In Portsmouth: Zoners let the music play on at Ragged Island

Farm brewery’s special-use permits for concerts approved unanimously

By Jim McGaw
Posted 3/26/24

PORTSMOUTH — The music will play on at Ragged Island Brewing on Bristol Ferry Road.  

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In Portsmouth: Zoners let the music play on at Ragged Island

Farm brewery’s special-use permits for concerts approved unanimously


PORTSMOUTH — The music will play on at Ragged Island Brewing on Bristol Ferry Road. 

The Zoning Board of Review voted unanimously last Thursday, March 21, to grant the farm brewery a special-use permit to host The Ragged Island Musical Festival on Sunday, June 9. (If you don't already have a ticket, you're out of luck. It's already sold out.)

“There would be 600 attendees, a catering vendor and three bands playing live music in a field between 3 and 9 p.m.,” said Matt Gray, who owns the brewery at 54 Bristol Ferry Road along with his wife, Katie. “We are seeking the ability to provide amplified music, according to the town’s decibel requirements.”

Gray said the brewery had already come up with a plan with the police and fire departments and will hire a third-party security team to manage the event along with his staff. 

“We believe this event will help us and our small business by exposing new and returning customers to the experience we’ve created at the farm,” he said, adding parking will be managed “easily” on the property. “We also have contact information for any ticket-holders so we can contact them about carpooling, encourage them to cycle, or use alternative transportation such as Uber.”

Ragged Island also sought and was granted a special-use permit to host Wednesday evening concerts from July 3 to Aug. 28. The stage for the June 9 event will be located lower in the field — “more in the center of our property,” Gray said — and only ticketed patrons will be allowed in that area. The Wednesday shows will be on the “horseshoe” area right outside the main building, which holds the taproom.

The bands performing on June 9 will be facing Willow Lane. “The music will be going in that direction — south. On Wednesdays, it will be facing east, more toward Bristol Ferry Road,” said Gray, noting the brewery always tries to not pose a nuisance to its neighbors. “We’re not Gillette Stadium, we’re not Great Woods,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of our neighbors.” 

Gray acknowledged, however, that the brewery did get “overrun” with more attendees than expected during one of the Wednesday night shows last year, when the popular local reggae band The Ravers performed on Aug. 2. The band is expected to return for another performance on Wednesday, Aug. 14.

“We did have a very successful day. I think it went off without a hitch, with some challenges within the neighborhoods,” said Gray, adding the brewery would be willing to work with the town to set up no-parking areas in certain areas around the business if desired.

Zoning Board Chairman James Nott said the both the police and fire departments had no objections to the concerts and were satisfied that the issues of crowd control, parking, noise and other matters have been properly addressed by the brewery’s plan. Police plan on posting no-parking signs on Brownell Lane, between Bristol Ferry Road and Strawberry Lane, Nott said.

Most in favor

Most residents who commented on the application said they wholeheartedly supported Ragged Island’s music events.

Caitlin Wood, a direct abutter to the property on Bristol Ferry Road, stated in a letter that the brewery did a great job managing events last year and “tightening” things up for this year. Wood said she can hear the music from the concerts in her backyard, and she and her neighbors make a night of it.

“What fun to live somewhere that we have these events that buzz with entertainment and excitement,” Wood wrote.

In another letter, Maria Alemany, who lives just west of the brewery on Willow Lane, said she’s always supported the “family-friendly” events at Ragged. “The outside music events have never caused an outside disturbance, nor has the parking,” she stated.

Anthony and Jennifer Amaio, who live north of the farm on Schooner Drive, said the concerts are welcome “and bring more of the community together.”

Speaking remotely, Nancy Parker Wilson, general manager of Greenvale Vineyards, threw her support behind the farm brewery.

“I think Ragged Island Brewing is doing a fantastic job and support anything they can do to continue to do what they do. I think we as a town want to support that business, and having music really helps, as I know at Greenville,” said Wilson, whose Wapping Road winery also hosts music events that help keep her business financially sustainable.

Only two residents raised concerns about the events, and neither is an abutter.

Tom Grieb, of Thayer Drive, said the board should require temporary no-parking signs on surrounding streets and lots, while making sure noise levels don’t exceed the town’s standard for residential areas — 65 decibels during the day, 55 decibels at night.

Grieb also urged board members to consider approving only the main June 9 event and then determine whether Ragged Island’s “new controls work or don’t after the festival.” The brewery should apply to host the Wednesday events separately, he said.

Grieb pointed to the large crowd that turned out Aug. 2 to hear The Ravers, which he said “obviously surprised” the brewery’s staff. The band stated on its Facebook page that about 1,000 people turned out, said Grieb.

Nott said the band’s claim doesn’t necessarily make it so. “I went to Clements’ Market this morning and there were 5,000 people down there — I’m telling you! You get my point?” Nott said.

Nancy Howard, who lives on the other side of town from Ragged Island, stated in a letter to the zoning board the petition should be denied because the brewery wasn’t the appropriate place for concert events attended by hundreds.

“Why would we allow this on a farm on residential property?” Howard, of Dianne Avenue, asked in her letter.

Nott responded that the property was under an agricultural use, and therefore the events were allowed by special-use permit.

In June 2015 the Town Council changed the zoning ordinance to allow farmers to seek the permits for special events in order to keep their businesses economically viable. 

Howard has complained in the past about special events at Ragged Island, as well as at Greenvale Vineyards. Back in 2015, she strongly opposed the winery’s application for a special-use permit to host weddings, concerts and other events. The zoning board ultimately approved the application.

Approved with conditions

In approving the permits — with conditions (see related story) — zoning board members said Ragged Island has done a good job in planning events and working with neighbors so the events do not pose a nuisance.

“An agricultural use is compatible to every zone,” said Benjamin Furriel, the board’s vice chair.

Nott noted all the support the brewery received from its most immediate neighbors. “It is a family-friendly place, contrary to what people may think of a brewery,” he added.

Ragged Island Brewery, Zoning Board of Review, Greenvale Vineyards, Ragged Island

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.