Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing

On a frigid night in November, there is nothing better to shake off the cold than a night of music with some of Rhode Island’s hardest working bands for nearly 50 years. 

It may have been near freezing outside, but at the Park Theater in Cranston, a show featuring several of Rhody’s Music Hall of Fame inductees had the crowd dancing in the aisles.

The grand 1920’s era theater was the perfect venue to host some of the best this state has to offer.  The bands included showstoppers Steve Smith and the Nakeds, Billboard chart-busting John Cafferty with Beaver Brown, bluesman Duke Robillard, and country rockers Rizz. Combined, they gave the crowd a night bursting with old school rhythm and blues blended with Jersey Shore rock.

“It was all for a great cause,” said Rick Bellaire, who has worked tirelessly for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame for more than twenty years. The Hall of Fame, dedicated to fostering the best of Ocean Sate music, had a twofold purpose that night: raising money for its work while showcasing  well-known inductees.

Backstage, Smith said he’s known many of the show’s musicians for many years, including Cafferty, who he grew up with in Matunuck and later in Smithfield.  Smith and Cafferty are cousins and have been rocking the East Coast bar scene for more than fifty years.

While Rizz along with Robillard provided worthwhile music for an appreciative crowd, the best was yet to come.

It became a family affair as Cafferty and Beaver Brown lit up the stage with an hour-long set drenched in Jersey Shore stylings. Cafferty, along with veteran saxophonist Michael “Tunes” Antunes, scorched the crowd with a stomping version of “On the Dark Side.”  Later in the set, Attunes played a soulful tribute to Veterans Day while vets in attendance got an applause from the crowd.

Cafferty summed up the emotion in the room when he said “It’s not the preacher, it’s the congregation that matters.”  That night, the congregation churned up an old school Baptist musical revival.

The foot stomping, hand clapping vibe hit its peak when Steve Smith and the Nakeds kicked their set  off with an explosive rendition of “It’s Only the Beginning,” a classic ‘70s rocker.

The well-oiled Nakeds showed the audience why they are a Rhode Island musical gem as they glided through a set filled with some of the best of Boz Scaggs along with the soulful Bobby Blue Bland’s  ”Running on Empty.”

Cafferty and Smith took the crowd by storm as they hit a peak with “Dancing in the Street,” a Martha and the Vandellas Motown blockbuster. The top notch five-piece horn section including trombonist Josh Kane, baritone sax player Jaime Rodrigues, alto sax man Mark Legault, and trumpeter Steven “the Kid” Decurtis had the Motown gods smiling down on Park Theater.

All night long the theme was, as Smith joked, “we’ll keep playing til the phone stops ringing.” The night’s roster mixed the right musical ingredients to ensure the audience forgot their weary troubles and  danced.

Robillard, who along with a fine, five-piece blues swing unit is surely getting a lot of phone calls – with nearby upcoming dates at Nick-a-Nees on December 26 and  at the Knickerbocker on December 27.

Opening the show was the lively Rizz, who blended a mix of classic Eagles-styled harmonies with more rock-infused Creedence Clearwater influences. 

Speaking of ain’t nothing like the real thing, The Park Theater is hosting a stellar line up with two favorite tribute bands, the Peacheaters and Vyntage Skynard playing the music of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd  on December 9.  Come support great live music and we’ll see you there.
Walt Slattery has been involved in the music business for nearly fifty years as drummer and music writer. He is working at the Kennedy Performing Arts Center in
Washington DC.  He can be reached at