Giving Him the Six Degrees: An interview with Kevin Bacon as he comes to The Odeum

Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael will be bringing their band, The Bacon Brothers, into the Greenwich Odeum on Friday, July 16. I had the opportunity to speak with Kevin via phone last week in advance of his show.

John Fuzek (Motif): We actually played a show together quit a while back. You played in Newport, probably 2004ish. I opened for you. I guess I can do “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with you.

Kevin Bacon: You know we’ve actually played around with the six degrees thing with music, which is actually pretty easy to do because, you know how it is, you played a gig with us, you end up working with people or playing on records with people who played with other people, you can get pretty far down the six degrees road just with the music thing…

JF: How did the pandemic affect you? Both in music and film…

KB: I can tell you that the Ides of March, that moment that we all remember when everything seemed to go bye-bye, I was shooting  TV show that I’m on in New York, City On A Hill, and I got the call that we were going to suspend production, we’d kind of gotten wind of this pandemic. I’d got the call that we were going to suspend production for a couple of weeks, and we were in the studio finishing up our last record and I just had this sense that it wasn’t just going to be a couple of weeks. My whole family was out in Cali, and so I booked a flight and left NY and that was it for another, whatever it was, months. I was in LA and I ended up going back and starting up again, we ended up shooting the remaining six episodes, we had shot two. I guess started back in June and we were able to  mix the record, sort of remotely, you know, pass mixes around. I also wrote a song In LA, and we cut that, again using file sharing. I did go into a studio that a buddy of mine owns down the street from our place in LA, put on masks, and he mixed it and we were able to get some guitars and some drums in isolated rooms, you know, it was just all that crazy stuff. So, yeah, this is the first time back.

JF: You haven’t played any shows yet? Will this be the first one back to playing at the Odeum?

KB: No, we did play one show. We went to Iowa. We went to a Casino in Iowa and played a single show about a week ago.

JF: Are you in Rhode Island right now?

KB: I’m not right now, I am actually on my way overseas this weekend, I’m doing a film in Bulgaria. 

JF: What are you working on in Bulgaria?

KB: I’m doing a film called The Toxic Avenger.

JF: I think I have heard of that. You WERE in Rhode Island because Kyra (Sedgewick) is working on a film here, right?

KB: Yes, Kyra is up there now, it’s very serendipitous that we’re playing in RI while we’re working in RI.

JF: You have played the Odeum in the past, correct?

KB: I believe we have, yes.

JF: It’s a great room, I have played there a couple of times, good sound, good people.

KB: I seem to remember having a good time. We really like those old converted movie theaters, we’ve played a lot of those all over the country.

JF: When you started out, did you want to be a musician or an actor or both or just whatever came your way?

KB: I was kind of on the fence about it. We’re talking about when I was maybe 11? I knew it was going to be one of the two. I think when I really started taking acting classes and tried to sing in theaters in Philadelphia, I was a pretty driven kind, I really got out and started getting my feet wet when I was really young. I was writing songs and my brother was already off to the races on a music career and I think that for whatever reason I should probably do something different and that, in combination with the fact that I just loved acting, I mean I just immediately felt nurtured by it.

JF: Do your other siblings do anything musical or acting-wise?

KB: My sister Hilda was really more into music even before my brother. She was a Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins type acoustic folk singer when she was in high school. She never really pursued it as a career, but she was good. Had a really good voice and then her and my brother put together a jug band. They used to practice in our little house in Philly, so when I was a little kid — she’s 10 years older and he’s 9 years older than me — if you picture they’re probably about 13 and 14 and I’m probably about 3, and I’m sitting on the steps to our — unfinished would be the understatement, when you talk about our basement — and they’re down there playing away with jugs and washboards, you know the whole thing.

JF: Your brother Michael plays cello as well, correct?

KB: Yeah, he’s a good cello player, over the years we have capitalized on that and have added it. When we first put the band together we didn’t really use cello, but we use it more and more now. Michael’s first band was a rock band called Peter and the Wolves when he was in college. When they broke up he came back to Philadelphia and he was in a pretty successful band that was just acoustic guitar and cello, but Michael didn’t play the cello, his friend Larry played the cello. His friend Larry was like a virtuoso cello player and they were called Good News and they were great and very popular, especially in and around Philadelphia. There was a very specific kind of music scene in Philly.

JF: Do you both handle the songwriting in this band?

KB: Yes, and we used to write together, but we really don’t write much together anymore.

JF: I am sure that is tough because of the travel and such.

KB: Yeah, I mean I think that when I was first starting to write, first I started writing without knowing how to play an instrument. So I was just writing melodies and lyrics and then bringing them to my brother and he would kind of figure out the changes and structure the song. Once I started playing a little bit of guitar I just started writing on my own. Once in a while he’ll send me, there’s a song on our last record that he had a great, cool lyric and he had a sort of rhythm and he sort of spoke the lyric into the phone and sent it to me and I put it aside for like almost a year and one day I just kind of busted it out and said, “Now I’m kind of hearing something.” In that case we co-wrote it, but he did the lyrics and I did the music, a lot of people write that way.

JF: Yes, I’ve written that way with others as well. When did you start playing guitar?

KB: I was probably about 13 or 14.

JF: That’s about when I started as well. I think that’s when everybody starts.

KB: A lot of people start when they’re 14 and stop when they’re 14. I’m one of those guitar players that really didn’t put in the hard work and as a result, I’m sort of stuck in a certain place. I got plenty of knowledge in order to write, but that is kind of where it stopped. And that was just the process for me. Everyone has a different kind of process. There’s a big difference — the 14- or 15-year-old kid who opts to not go to run around on the street or go to a baseball game or whatever, but opts to stay in his room and really shred. Then you get to a certain level that I’ll never get to, but I am very happy to have any kind of facility on any kind of instrument. I don’t need to tell you it’s a nice thing to have.

JF: Has the Bacon Brother’s music been used in any of your films and has he appeared in any films with you in a band capacity?

KB: He never appeared in any film in a band capacity. There was a time when we were constantly trying to write something and get it into one of my movies and constantly unsuccessful. It’s funny, we do a song in the set now that I actually dragged out from our last record or the one before, I can’t remember, that I wrote for Tremors. But the funny thing was at the time the movie was called Beneath Perfection, so the song is called “Beneath Perfection” and then they rejected the song and the movie came out and they changed the title of it. We’ve had a couple of songs not only in one of our movies, but in other ones as well. I wrote two songs for a movie that I did called Telling Lies in America that was about an early ’60s DJ and a relationship, he was kind of a slimy DJ, he had this band that he was trying to promote, and they they needed a couple of ’60s R&B tunes for the movie. The writer, great writer, Joe Eszterhas, wrote a title of a song that was supposed to be the hit for this young band, the song was called “Medium Rare,” and I read that title and I thought that was the worst title I have ever heard for a song, so let me see if I can write it. So I ended up writing that one and another one that ended up in the movie. So that was kind of fun. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to specifically write in a style of an era or a kind of genre. It’s kind of a fun challenge, it’s not something that you necessarily get to do all the time.

JF: One movie I remember you playing guitar in was Stir Of Echoes. I think you played guitar throughout that one.

KB: If I remember correctly, he was a musician. 

JF: And he was hearing a song in his head. 

KB: Yeah, it was like “Paint It Black” or something like that. And the funny thing about it, I wrote a song for that one and it didn’t end up in that movie, but i think it ended up another movie. I’ll tell you a funny story about that one was that the prop guy came to me and said, “You need to have a guitar. What kind of guitar would be lying around in this guy’s house?” And I was like, hmmm, let me see, I think it would be a J-45 or a J-50 Gibson with a sunburst from the ’60s. Basically thinking of a guitar that i kind of wanted (laughs) and sure enough they went out and found me one and I most definitely kept it. I still have it! So if you look at that movie I still have that J-45.

JF: I don’t blame you. It’s a nice guitar! What can we expect at the Odeum?

KB: It’s a lot of new music. I’m sure there’s a lot of new music from the last time that we played there. We are playing in a five-piece configuration. We don’t have keys, but we have cello, guitars, ukulele, different kind of percussion situations, harmonica, you know, all that kind of stuff. We like to have a good time, we’re looking forward to playing.

JF: I remember it was a fun show. How long has the band been around?

KB: We started in, I think, ’94 or ’95.

JF: I know that this is probably a dopey question, I know you did it when I opened for you, but do you still do the Footloose song and dance a bit?

KB: We sometimes do it.

JF: I am sure you are tired of it.

KB: Well, there’s two ways of looking at it. One is that bands talk about how hard it is when fans just want to hear their hits. My feeling is that, “Shit if I had a hit I’d play it!” In our case we don’t have a hit, so if it’s going to give people pleasure and they’re going to have a good time, just as a goof, to hear, what I like to call “The F song,” sometimes we’re happy to do it!

JF: That’s good. I am sure that people like to hear that. That’s the reality of the band is that as much as it’s about music, you tend to be the focal point just out of default.

KB: I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I kind of feel like, it’s just a reality. I can’t tell people to come in and close their eyes and pretend that I wasn’t in a movie. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m happy it gets people in the seats. We don’t pretend that’s not part of who I am.

The Bacon Brothers play the Greenwich Odeum on July 16. For more about this show and the many others at The Odeum sizzle over to: GreenwichOdeum.com

That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

Record Breaking Heat on Sayles: Children pepper-sprayed, arrested by police recorded making bigoted comments

Competing narratives emerged from dueling press conferences about an incident in the streets of South Providence on June 29. By 6pm, scorching temperatures had cooled only slightly from the afternoon high of 97 degrees, breaking a record that had stood since 1934. On Sayles Street between Searle and Cahill streets, two blocks west of Eddy Street, people had opened a fire hydrant so children could cool off in the water. Two families in neighboring houses at 260 and 264, separated by a few dozen feet of grassy yard, were part of this impromptu street party.

Map showing 260 and 264 Sayles St, Providence, where a June 29, 2021, melee occurred. (Source: Michael Bilow, via OpenStreetMap)

The residents of 260 Sayles St held a press conference July 1, alleging that police overreacted to 14 year olds having an argument, with the police themselves escalating a situation over the course of several hours that resulted in children as young as 1 year old being exposed to pepper spray, beaten to point of injury, and detained in total darkness inside police vans without air conditioning. Witnesses said they counted 18 police cars, two vans used to detain and transport arrestees, and fire and rescue apparatus.

The City of Providence held a press conference July 2, where Mayor Jorge Elorza, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Chief Hugh Clements portrayed the police response as professional, although the matter is still under investigation. According to Clements, police responded initially to a noise complaint but had to return, eventually leading to a major incident where at least one officer activated their personal “officer needs assistance” alarm, directing every available police officer to the scene, at least 35 officers in this case.

On July 1, the city publicly released an hour-long video taken from the body-worn camera of one of the responding officers. That video recorded comments from some of the police officers talking among themselves, making unprofessional comments that betrayed racist and anti-LGBTQ prejudice. At one point, an officer is heard saying, “We’re out here all summer with these two houses. They hate each other. It’s the Spanish against the Blacks.” The same officer then describes one of the people as a “shemale,” a derogatory slur to describe someone with male genitalia trying to appear female, saying, “I told you, that’s the one I wanted to go [be arrested] the most, the one in the black there that has the man haircut that they said, ‘Oh, it’s a girl,” and I said, ‘She ain’t a girl.’” Later on, he says, “I don’t wanna hear it. All animals.” Remarks are captured of officers criticizing the fire department for being slow to respond and criticizing the police dispatcher as an “idiot” and “moron.” At one point, an officer challenges a 14 year old, “You wanna fuckin’ fight me, kid?” A few minutes before the end of that video recording, the officers say they hope they “don’t look bad,” but by then it is way too late.

Two additional body cam videos were released by the city on July 2, with a promise that they are working to redact private information so that the estimated 25 body cam videos can be released as soon as possible.

At the city’s press conference, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza acknowledged at least the public relations problem resulting from the body cam video. “I’ve reviewed some of the tapes myself, and I’ve seen what’s out there publicly, and I’m reviewing the video that we released yesterday. Now what I saw are two things. On the one hand, we see officers that arrived, who act professionally and de-escalate the situation. But you also see several instances of officers who use inappropriate language, did not de-escalate the situation, and certainly did not reflect the police department that we strive to be.” Elorza promised, “We will do is we’ll do a full investigation. And any officer or anyone on the scene, who acted inappropriate, who acted unprofessional, or did not comply with our stated goal of de-escalating situations is going to be held accountable.”

Taffii Moore, who said she is the resident of 260 Sayles St and was the principal speaker at the Thursday press conference, said that police arrived at the scene with an unnecessarily confrontational attitude, saying they lined up in the street facing the house “like ‘we will get ready for war.’” She said, “When they attacked us, they attacked our children, they attacked everybody that was in this home. If you were recording, they attacked. They pepper sprayed. My son is who is 14 years old, Rashad, was protecting his cousin, Juan, from being beat by the police. They then pulled out their baton: beat him; five, six police officers at a time beat him. I have my neighbors in houses saying, ‘You know, why are you beating them? Why are you beating them?’ You know, trying. They pepper sprayed with my grandkids sitting on the porch.”

The back of a 14 year-old showing injuries from what his family described as a beating by Providence Police on Sayles St, June 29, 2021.
(Source: Provided by the family of the photo subject)

According to the police report, people on the street began fighting with each other, and when police tried to arrest them, the crowd began fighting with the police trying to prevent the arrests, and “the crowd followed and attempted to interfere with Ptlm. Benros, who deployed [pepper spray] as a defensive measure. Lt. Barros then ordered the crowd to back up as they continued their threatening behaving and ignored commands as he issued a short burst of pepper spray to create distance for the officers who were wrestling on the ground in a vulnerable position. It was at this time that several police officers had to use their department issued pepper spray, due to the large size of the crowd, as well as the crowd becoming threatening towards police.” The use of pepper spray “to create distance” as described in the police report, effectively dispersing it into a wide area without any specific threatening target, is questionable at best, especially in the presence of so many children.

Moore continued, “We sat right here on our property and bothered nobody. They came up in this yard. They dragged one of the young ladies out of the yard, not hitting nobody, not having no weapons, slammed her against the paddy wagon, threw her on the paddy wagon. They had their knees in my daughter’s face, beating and punching her, yelling at her that she was a man, as we were telling her she’s not a man, she’s a woman. They still didn’t care. They still beat on her. They beat on my son who was ill. Beat him with batons on his back.… My 1-year-old grandson was sprayed, my 5-year-old granddaughter was pepper sprayed, and they were looking right at her pepper-spraying. Didn’t even care that there was children.”

Moore’s daughter Zyrray, age 21, was the only adult among the five arrestees; she was charged with assaulting a police officer. She appears to have been the person referred to on the body cam video by a police officer as a “shemale.” At the press conference, she recounted her experience of being detained in a police van with no light and no air, despite the oppressive heat, as her juvenile family members were put in the van with her. “It was a pretty crazy situation. Just us trying to be protective of our young ones and my family…. [The police are] taught for crowd control and they’re… ready to be aggressive and just trying to pretty much arrest everybody down to the kids.… I had got punched in the face by several officers. I’m trying to explain to them like, ‘You guys. I’m not resisting arrest. There’s no reason for you guys to have your feet in my neck, on top of me, stuff like that.’ They put me inside the van. And as I’m inside the van, I still hear everything going on outside, I can’t see. There was no lights, there’s no air. And then I hear them putting my cousin and my other cousin in the van. And they’re just crying, they can’t see… and me being the oldest I’m trying to keep them calm, trying to sing music, do something, because of everything they’ve been through and we’ve been through, it’s a lot.”

Zyrray said she was pleading for air. “We’re yelling, we’re screaming… just open the door. You don’t even gotta turn on the AC, it’s hot, just open the door. You wouldn’t leave a dog in the friggin’ car for 20 minutes. We’re getting arrested. It has been there for over an hour, yelling and screaming, just ‘Open the door, open the door’… You can see on the videos, one of the officers is sitting in the back of the van as we’re banging on it. He was laughing [with other police officers] and talking to each other and just conversing like we’re not in the back of that van with our eyes burning, they want to give us no medical attention..”

At the city press conference, Pare conceded that the police vans have no air conditioning in the back, but denied that anyone was confined in them for longer than 30 minutes and said that no one was denied medical attention.

The Moore family has received death threats as a result of their press conference, Motif was told, and there are websites blogging about the incident using numerous racial slurs and providing personal identifying information about the adults involved.

Clements said that police responded 42 times over the past 18 months to these addresses on Sayles Street. Motif asked both Pare and Clements whether this might itself have been indicative of a failure of policing, inducing a kind of frustration and fatigue that was ultimately going to blow up in some kind of incident as finally happened.

We asked Pare, “If the police are called to the scene 42 times over the course of 18 months, is there any city service that could be provided, other than law enforcement, to try to deal with that?” Pare answered, “Without examining each and every call to that address, it’s hard for me to say. They weren’t calling the police because they needed food or shelter, they were calling because there was a public safety issue, and we respond when people call for the police on a public safety issue.” We followed up, “The city has a big effort to deal with gang violence, to try to intervene in a preventative way. Is there something the city could have done other than what has been done?” Pare answered, “I don’t know of any other service that we could have plugged in to prevent the repeated calls. I think a part of this is a feud in the neighborhood among neighbors, that we get called because there’s feuding, there’s loud music, there’s allegations of assault and those kinds of things.” We continued, “If you had gangs feuding you have a process for that, you have people for that.” Pare said, “Right, and this isn’t gang related.”

We asked Clements the same question, “Is there anything other than a police response that the city had available on social services to respond to that situation?” Clements answered, “That’s a very good question. Had clinicians or street workers been on the scene could we have had a different outcome? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. This was pretty tense, these two families were very agitated with each other, and they really wanted to get to each other. So to answer your question, I think at the end of the day it’s a police response.” We asked, “The city has an effective program and has for years: If this was a feud between gangs, which I understand it wasn’t, there are resources you have to deal with that. But in a feud between families, it seems you’ve got nothing.” Clements answered, “Correct. I don’t believe there was a constant family feud going on – but were that the case, there was certainly opportunity to use some form of mediation between the families, or maybe the police introduce that model and then step out. So, yes, that’s a possibility.”

At the Sayles Street press conference, a neighbor from across the street who identified herself only by her first name, “Linda,” provided an eyewitness account that raised an intriguing possibility the police may have made a classic tactical error that in military situations almost always leads to disaster. “The sergeant who was getting in front of my garage yelled to his police officers, ‘Get him.’ And six police officers ran after, ran in the yard. And all of the mothers were like, ‘Please, my son, don’t bother my son, he’s just a teenager.’ And so the police couldn’t get to him. So the sergeant ran to the back, came around the back side here, and pushed everybody out into the street. And he actually pushed everyone into the other police. So the police were acting like they were being attacked, but it was actually the sergeant who invaded everyone’s personal space and pushed them into the street. And when [the boy] got pushed into the street, he was the target. And so four policemen came after him.” (It should be noted that Linda may be in error about the “sergeant” because she said she knew he was of higher rank because he was wearing a white shirt, but in Providence that would indicate a lieutenant or above.)

What may have happened was that the police failed to coordinate properly, so one phalanx of police moved toward the children from the street while another phalanx of police went around the house and moved toward the children from the opposite direction. That could have led each police phalanx to assume the children were charging them, although each police phalanx was pushing the children toward the other phalanx, which each phalanx interpreted as hostile action. That’s a classic military disaster that usually results in death by friendly fire. No shots were fired by anyone, but it would explain the strange near-panic the police seemed to exhibit.

Press conference, July 1, with Sayles Street residents: facebook.com/motifri/videos/1147054699105481/
Press conference, July 2, with City of Providence: facebook.com/motifri/videos/163628802488366/
Police body-worn cameras: providenceri.gov/police/ppd-video-release-62921/

Summer Outside the Box

If you’re like me and always thirsting for new experiences, sometimes it can feel like summer in Rhode Island consists of the same old things: arguments over the best frozen lemonade, a trip to the beach, sitting in traffic for the beach, etc. But have no fear, fellow lovers of all things Rhody, I’ve been working on expanding a list of things to do this summer that’s outside the box. 

First and foremost, let’s get wet. While we all have our own favorite beach, there are other ways to participate on or in the water without going to the ocean. First and foremost, rent a kayak from Providence River Kayaks and cruise down the Providence river and get up close and personal with the city. Bonus points if you can talk about how Buddy Cianci uncovered the rivers with anyone who will listen. But, remember, if kayaking isn’t your thing and you’d rather have someone else drive the boat, La Gondola is back and booking tours now. You can even bring your own food and drinks. Also, I have to give a shout-out to the Providence-Newport Ferry, which is returning for the 2021 season, and also, I know it’s a weird thing to brag about if you’d lived in Rhode Island for “forever” and never been to Block Island, but if you haven’t, go. The ferry is truly a delight, and the island itself is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Plus, you can sing the song and get it stuck in everyone’s head around you. Sail away on the Block Island Ferry~

For those of you who want to stay outdoors, Rhode Island has some wonderful hiking trails. My personal favorite is the Rome Point Trail at the John H. Chafee nature preserve, and of course, Cliff Walk, but you’re welcome to find your own. There are multiple online resources (Alltrails.com) and a wonderful book for beginners called Best Easy Day Hikes in Rhode Island by Steve Mirsky, and it’s sold at a number of local booksellers, Amazon, and REI in Cranston. Another alternative idea is the Tri-State Marker, which is located where Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island meet. It’s a small hike in Burrillville, but you can say you’ve been in three places at once. Bonus/Not bonus depending on who you are: The woods are apparently haunted. Enjoy! And speaking of haunting, if you want to walk with a purpose, Providence Ghost Tour is returning for the season and features spooky tales about buildings in Providence you probably pass daily. 

I’ve got two nominations for your summer outside the box and that involve weird transportation, and they both happen to take place in Newport. The first is the Newport Helicopter Tours. Ever been in Newport and see a red helicopter flying around? You can rent them! These excursions can show you the best of Newport, all from the sky. There’s also the Rail Explorers, which puts you on a pedal-powered “rail explorer,” which allows for you to tour Newport on a train track. But don’t worry, no trains are currently running.

For those of you like me who are indoor kids in the summer, I’ve got a few things for you, too. First – Axe Throwing. Seriously. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds and it’s so much fun. You’re given a bunch of smaller hand axes and you chuck them as hard as you can at a piece of wood. The catharsis is one of the best I’ve ever had. There are a number of places to do this, but I highly recommend our friends over at RI Indoor Karting (use our coupon code for a discount). There are also 25 breweries or brewpubs currently in Rhode Island, and the RI Brewers Guild has an app called the RI Brewery Passport, which allows for you to get stamps and collect prizes just for drinking beer. It’s so incredibly fun and you might just find a new local spot to hang out. Favorites of mine: Crooked Current, Tilted Barn, Buttonwoods and Whalers. 

Now, let’s talk about once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The things you probably never thought you could do, but absolutely can, and I’d name these pretty “luxury.” There’s Shark Fishing, which, yes, is legal, and can be done through a number of companies in Rhode Island. You charter a boat, grab your besties and head to the ocean. This is not a cheap one, but can you imagine reenacting Jaws, much to the dismay of your Captain? You’re gonna need a bigger boat.And I bet you didn’t know you can get all the way to Hobbiton in Rhode Island. Maker’s Mark (yes, the bourbon) has a private Hobbit hole that can be rented in Richmond, Rhode Island. Called, Maker’s Mark Hobbit Houses at the Preserve, this includes a four-course lunch or dinner, and basically looks just like Bilbo Baggins’ house. The food is prepared for you right there, and there are plenty of drinks to keep things cozy. This one doesn’t run cheap either, but is at the top of my Rhode Island bucket list. 

There’s just a few ideas for your non-stereotypical Rhode Island summer, but there are plenty more out there. Get to looking, you never know what you might find! 

Eyeball Jello Mold: July 2021

Forever Onward: Destigmatizing eating disorders and recovery through song

DRENT (Done Right Every Now and Then), a self-described “emotional rapper” from Pawtucket, prides himself on constantly improving and meeting new challenges. He released his video and song “The Body Keeps the Score II” on May 18 to mark his 30th day of sobriety from food addiction. He has been very open with his family, friends and fans about managing his bulimia, working to stay sober and seeking help when his goal became changing his trajectory. In this second installment in a series of videos, which is an ode to Bessel van der Kolk (renowned psychiatrist and author of the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma), DRENT’s vision was to show growth, highlight that eating disorders are not a gendered issue and prove that recovery is possible.  

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Tell me about Bessel and what the process of making this video was like for you. 

DRENT: The Body Keeps the Score is a great book. Everyone should read it! I’m a big fan of Bessel van der Kolk and the song is an ode to the book, an ode to what trauma can be and how it can be combatted. You can’t eliminate traumatic experiences, [but through] EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), counseling practices and research — there are proven and data-driven ways to combat trauma — reduce the impact on the world, and to make sure it doesn’t get passed on to the next generation. I think anyone who writes [about trauma] acknowledges that there is going to be darkness, and we have to do everything we can to try to fight it and try to make sure that we acknowledge that it’s real. 

When discussing the difference between the first and second videos and songs in this installment, DRENT explained that the first installment was “a little too raw” and perhaps even shocking. In TBKTS2, he collaborated with ZENN MIND, a creative arts specialist featured in the video, to achieve a hopeful depiction of this process and highlight that eating disorders also impact men. 

DRENT: I wanted the video to show growth. And yeah, it’s the idea of sobriety — something I never thought I would ever have to embrace, like, the idea that I’m an addict and that I have triggers.

MA-O: You consider yourself a food addict. Is that right? 

DRENT: Oh, yeah. I have bulimia. And, you know, I’m a binge eater. I was attending Overeaters Anonymous right before the video shoot. And I didn’t really like it, to be honest. I felt like I was waiting too long to speak. And I kind of felt lonely because there’s not really young guys. There’s not really men who go there in general. And, you know, to kind of give you a controversial statement here, I’ve always hoped that the video [would] just spread and just help people. So it’s never mattered to me about view count, but there is this implicit bias. Like, if I had put a woman in that video, and she was vomiting or eating that food, it would create a different reaction, because I think [people feel] it’s more of a woman-related topic. 

And I just think that people don’t know how to process a male going through it. I do think there is this automatic assumption that that’s not a guy issue. Like, don’t worry, if men had that issue, they just go to the gym, and they just work it out. Or they just have a belly and they date a girl who accepts them for their belly, or they’re just a beer drinker. And that’s their look, and they wear a flannel. I’ve just wanted people to see [this] and be like, “Oh! This is relatable.” I want people to just connect to it. But I do wonder sometimes, if I had been more calculated — if I had said, “I’m going to put a woman in those scenes, by a toilet” or “I’m going to make a woman eat fast food in front of a camera,” would it give a different reaction to the people who see it? There is that sort of pressure to ask, “What is going to get people to see this the most?” And [wondering] well, I’m a man [so] people don’t relate to this.

MA-O: if I can offer you anything from my experience as a clinician, I think that what you’re doing is shedding light on the fact that it isn’t only women who are experiencing this. And the point you’ve made about men not talking about it– just because men don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or exist. For me personally, listening to the song and watching the video, it was very powerful to know that this is your story.

D: Yeah, if you write a song that maybe is connected to you, but people don’t know why. Right? We’re like rappers, we’ll just write about a topic, and then be like, this is for anyone who’s gone through this. But then it’s like, how is it about you? I want to know, how does this local rapper — how did you deal with it? For me, I just leave it all on the table. When you see DRENT, I’m not gonna hide anything, and some people are going to take to it, [and] some are going to be like, “This is cool, but I’m gonna keep my distance. That’s not my thing.” And I’m just gonna salute you from a distance. 

And, I think getting back to [something] you kind of touched on, trauma doesn’t discriminate. The only way you’re going to be able to not allow people to experience the same thing historically, over and over again, is to understand that trauma impacts everybody. I think we get too caught up on [labels] instead of understanding that it’s a disease and it will destroy anybody. And I think we as a country, I think we as a society have lost the ability to, to fight the actual problems.

MA-O: So, I wrote down some of the lyrics, because I wanted to ask you specifically about them. “Dawn to dusk what is missing, neural pathways hidden in my limbic system…” 

D: Limbic system yeah. EMDR [has been] a big changing point in my life in terms of how I process trauma. So yeah, when I said “dusk to dawn” and “what is hidden and what is written” for both parts of the chorus, [it was] the idea of what I’m fighting, [within] myself. There’s a lot of times where I would come home from seeing my girl and I would eat something. And I would put the food in the trash, or like I would try to get rid of it. And then like “the neural pathways hidden in my limbic system,” the idea of, you know, the memories and all the things that are causing me to eat, in my head. I process them [but] it’s still stuck in my head and I haven’t moved forward. When I wrote [those lyrics], I was just like, yeah, I’m stuck. I’m traumatized. This is a part of why I need to get sober because if I don’t, I’m just going to stay here. I’m going to be that, same as the memory.

MA-O: What you’re saying connects really well to my next lyric question. “If I can’t ease the pain, I’ll go insane and start feeding on my emotions.” 

D: Yeah, it’s funny, like, I just went off beat [but not] and wrote a two bar thing where I just said my feelings for a second. And it’s true. The whole point of emotional eating is to be numbing. And to, like, escape the emotion, you know? It’s funny — watching the video back, like, shit, that’s me. That’s been me for so long. And I’m almost numb to it, you know. In some ways, everybody has their own little sort of tragedy inside them. And they’re all trying to fix it and heal it. 

MA-O: What’s coming to me right now, based on what you’ve shared is that the way to heal is to acknowledge trauma’s presence. It’s to actually feel the emotions — to quote you — rather than to eat them.

D: Yeah. For [a while] I didn’t care. And then I made a conscious choice to say it’s important to me, then I did care. I think no matter how many times someone tells you to do something, until you decide to do it, it’s not going to make a difference. 

MA-O: So very true. I love what you said, where you’re watching and saying, “Shit, that’s me.” That’s you, showing yourself to the world. So, I’m wondering, what do you do when emotions around all of this come up for you? How do you cope?

D: See, I don’t really feel like that. I’m proud of what I did. This is who I am. It’s always been who I am. You’ve met me. People can see me as intense. People might see me as an oversharing human being. But I’m me. And like, I’ve always wanted to connect with people. I’ve always wanted to just share. And the only way to do that is to be authentic. I’m not out here trying to hide. 

MA-O: Close to the end of the song there’s a point where you say, “I gotta keep trying. I’m going to try.” And I’m pretty sure you look at the camera at that moment.

D: Yeah, it was so sick. I say “I got to keep trying, I have to keep going. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s I have to try.” First of all, let’s just get into the fact that my engineer was such a genius, cuz I said, “I’m tired of keeping score [being] the main vocal.” And he [said] “No, we’re gonna minimize that and just have you talk and say your thoughts as the chorus.” Sean Dizzy Blade was literally just like, “Everyone knows the theme already. They need to know what’s going on inside your head.”

My whole life I’ve had to try… and I don’t want to die. I think about my anxiety a lot. And the panic that I’ve had over the last four or five years of my life. And I just got to keep going. And it’s the same right? With the eating disorder. Even if I slip up, even if I have a moment where I feel weak, I got to keep going. Someone told me recently, recovery is (not) linear. Like, it’s not this thing about being perfect or, or trying to be in a straight line. Recovery [has] ups and downs. And I don’t want to be perfect either. There are days where I get really down, and I want like a soda. And then there’s days where I feel really good. And I go for a run, and I run a mile and a half. I think the one thing I’ve learned now turning 30, and going to be 31 in about five months is getting through a day is much more powerful than trying to get through like a year.

MA-O: At the end of the video, you have information for the National Eating Disorder Hotline. When it came on I literally said, “That is so cool!” out loud. Why did you choose to do that? I’m also curious about the phrase “Forever onward,” which is how you sign off. I feel like it’s such a great way to talk about trauma recovery and the healing process.

D: When we shot the first TBKTS, which was actually during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we [added] the hotline. To be quite honest, it didn’t really take off the way I was expecting it to, so I [wondered], should we do it again? And I spoke to a couple of people, to my best friend, Bruce AllOne and he said “No, you definitely need to put a hotline in there because it’s necessary.” I spoke to my girlfriend [too] and she summed it up kind of perfectly… You’re wondering whether [it matters] “instead of knowing that you’ve already made a difference.” 

We also put up a message about the book, and dedicated this to anyone who [devotes] their lives to trauma and “undoing ruin” [another band’s song]. And, forever onward. I mean, just the thought of it. I’m just moving forward. My healing is a constant journey, and sobriety is a never-ending battle. It’s something that you forever push forward. There’s light and darkness, and that the only way to heal whatever we have — in me and other people — is to just move forward, like forever onward. 

MA-O: I thought it was great. A really unique phrase in some ways. 

D: I be sending Jesse the Tree these two bar lines that I’d be thinking of while I’m driving and he’d be like, “My God, like, what are you doing?” I’d be thinking shit like all the time, like -yo, this line sounds kind of cool! I’ll just send it to people. And they’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s fire.”

MA-O: When I read what you wrote about thanking people for the work that they/we do, that was so nice to see, too. It doesn’t really happen very often (outside of clinical circles). So, thank you for that.

D: We need therapists, we need human service workers. We need to pay people more for the work that they do in that field. This isn’t a political statement, either, whether you’re on the right or the left, we need people in the local, state and federal level, if they’re going to make promises to people about tragedies, and to people who have been affected by mental health, trauma — to either put up or shut up. Because at this point in time, America and the rest of the world has seen everything under the sun, and there’s just really no excuse. There’s absolutely, in my opinion, no excuse for people not to feel that they have a chance to live a safer and less traumatizing life while living in America.

MA-O: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of a wonderful way to end this. Is there anything else you want to say about the video, or the song? 

D: I want people to talk about body image more. I want people to see it and understand that eating junky food — overeating — is a relatable thing that goes on in society. And I think that the struggle to have fewer portions, servings, especially for men, the idea of having a belly, and looking a certain way is difficult. And I think men are being marketed to- more like women, in the regard of body image where you have to be perfect. You have to have abs, wear like skinny jeans and have the bathing suit and have your stomach not show, or if you have a belly, you have to look a certain way. And I think there’s no real feeling of just, hey, that’s me. 

I want people to understand that they’re not alone. Whether it’s a man, woman, non-binary, like whoever it is like I just want people to relate to it. In terms of addiction, this is something that I think about a lot. When you do drugs, there is this sort of bad connotation or good connotation. But food is really hard when it comes to addiction. Because you need it to survive, you need to eat it every day. But there is the sort of [feeling of], I’m eating you. I’m addicted to you. You’re triggering. I need to portion you out. So, there’s all this touch and go. This feeling of I want it, I don’t want it. I can only eat this. And it can get very complicated very quickly. 

And so, I think for me, the video was really more about just saying, look, regardless of what you eat, regardless of what bothers you, the point is that whether you overeat, or undereat, it is difficult, it is a complex issue. And it is not something that is easily fixable unless you acknowledge what it is.  

And I think people are tired of keeping score too. Who wants to wake up every day [and count]? Like sobriety should be a thing where we embrace moving forward. And being like — forever onward — the idea that we’re progressing. And I think a lot of people, when they make those choices, there’s this sort of shame of, “Oh, I gotta look back, and I gotta count my mistakes and see what I’ve done wrong and oh, I gotta make sure I don’t do that again.” Sobriety, change, progressing, being an advocate for yourself — those things are– Like you said earlier, change is not something that is a straight line. It’s something that comes in waves. 

TBKTSII- Video and Production

For more info, follow DRENT @drentparty.

Safety in Theater

On Monday, July 26, a new group tentatively titled the RI Theater Coalition will hold its first meeting. The group’s goal will be to discuss logistics involved in executing ideas that can make the local theater community its best, safest self.

The group meeting is open to leaders of local theater groups, and will include individuals with professional HR, harassment policy and safety backgrounds. The meeting will be focused on organizational goals and administrative challenges. It will not be a town hall format, but it will be open to all who are interested in watching over Zoom, and there will be a moderated zoom QA session at the end. The online event will be hosted at the Academy Players space.

For time, attendee and access information, check back at academyplayersri.org or their Facebook page.

Epic Theatre Company AD Kevin Broccoli Accused of Sexual Impropriety: Epic to freeze all current and future performances

Epic Theatre Company founder and Motif contributor Kevin Broccoli was accused of sexual assault earlier this week, allegations found credible by an investigation conducted by Epic’s executive director Megan Ruggiero, general manager Lauren Pothier, and associate artistic director Angelique Dina. Broccoli is not stepping down from his position within the theater company, so that he can remain available to face community criticism. All future and current productions, however, have been frozen.

In a statement released early Wednesday morning Broccoli stated, “I have absolutely made mistakes in regards to starting inappropriate relationships with other people I had working relationships with, and as an artistic director, I should have known better.”

Ruggiero, Pothier and Dina resigned from their positions within the theater company as of Wednesday morning. In a public statement Ruggiero laid out the women’s intent to protect survivors and encourage more to come forward, saying, “We have the power together to not stand for this kind of behavior and to eradicate a culture within our theater community that all too often does not take allegations seriously and brushes these matters aside.”

Epic Theatre Company was founded in 2006 by Broccoli, when he was still an undergraduate at Rhode Island College. A mainstay of the semi-professional theater scene for much of the last decade, it’s been in the theater company in residence at Artist’s Exchange in Cranston’s Rolfe Square.

Broccoli’s contributions to Motif have been suspended for the indefinite future.

Sea 3: A danger to our community

Last Thursday, a vigil was held at the intersection between Allens Ave and Terminal Road in Providence. Hosted by the People’s Port Authority, the Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, and Renew Rhode Island, the vigil had one clear goal: to oppose the expansion of the Sea 3 oil company in the Providence Port. 

For more than a month, this multi-million dollar out-of-state oil company has sought to expand fossil fuel infrastructure exponentially at the Port. Not only is Sea 3 attempting to expand, but the Texas-based company also is attempting to do so by skipping the standard review process by the Energy Facility Siting Board, which would assess if such an expansion is first, safe, and second, necessary.

It is neither, and Sea 3 undoubtedly knows this. Otherwise, there would be no need to skip over the review in the first place. Still, Sea 3 insists that their dangerous half-a-million gallon expansion in liquid propane is not significant enough to count as an “alteration to a major energy facility.” Rhode Islanders like those at the vigil are not fooled. Opposition has continued to grow and several Rhode Island lawmakers have called on the Energy Facilities Siting Board to reject Sea 3’s proposal, but the expansion has not been halted yet.

What would make Sea 3’s proposal even more devastating should it pass is that the proposal also includes connecting the toxic propane facilities to a rail line. Doing so would give Sea 3 the ability to bring hazardous fossil fuels into Rhode Island at a faster rate. Thus, the expansion Sea 3 is downplaying includes not only those half-a-million gallons they explicitly mention, but the ability to bring in much more with greater ease in the future.

The proposal and attempts to shirk the standard approval process are insidious on their own, but the continued presence of Sea 3 in the Providence Port is a clear example of environmental racism. The expansion would be most detrimental to the people of Washington Park and the South Side of Providence. Black and brown communities within the United States and abroad are the most likely to have dangerous polluters set up shop in their neighborhoods without their consent and to experience gravely harmful health side effects as a result. The Rhode Island Department of Health noted last year that Black and brown low-income children were significantly more likely to experience hospitalization due to pediatric asthma and that Rhode Island has a higher rate of pediatric asthma than the national average. Pediatric asthma is one of many adverse health effects linked with pollution. With the Sea 3 expansion, there is no question that these effects will worsen.

Rhode Island State Senator Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence) said, “If you’re not okay with something for your kids, then you absolutely cannot be okay with it for someone else’s,” and expressed that the Sea 3 expansion “is environmental racism in their backyard. It’s not a headline, it is not a campaign. It is something that people live and die from.”

Our perpetually hot days, extreme weather, extended allergy seasons and increases in bugs, many of which carry disease, are all directly linked to the climate crisis. If Rhode Island needs energy, we should be focusing on our communities here. Rhode Island does not need out-of-state fossil fuels polluting our communities without our consent; instead, we should employ Rhode Islanders to build sustainable energy alternatives. This would generate both jobs and clean energy sources.

Sea 3 offers extreme danger with little reward to the Providence community and Rhode Island as a whole. We cannot allow this out-of-state corporation to poison the people of Rhode Island. There are numerous clean energy alternatives to the fossil fuels Sea 3 has to offer. These alternatives can benefit our communities instead of hurting them, but for that to happen, Rhode Islanders need to stand up and make our voices heard.

Groups like the People’s Port Authority and Renew Rhode Island are encouraging Rhode Islanders to utilize the resources accessible here to express their opposition to Sea 3’s disastrous expansion. 

Katarina Dulude is a volunteer with Renew Rhode Island.

Slam on the Brakes: Food trucks at RI state parks abruptly canceled

This story has been updated; scroll to bottom of text.

The sudden cancellation by RI state government of the remaining six of eight food truck events scheduled for 2021 in Colt and Goddard State Parks comes amidst a serious conflict of views as to what happened at the two events that were actually held.

Eric Weiner at the 2016 Motif Food Truck Awards

According to Eric Weiner of FoodTrucksIn.com/PVD Food Truck Events, the coordinator for these events and many others involving independent food trucks, RI Parks and Recreation notified him on May 28 that the then-seven remaining events would be canceled.

“They last Friday asked if we were available for a quick Zoom call, and during that Zoom call they told us that they had been having internal conversations and that, after talking to the park managers, they had made a decision to call in the clause in our agreement that they could cancel events that they didn’t have enough staff to handle the events, and that’s what they were doing,” Weiner told Motif. “Obviously, we panicked immediately because this was Friday of the holiday weekend, and we reminded them that our next event was scheduled in just five days… and that it was too many people relying on an event five days away to cancel it with such short notice. They got back to us and said that we could actually do this event this past Wednesday, but all events after that would need to be canceled.”

Only events at those two state parks are canceled. Weiner said, “I want to make sure it’s really clear to people that all of our other series of events in cities and towns, and city parks, are unaffected.” Roger Williams Park, which hosts Weiner’s flagship Friday events at the Carousel Village, is owned by the City of Providence rather than the state, and events there are continuing as scheduled.

Michael Healey, chief public affairs officer at the RI Department of Environmental Management that oversees Parks and Recreation, said in a statement to Motif that “DEM has received a number of positive comments from Rhode Islanders who enjoyed the first events, held May 19 and June 2, at Colt State Park. At the same time, however, there was a parking problem when more than 1,500 people in 600 cars overwhelmed the 197 parking spots. DEM needed to pull Parks and Recreation staff from other needs in the region to manage the event safely. Also, existing restrooms were not adequate for both event attendees and other park patrons.”

Weiner directly contested these claims, saying, “We think that over the three-hour event, on Wednesday night, we parked about 350 cars, and probably 2 to 3 people per car.” Asked by Motif to respond to Healey’s statement specifically, Weiner said, “I took pictures of the parking areas every 45 minutes and, at the peak of the event at 6:15 and 7:00pm, there were parking lots that were 100% empty. The event ended by 8:00pm, and by 7:15pm all the park rangers had left the area because they were not needed. If there were 600 cars over the course of the three hours, they were not there the entire time and never filled up the parking lots.” Weiner said, “I have pictures showing that neither overflow parking lot was used at all.” Weiner also told Motif, “We were monitoring the restrooms, and the restrooms on the far side of the park were not impacted by our event at all, and it was never a line to use the restrooms at the ones closest to the event space.”

Healey said in the statement to Motif that DEM canceled the food truck events scheduled for the state parks in July because “more Rhode Islanders visit state parks and beaches in July than any other month,” but was open to considering such events in August and September when the parks would be less busy and there would be time to plan to bring in portable toilets and take other needed measures. Healey said DEM has been unable to hire enough seasonal employees, with only 391 of 503 positions currently filled. “DEM will continue to work in good faith to help food truck operators increase their business while, at the same time, ensuring that the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who view state parks as their ‘backyard’ have public places to go to that are clean, quiet, and inviting,” Healey said.

Weiner estimated the economic impact as substantial, not only for the 12 to 15 food trucks and their workers at each Wednesday event, but also for his own staff and local musicians he hires. “For trucks that are grinding it out throughout the week to have a place where they can go on a Wednesday night to generate revenue is not something that’s easily replaced. We’re very strategic about adding Wednesday and Thursday night events because that’s the money that helps trucks be profitable, in addition to the revenues that they generate from the weekend.” At the Wednesday events that last 3 to 4 hours, “On average, the trucks serve about 30 customers per hour,” Weiner said. “On an average night, an average truck would like to make $600 to $800 in revenue… There’s no doubt when people come to our events, that when they’re coming and they’re going, they stop at other retailers or other businesses in the town, so for people that are coming into Colt State Park, there’s 800 people coming to that event over the course of the night on Wednesday night, that’s also 800 people driving through Bristol and Warren, and then maybe coming back and renting a camp site at Colt State Park. We had a number of people tell us it was their first time ever at Colt State Park… The direct and the indirect impacts are really things that should be thought about in general.”

Per contract, the event coordinator reimburses the state for extra costs incurred. “The original plan was that they told us that we needed two park rangers. Now that is seeming to increase to 4 to 6 plus an environmental police officer. We’re not necessarily opposed to paying a fair share for the event to go on, but it doesn’t seem like this is just about the cost of the event. It seems like there may be other issues,” Weiner said. “We’re paying for rangers to help with parking. We’re paying a dump fee to take all the trash to a Dumpster. We’re paying for state services to be able to use the parks for the event.”

When the second event on June 2 was allowed to take place, Weiner said, “Our hope was that the event Wednesday would go completely smoothly and that they would reconsider that decision. The event did go smoothly. We monitored the parking; the parking lot never filled up. There was no trash left behind. There were no incidents with behavior. People on our Facebook event pages actually went out of the way to say what a great time they had. But still, that did not change any of the decision to tell us that we could not continue on with either the events at Colt State Park or the events at Goddard Park, which are supposed to start next Wednesday [June 9].”

Weiner said that he is still talking with DEM. “Our hope is that something develops quickly with DEM to figure out a way to let us do this at a part of Goddard Park where we can support the event. Goddard Park’s a huge park, there is a great waterfront area, there’s plenty of parking by the Goddard beach. We’re hoping that someone in DEM or in state government will find a way to let this event happen. If not, we are going to be spending our weekend and our Monday looking for an alternate place, any place, hopefully nearby in that area where we can do the event instead. But we are really not in a position where we can afford to cancel this event: too many people are looking forward to the event and relying on the revenue. So our goal is to have an event somewhere Wednesday night, and what that looks like yet we really just don’t know.”

Over the next few days, efforts continue; however, time will be very short, Weiner acknowledged. “We’re ready and we have a plan. If they give us the go-ahead, we have been prepared and ready to produce an event at Goddard Park on Wednesday night… We just need the voice of the public to be heard: It’s been almost completely on our side of saying that we were able to do this during the pandemic. They’ve been events that people are appreciating and enjoying, and there’s no downside. It’s not impacting anyone negatively. We’re hoping that they’re going to come back around relatively soon so that we can be a go on Goddard instead of finding just a parking lot somewhere in a town that allows us to come in.”

UPDATE: RI DEM agreed to allow the June 9 event to be held as originally scheduled at Goddard Park. On June 18, spokesman Michael Healey told Motif in response to an inquiry, “We had a successful food truck event with a good turnout at Goddard State Park last week. We hope the PVD Food Truck operators did a good bit of business. DEM is optimistic that the two events initially planned for July will go ahead. The exact dates may or may not change and there still are contingencies and final details to be worked out. We will be reaching out to the vendor very shortly to discuss.”

Food truck event at Colt State Park: at 6:18pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: at 7:00pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking lot at 5:37pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking lot at 6:19pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking lot at 7:02pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 7:00pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 6:36pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 7:05pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 7:06pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 7:11pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)
Food truck event at Colt State Park: parking area at 7:26pm, June 2.
(Photo: Eric Weiner)

Gaspee Days 2021: Parade, fireworks as usual

Gaspee Days Parade
(Source: Gaspee Days Committee)

Gaspee Days is an annual celebration in Warwick and Cranston commemorating one of the first acts of violence by the colonists against the British government leading up to the American Revolution, when in 1772 the tax schooner HMS Gaspee was captured and burned to the waterline by Providence-based merchants and smugglers.

After mostly canceling in 2020 due to the pandemic, Gaspee Days is holding its major events in 2021. The most well-known event, the parade down Narragansett Parkway into Pawtuxet Village, will be held as usual, 10am–1pm, Saturday, June 12, preceded by an ecumenical service at Trinity Church in Cranston, at 8am. The burning of the symbolic replica of the Gaspee will be off Pawtuxet Park at 3pm.

Fireworks at Salter’s Grove in Warwick will be the weekend before the parade at 9pm, Saturday, June 5, with a rain date the following day, Sunday. The traditional 5K footrace will be virtual: download a race bib, run when and where you choose, and you will be sent an official T-shirt after paying a $30 entry fee.

The weekend-long Arts and Crafts Festival, including afternoon musical concerts, will be delayed until fall, September 11-12.

“We usually have a big block party on Memorial Day weekend with our Arts and Crafts Festival and we decided not to do that because we needed so much time to plan it out, and as the regulations weren’t loosening up we couldn’t get vendors to come in, and we didn’t even have volunteers. We had to take our season this year due to COVID and split it in half,” said Erin Flynn, publicity chair for the Gaspee Days Committee. “We made the hard decision that we couldn’t do every event because we didn’t have the budget, we didn’t have the volunteers… The other thing with the arts and crafts was many of the vendors… come from out of state, many of the vendors are retired or older folk – not all of them, but some of them – and they were not interested in coming.”

Although almost all public health restrictions were relaxed in RI as of May 21 for fully vaccinated people, Flynn said precautions had been taken well in advance. “We submitted to the Commerce Department, even though we didn’t have to, and got the response: it’s on, it’s outdoors,” Flynn said. “We’re just going to remind people as best we can that we’re following all state guidelines and asking people to be safe. We got a great note from the Commerce Department that said, ‘Go get ’em,’ you know, ‘It’s okay.’”

Many of the parade spectators are children too young to be vaccinated but will be able to maintain physical distancing, Flynn said. “There are plenty of places on the Parkway where there are plenty of open spaces. It’s very crowded in Pawtuxet Village, but if you come up closer to Spring Green and… Fair Street, not as crowded and families can spread out and it’s under the shade. So there’s plenty of space.”

“We were going to do a smaller [parade] and people threw more money at us, and we’re going to do a regular one,” Flynn said. “The community around here has rallied. We had no money and now we’ve got money, and we are so thankful to everybody for giving what they can. We just really felt the love from our community.”

The Burning of the Gaspee
(Source: Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, No. 399, August, 1883. Public domain)

On June 9, 1772, the revenue schooner HMS Gaspee ran aground chasing the sloop Hannah in Narragansett Bay, and its captain Lt. William Dudingston decided to wait for high tide in hope of refloating it. When a group of merchants and ship owners learned of the grounding from the crew of the Hannah, they quickly saw it as an opportunity to rid themselves of the tax collector and rowed out the next day at dawn, forced the crew to abandon the Gaspee, and set it on fire. Dudingston was shot and wounded in the leg during capture. Dudingston was notoriously incompetent, not only being deliberately led by the Hannah to run his ship aground but antagonizing the RI governor by refusing to show his papers and warrants, and he repeatedly had to be bailed out of difficulty by his superior, the far more competent and diplomatic Adm. John Montagu, based in Halifax.

After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763 with results substantially favoring the British, the government in London was willing to risk alienating the American colonists by stricter enforcement of tax collections, since there was no longer much danger of their switching alliance to France or Spain. Described by Winston Churchill as the “first world war,” the Seven Years’ War (known in America as the “French and Indian War”) was a global conflict that changed borders worldwide, including giving Britain effective control over Florida and Canada. From the perspective of merchants and smugglers, they would do almost anything to interfere with tax collections and had, prior to the attack on the Gaspee, in 1764 attacked the HMS St John off Newport and similarly in 1768 burned the HMS Liberty to the waterline also off Newport.

Preceding the Boston Tea Party by a year and a half and the outbreak of war with the Battle of Lexington and Concord by almost three years, the Gaspee affair motivated the colonists to establish “committees of correspondence” that would become the backbone infrastructure for the eventual Revolutionary War. What most alarmed the colonists was the insistence by the British that the men suspected of attacking the Gaspee be sent to London for trial, a dangerous precedent and a threat to the expectations for fair treatment under English law in the colonies, crossing a line that began the process of radicalizing the colonists toward eventual independence. In the end, no one was ever tried anywhere for the attack, due to a combination of lack of evidence and the political machinations of the RI governor who realized the explosive potential of a trial. The threat of trial in Britain was what made the Gaspee historically important in a way that the St John and Liberty were not.