of my tokens before leaving the beer pier. The beer itself was pretty decent and all of the beer was provided by Newport Storm, a local beer company. They had an Amber Ale, a Hefeweizen, and a Blueberry beer. The Amber, which has a malty-sweetness, and the Hefeweizen, which is unfiltered with fruity tones, were actually very good although a little heavy for casual summer drinking. Then again, I may have just drank them too quickly. The blueberry beer was a little too sweet and the blueberry flavor was overpowering for my taste. One plus to the beer experience though was that we got our first taste of some of the many free food samples provided at the folk festival while standing in line.
While waiting in line to purchase beer tokens there was a booth to our left run by Late July Organic, which was handing out free samples of their bite-size cheese crackers and tortilla chips. Both samples, were very tasty and hit the spot (I’m sure the fact that they were free made them somehow tastier too). I will say that the cheese crackers, while good, were still not quite as good as Cheez-Its (that’s right, I said it). The tortilla chips were delicious though because they were the sturdy kind of chip that would go well with heavy dips and not too salty.
After splurging on the small beers, and snacking on organic crunchy things, we went to hear some of the music. I’ll unabashedly admit that I don’t really know that many folk bands or even that much about folk music. I only recognized two band names: “My Morning Jacket,” and “Iron and Wine.” Of those two, I’d only actually heard My Morning Jacket’s music. A friend not at the festival said that I would enjoy Iron and Wine though and he was right. While listening to Iron and Wine play, another friend decided that she needed a taco break, so she went and sampled the Tallulah on Thames taco cart. She ended up waiting a long-ish time for her taco, but that was because they were grilling the steak fresh right there. In the end she received a gourmet-looking soft, corn taco (i.e. really small and with some weird ingredients like sautéed radish). The meat looked great, but I was a little disappointed with the overall presentation. If you check out their website, they have a very up-scale look to their brand, which seems nice for dining in, but not the kind of taco you would imagine getting at an outdoor festival.
After Iron and Wine finished, we went back over to the main stage area (there were four stages set up, so people had to move around to find the band they wanted to see). On the way, I insisted on finding the elusive Matunuck Oyster Bar booth. I saw the list of vendors ahead of time and there were a couple of places I really wanted to try, but in particular I had my eye on Matunuck. A few of my friends from Rhode Island have been raving about this place for so long, that I knew I’d be a fool to miss the opportunity. Unfortunately, Matunuck’s booth was not advertised very well, which is why I started to doubt their presence at the festival. After some searching and a point in the right direction from fellow patrons, we found it. It was a plain white tent with no signage, sandwiched (no pun intended) between a grilled sausage place and a grilled cheese truck. The only sign was hanging off the table in front of them, so unless you were right there waiting in line, there was no way to know it was the right booth from a distance. As we approached, they had a man shucking oysters and clams right there in front of everyone and we knew we were at the right place. Upon a quick glance at the menu it was clear what I had to do. Lobster Roll and raw oysters. It was a little pricey overall. Six oysters and one lobster roll came out to $25 (the lobster roll was $15 on its own and in their restaurant you get fries with it for $16.95 total). The oysters were tasty because… I mean… they’re oysters. I had three of the six and tried different toppings on each. First just a squirt of lemon juice, then a little bit of their own homemade vinegar-based sauce, and then a dab of cocktail sauce. All were really good, but the oysters did not compare to the lobster roll.
Their lobster roll was hands down the best I’ve ever had. The lobster was actually real pieces of chunky lobster claw tossed extremely lightly with mayo, so you could still taste all of the lobster. They nestled the lobster on a bed of fresh lettuce that added a little crunch. The factor that really tied the roll together though was the bread. It was reminiscent of a typical hot dog roll, but larger/heartier and grilled on the sides with a touch of brushed-on butter. The buttery sides of the roll really complimented the sweetness of the lobster in every bite without overpowering it. It was definitely the right vessel to carry all that lobster. Really, just a ridiculously good sandwich. I would highly recommend it to anyone… even if you have a shellfish allergy. Bring an EpiPen and enjoy.*
With the lobster roll eaten and the last band of the day finishing up on the main stage, it was finally time to go. We headed back to the car, which was parked about 3/4 of a mile away from the festival (the parking system there was a disaster). As soon as we closed the doors, a torrential downpour started. I felt bad for the people still outside, but the smiles on the soaked people’s faces and the lack of any urgency made me feel like maybe many of the festival go-ers actually enjoyed the day even more with the rain coming down. Who knows? I was just happy to be dry and out of the rain. Two hours after getting in the car (there was a severe traffic bottleneck problem getting out of the park) we finally left the folk festival and images of that lobster roll still dance in my mind.
I would definitely suggest trying out some of these beers and restaurants outside of the folk festival. Otherwise, bring a poncho, a camping chair, a flask full of bourbon,** and $25 for oysters and amazing lobster rolls.
Rating: Four Lady Marmalades.
*I was kidding about the EpiPen. DO NOT DO THIS.
** They don’t allow outside alcohol in the festival, so I guess don’t do this either.