For some of you making the trek to Rhode Island this weekend for the annual Newport Folk Festival, it may be the first time visiting the beautiful New England town. And though your weekend will most likely be taken up with festival-going, there's still the chance that you may have a few hours to kill between sets. With that in mind, we called on Joe Fletcher of Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons to help out. As curator and performer at this year's Nashville to Newport showcase, Joe knows America's folk scene inside and out. He also happens to be a Rhode Island native (he hails from Providence) who knows the scene and can set the record straight on where to eat, drink, and see some shows. Along the way, he offers a few festival-going tips of his own to make the most of your weekend.
Benjamin's Restaurant and Raw Bar
Known by locals as a great place to grub on the freshest seafood imaginable, Benjamin's has some of the best food in town. "It's a great seafood place, if you're in Newport and you want to have local Seafood that's affordable," says Joe. It's also got great cocktails to go with your freshly shucked oysters. "One of my favorite restaurants in Newport."
Benjamin's Restaurant and Raw Bar, 254 Thames St (between Mill and Pelham streets); Newport, RI; 401- 846-8757.
If you want some good tunes to go along with your meal, Perro Salado is the place for you. "It doubles as a music venue," says Joe. "I live about a half hour from Newport, and that is the place I go to Newport most to visit. It's got great Mexican food. The owners are really cool people. It's got this vibe that you don't really find in Newport. It's more of a local hangout than a tourist place — that's kind of what I look for in an establishment." Joe is also quick to recommend a beloved local act that happens to be a regular at the restaurant. "There's a band called The Throttles that plays there every Wednesday night, and they're just one of my favorite live bands to see. It's my favorite night out in Newport."
Perro Salado, 19 Charles St (between Washington Square and River Lane); Newport, RI; 401-619-4777.
Newport Blues Cafe
Another place to hear some great live music is the Newport Blues Cafe. "The Newport Blues Cafe is a big one, especially on Folk Festival weekend." The venue will be especially happening during the festival. "I have a show there on Thursday with the Low Anthem and a few other acts for the official Newport Folk Festival Kick-off Party. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Deer Tick is doing its normal Folk Festival official after-party residency."
Newport Blues Cafe, 286 Thames St (between Green and Prospect Hill streets); Newport, RI; 401-841-5510.
For local brews and good times, the place to hit up is Malt. "It's just got a really cool atmosphere. It's all raw wood, and they have a great selection of beer. Broadway is kind of like the area where the locals hang out — it's not touristy. It's not very far away from Thames St, but it's more in a neighborhood. It's where people who live there go. If I'm in that area, I almost always go to Malt."
Malt, 150 Broadway (between Caleb Earl and Everett streets); Newport, RI; 401-619-1667.
D. Kelley Fine Used Books
"There's an awesome used bookstore right on Broadway right before you hit the strip with all the bars on it," says Joe. He's talking about D. Kelley Fine Used Books, which specializes in all manner of classics, out-of-print, and current books. "It's a really great shop."
D. Kelley Fine Used Books, 330 Broadway (between Pleasant St and Malbone Rd); Newport, RI; 401-846-4140.
More Advice From Joe:
Take a walk on the wharf: "It's just beautiful down by the water. There are all sorts of shopping down on the wharfs."
Visit the historic "cottages" of Newport: "The mansions of Newport are a big attraction. The Breakers is the famous one, though something I can't say that I've done since I was a child."
Get there early: "One thing they should know is that the roads are just little cobblestone roads. The traffic is awful. A frequent complaint, especially from newcomers, is that they missed the first two hours of the festival. They don't anticipate how long it's going to take to park, and that you'll have to take a shuttle. Get there early if you don't want to miss anything."
Nashville to Newport: "This year, they let me curate my own event at the Museum Stage this saturday from 1:30 to 5. It's going to be a string of 15-minute sets. Three and a half hours. I get to introduce acts from Nashville. I'm really excited that all my friends are going to be in Newport at the same time. It's going to be amazing."
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Fletcher