I just saw The Nervous Eaters in Boston and they were great. I’ve read about how they were an old-school Boston punk band that got signed to a major label who tried to turn them into The J. Geils Band. Now, I love The J. Geils Band more than anybody reading this, but punk and Peter Wolf don’t need to meet. The Nervous Eaters have a new album called Monsters + Angels, so check it out. Mark Cutler is opening and has two new albums out – show up early for a special treat!
The Nervous Eaters and Mark Cutler & the Men of Great Courage will rock the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on Mar 10.
My new favorite (along with The Devil’s Twins) local band is going to kick out the jams with a potpourri of punk, metal, and hardcore. Yes, I used potpourri to describe a death punk band. Life is too short to review the album again.
Blood Feeder, High ‘n’ Heavy, and Cassie Lee kick out the jams at The Pour Farm in New Bedford on Mar 11.
I was bummed last Columbus Day weekend when I couldn’t make the quasars connect to see Alice in Chains at Great Woods. But for all the darkness there is light, and I’m stoked to be able to see Cantrell come and hear all that magic as well as his solo stuff. I don’t think people realize that he was singing lead as much as Layne Staley. This will be a banger.
Jerry Cantrell and Thunderpussy bring the heat to The Strand in PVD on Mar 14.
Alyssa Tuchon is one of the brightest spirits one could ever hope to meet. She lights up the room, loves music, and is always happiest when she is dancing. In January of 2022 the curtain dropped on a lot of that joy. Alyssa was stricken with an undiagnosed disorder that has left her in constant pain with limited mobility. It really sucks and isn’t fair. Alyssa’s friends have come together to put on this benefit to try and help her stay afloat. This is a great lineup for a great cause for an even greater person. I’d ask even if you can’t attend to buy a ticket.
LYSSAPALOOZA featuring performances by Beauquet, Tall Teenagers, Joy Boys, and Eric & the Nothing touches down at Askew on Mar 24. This is an early show with doors at 5pm so we can just pack that much more fun in! Suggested donation is $25, but whatever you can afford: There is a buffet and we’re really just trying to get Alyssa healthy.
The National Reserve and Happiness
I caught the second night of The National Reserve monthly residency at Askew and came away impressed. The National Reserve engage in fracking Creedence Clearwater Revival, Faces, and Flying Burrito Brothers swamps with surgical focus. And… it is pretty fucking good. Happiness is my favorite local power-pop / trash surf band within state lines. I’m guessing this is the first show since 2019 at The Cafe at the Par… nevermind, it just had too many names. The members have been busy as Happiness is composed of Rafay Rashid of Ravi Shavi and 3/4ths of Deer Tick. I’m putting it out there, if they don’t play “The Devil is Working Retail” we (I) riot.
The National Reserve and Happiness rock Askew on Mar 25.
Rest In Power Holly – We Love You.
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2023 RI Music Awards
It’s time to again celebrate local with one of Motif’s favorite annual gatherings: The RI Music Awards. Save the date for 6:30pm on March 20 at FMH, with food from Refuel Catering.
Although we’re the smallest state, RI has a never-ending supply of fantastic music spanning all genres. We seem to be post-COVID, at least as far as live music coming back is concerned, and we can’t wait to celebrate spring and reemergence with our diverse music community.
Along with the awards ceremony, which will be hosted at the legendary venue Fête Music Hall, there will be food, drinks and live music, so please save. Performances by School of Rock, Appala’s Eclipse, Vudu Sister, FINE. and more, along with photos, interviews, wacky hijinks and more will create a memorable evening. The event is sponsored by FMH and R1 Indoor Karting.
No matter whom you select in each category, we feel it’s important to recognize and appreciate just how much creativity, vitality and talent is represented in our area. Many of these acts have promising futures ahead, and it is always a joy to see how music from this state evolves and captivates ears and hearts, locally and sometimes worldwide.
To all the musicians, venues, labels and audiophiles in RI, we salute you, and we hope you can join us for the celebration!
David Cicilline resigns from Congress: Effective Jun 1, will head RI Foundation
After 12 years representing RI’s first district in the US House of Representatives, David Cicilline will step down effective Jun 1, 2023, according to a statement released by his office late this morning. He will become president and CEO of the RI Foundation, a major philanthropic organization, replacing Neil Steinberg who announced his retirement several months ago.
Cicilline has held the seat since Jan 2011, most recently re-elected in Nov 2022 to a term ending in Jan 2025, defeating Republican challenger Allen Waters, 63.8% – 36.2%. The district is considered a safely Democratic seat, and the margin of victory is comparable to that estimated in the subsequently redrawn district for the most recent presidential election in 2020. As a result, a Democratic primary to fill the vacancy is expected to be fiercely competitive, effectively setting the stage for an easy win in the general election.
The Office of the RI Secretary of State said that the timing of a special election would, by law, be determined by the governor. “A vacant seat in the House of Representatives is filled through a special election. In collaboration with the Board of Elections, the Department of State will begin the special election process once requested by the Governor,” a spokesman told Motif. The law provides that the special election will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month.
UPDATE Feb 23: The office of Secretary of State Gregg Amore told Motif, “We are beginning to map out a possible timeline for the special election that would comply with elections law and create enough time to satisfy all of the procedural elements of holding a special election. Once the election is called for, there will need to be a candidate declaration period, a signature collection and verification period, and internal ballot preparation. Then, federal law requires that mail ballots are sent to overseas voters [primarily active duty military] 45 days before both the primary and the general. At this time, we believe that statutorily, the earliest a primary could be held would be August 8. If the primary were to be held on August 8, the general would likely follow on October 3. If the primary were to be held September 5, the general would likely follow on November 7. These are only preliminary, possible dates. Later dates are possible. No dates have been set or confirmed. The Department of State is working collaboratively with the Governor’s Office, the Board of Elections, and the local cities and towns to ascertain the feasibility of different scenarios.”
Cicilline previously served as mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2010 and in the RI House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He is an attorney by profession, graduating from law school at Georgetown University in 1986 and receiving a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1983.
In a statement, Cicilline said, “The chance to lead the Rhode Island Foundation was unexpected, but it is an extraordinary opportunity to have an even more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of residents and families of our state.” He characterized the RI Foundation as “one of the largest and oldest nonprofit community foundations in the nation.”
Cicilline did not address the issue in his statement, but it is a reasonable inference that a significant factor in his decision to leave Congress was his party’s loss of majority status in the Nov 2022 election, greatly reducing his ability to accomplish anything in the narrowly divided chamber after being relegated to the minority. In his previous term, he served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee, holding the chair of the latter’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee.
“I write today to convey my deepest and most sincere gratitude to the residents of the First Congressional District. I am extremely grateful for the support of the people of Rhode Island, my dedicated staff, and the help of the many organizations and individuals that I have had the privilege to partner with over the past twelve years,” Cicilline said in the statement. “I once again extend my genuine and heartfelt appreciation for the honor to have served as your representative in the United States Congress.”
Continuity of office will be preserved, Cicilline said in the statement: “I will remain in office until I officially submit my resignation to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Governor McKee on May 31, 2023. Constituents can continue contacting my office for assistance with federal agencies and to share your opinion or request information on pending legislative matters before Congress. After June 1, 2023, members of my staff will continue to operate offices in both Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. under the supervision of the Clerk of the House of Representatives until a new Member of Congress is elected. My office will provide additional information in the weeks ahead regarding this transition period.”
Pop Gun: Is America shooting down alien spacecraft?
The military has shot down four objects in US and Canadian airspace within the last few days, and this has led to reactions ranging from rational concern to irrational panic.
I’m not saying it was aliens, but…
At a Department of Defense press conference on Feb 12 Helene Cooper of The New York Times asked, “Because you still haven’t been able to tell us what these things are that we are shooting out of the sky, that raises the question, have you ruled out aliens or extraterrestrials? And if so, why? Because that is what everyone is asking us right now.” Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), answered, “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”
This bizarre “I haven’t ruled out anything” response from a four-star general to whether alien spacecraft are being shot down was not exactly helpful. Presidential Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was forced the following day to explicitly deny the alien attack rumors: “I just wanted to make sure we address this from the White House. I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity — (laughter) — with these recent takedowns. Again, there is no indication of aliens or [extra]terrestrial activity with these recent takedowns. Wanted to make sure that the American people knew that, all of you knew that. And it was important for us to say that from here because we’ve been hearing a lot about it.” That led to a follow-up question: “Would you tell us if there were, really?” Amid laughter, she answered, “I’m just — you know, I loved ‘E.T.,’ the movie. But I’m just going to leave it there.”
A national Associated Press story quoted Jim Ludes, a former national defense analyst who now leads the Pell Center for International Relations at Salve Regina University in RI: “There will be an investigation and we will learn more, but until then this story has created a playground for people interested in speculating or stirring the pot for their own reasons… In part, because it feeds into so many narratives about government secrecy.”
The alien spacecraft stuff aside, why is anyone upset about this at all?
Nations have flown reconnaissance missions over foreign territory since the invention of aircraft: military balloons were in use as early as the French Revolution in the 1790s and in widespread use by the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s.
Balloons have not usually been perceived as threatening per se. In the final months of World War II between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched 9,300 “Fu-Go” balloon bombs with the expectation they would be carried by the atmospheric jet stream and start fires in the Pacific Northwest region of the continental United States. Although about 300 of the balloon bombs were found or observed, only one had any noticeable effect, killing the pastor’s wife and five children on a Sunday school picnic in the Fremont National Forest in Oregon.
From 1947 to 1949, the US Project Mogul flew reconnaissance balloons over the Soviet Union equipped with microphones capable of detecting the sound of nuclear tests; it was an early example that crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, that gave rise to the original alien spacecraft rumor. The US Project Genetrix (WS-119L) was a more advanced photographic surveillance balloon that was regularly flown over Russia and China in the 1950s at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet until it was largely replaced by the U-2 aircraft. In the mid-1950s, the US experimented with the E77 balloon bomb intended to disseminate chemical or biological weapons to destroy crops; it never entered production or deployment. The US Project Flying Cloud (WS-124A) was another balloon delivery system for chemical or biological weapons, but it was dismissed after testing as infeasible and ineffective. The US currently maintains a fleet of “aerostat” balloons as part of the Persistent Threat Detection System used in Afghanistan and Iraq to monitor hostile movements such as planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along roadways.
The US has employed the Lockheed U-2 aircraft since 1955 and still maintains a fleet in active service: one was shot down over Russia in 1960 (pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured and repatriated in a prisoner exchange) and another over Cuba in 1962 (pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr. was killed). The 1962 incident came in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was itself a consequence of the US detecting Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba from U-2 aerial photos; Maj. Anderson was the only American casualty of the crisis that threatened to set off World War III.
“Freedoms of the Air” is the formal diplomatic term for the post-1944 international standards and agreements that allow free passage of commercial aviation, including refueling and carriage of passengers and cargo, across borders. A comparable rubric for military aviation was proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955, and the Treaty on Open Skies finally came into existence under President George H.W. Bush in 1989, ratified by the US-allied NATO and the Soviet Union-allied Warsaw Pact in 1992; President Donald Trump withdrew the US during his lame-duck period between losing the presidential election in November 2020 and the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021. The Open Skies concept, according to Eisenhower, was to allow each country to verify that other countries were not unilaterally preparing or mobilizing for war or otherwise violating arms control agreements.
Balloons are cheap and easy to deploy. In 2009, MIT students Oliver Yeh and Justin Lee headed a few miles westward to the town of Sturbridge where they launched a $150 helium balloon project carrying a burner phone and digital camera that sent back real-time photos every few seconds, reaching an altitude of 93,000 feet (almost 18 miles) where the curvature of the earth is plainly visible and the sky appears as the blackness of outer space. In 2018, we reported on a Brown University student group building an earth-orbiting satellite: before members were qualified to work on the satellite project, they were introduced by building a balloon project. One of the project leaders said, “A lot of our first-years and sophomores join the high-altitude balloon team. We’ve launched two and they have 360-degree cameras, and they were either the first or the second 360-degree cameras on high-altitude balloons, the highest 360-degree cameras ever, [reaching 80,000 feet]. We put on electronics kind of similar to what we have on the satellite, such as an altimeter – which is not on the satellite – but also gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, temperature. Each balloon tests something that we want to test for the satellite.”
The Chinese spy balloon that started the present frenzy was reported by US defense intelligence agencies as having flown from China to Alaska, then over Canada, and finally into the continental United States. My inference is that it was intended to maintain an altitude of about 100,000 feet but something went wrong and it descended instead to about 60,000 feet, at which point it was visible to the naked eye over Montana. With ordinary private citizens able to see it just by looking up into the sky, or at least with little more than a decent set of binoculars, that put the US government into an awkward position where they had to acknowledge its existence. Despite statements by defense and intelligence professionals who assessed the spy balloon as posing little threat, especially because China has numerous sophisticated surveillance satellites in earth orbit but probably decided to use balloons to save money.
The Biden administration came under heavy political criticism, especially from Republicans in Congress, for not shooting down the balloon as soon as it entered American airspace over Alaska, but we have never done anything like that before. We especially do not want to get into a situation where we shoot at their surveillance systems and they shoot at ours, for exactly the reasons Eisenhower explicitly articulated that some surveillance serves the interest of preserving peace. It was also revealed that this Chinese spy balloon was the fifth known incursion into US airspace since 2017, although as noted the military did not seem to see these as any threat worth responsive action. Of course, the lack of response may have been a mistake emboldening China to grow increasingly aggressive, eventually permitting their balloon to be seen from the ground. (The Chinese claim that the balloon was a meteorological research project is laughable.) It has also been revealed that US intelligence was aware of an extensive Chinese spy balloon project overflying 40 countries on five continents.
NORAD gathers an avalanche of radar and sensor data about everything flying in or above the atmosphere, reportedly as small as a grain of rice, and they have to filter these huge quantities of information in order to discard anything they can dismiss as no threat. They have spent decades looking for things that are big and fast, such as bomber aircraft or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), so everything small and slow was pretty much ignored. After the Chinese spy balloon fracas, now they seem to be letting balloon-like objects through their filters and this is why we shot down three more objects without even fully understanding what they are.
Why are we shooting down these objects? Maybe the government knows and they’re not telling us. Maybe the government doesn’t know, either. Maybe these are homemade weather balloons constructed by a couple of ambitious college students or hobbyists.
At some point, we’re going to run into a revival of Lawnchair Larry, a man who in 1982 tied 45 helium balloons to an aluminum chair and ascended to an altitude of 16,000 feet, shutting down Long Beach Airport in California. After he landed, an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration famously said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot’s license, we’d suspend that, but he doesn’t.” At least he didn’t face a Sidewinder missile.
Enjoy the Medicine: Langston Hughes Poetry Reading carries on important legacy
Langston Hughes was one of the champions of the Harlem Renaissance, a prolific writer, poet, and thought leader. Although he passed away in 1967, his work lives on and has been celebrated by standard bearers at the Langston Hughes Community Poetry for the past 28 years.
This year saw a welcome return to in-person performances, with dozens of performers taking the mic at the Providence Public Library in their spacious theater. The readers represented some of the strongest voices in the local poetry community – all colors and genders shared in drawing strength and inspiration from a sampling of the work by this late master wordsmith. Some had the audience on the edge of their seats, while others had them up and singing, stomping or clapping.
“These words and ideas are like medicine for the soul,” said showrunners April Brown and Kai Cameron in their opening remarks. “So, enjoy the medicine!”
2023 Inaugural Spoken Awards – Winners
Spoken words have power – to spread ideas, create new thoughts, spin up ideas, or even just amuse or entertain. They are the OG medium of communication, artistic expression and journalism.
To recognize the practitioners of art forms such as spoken word, storytelling and stand-up comedy, Motif embarked on a new kind of awards show / community gathering, in partnership with FundaFest, the Langston Hughes Poetry Reading, R1 Indoor Karting, Mr. Orange Live and the SWAP Meet.
The first ever Spoken Awards took place at the end of Funda Fest, on Friday, Feb 3, 6:30pm. at R1 Indoor Karting, hosted by April Brown, Chip Douglas, Nirva Lafortune and Joe Wilson Jr.
Over 60 people came out despite it suddenly becoming the coldest day of the year (it was warm inside the venue), and the performances were an incredible show of talent throughout the night, with intimate exposure to artists who can hold entire stadiums in thrall. The love and powerful sense of community throughout the night was deeply inspiring, and Motif thanks all who came out and were a part of a magical night. Winning is fun, but the spirit of the night made it clear that this wasn’t about who won, it was about celebrating a community and a venerable art form.
You can see all the nominees here. Here are the winners. Congratulations to all!
Comedy: new voices
Favorite event / night
Providence Poetry Slam
Narrative music / Hip-Hop / Rap
Juan Wilson Jr.
Langston Hughes Poetry Award
Ramona Bass Kolobe
Favorite Live Performer
Honorable Mention Favorite Spoken Word
Mr. Orange Live
Overall Favorite Spoken Performer
LIVE Audience Judging
Audience Award Storytelling
Audience Award Spoken Word
Audience Award Comedy
Read Meg Coss’s interviews with a selection of winners here!
50 Years Naked in Rhode Island: Steve Smith bares all
It’s 1973. A 22-year-old Steve Smith hops out of the ocean in the haze of a Matunuck Beach summer. He shags his hair, throws his longboard up over his head, and takes off at a gallop towards the special community that is Roy Carpenter’s Beach: a collection of “shacks” which features porch sittin’, beer drinkin’, guitar strummin’ men and women playing tunes and wailing notes into the sun-kissed night. Smith jogs through the place he’d spent every summer as a kid and stops quickly at the cottage he grew up in with his cousin (John Cafferty, of the Beaver Brown Band), to change into his night attire. As he waltzes to the fridge to grab a cold beer, he is struck by a fading childhood memory: Saturday night kitchen performances for his father and his uncles, a skinny 4-year-old swinging hips to a high-pitched rendition of “Love Letters in the Sand.” He sits reminiscing for a few minutes, allowing the memories to flow through him like the beer. Sweltering days at the beach, barefoot nights hopping between shack porches… a jukebox that ran in the corner of a crowded room, its bright lights whirling with each tune… a night of opportunity all under one chaotic musical roof…
Shit! Smith is now running late for his first gig with his new band The Nakeds at South Kingstown High School: a show that would solidify state-wide recognition for the 10-piece, Rhythm and Blues groove phenomena, Steve Smith and the Nakeds.
I crossed paths with our protagonist on a blustery winter afternoon, very far from his native beach vibe. A casual man in a black coat and blue jeans, Smith met me in the parking lot of Motif’s office in Pawtucket, and as we took the five million or so steps up to the third floor we talked about everything from surfing to the Ocean Mist to what CD he has in his car right now. Turns out Smith is a Spotify-er like the rest of us, but it did bring up an old memory of his father’s words after returning home with the first Beatles album: Listen to these guys, they’re going to be great.
“My father loved music,” Smith said. “He was a salesman, he was on the road all day… he listened to the radio constantly.” He smiled in his reverie. Smith appreciates his father for having the foresight to send him to voice lessons at a young age, endowing him with a skill he can reach for again and again.
Smith went to PC and was juggling a lot of extracurriculars, including his college band, Bloody Mary. He decided in his sophomore year to pull the trig’ and dedicate most of his effort to being “in the band,” a decision described by Smith as being a “pivotal moment.” By the time his senior year rolled around, he had formed The Naked Truths (a precursor to Steve Smith and the Nakeds) and was ready to hit the scene running. They began touring up and down the East Coast, rocking 7 nights a week at colleges when the drinking age was 18. When it upped itself to 21 in 1984, they had to go down to only weekend nights and navigate the new world of the dry college campus.
“I remember playing Princeton University in the fieldhouse. This was a year after the drinking age turned 21,” Smith laughed. “We played to 20 people and it was a dry concert. The director came up to us and said, ‘You guys might as well pack up and leave, but if you want, go down to [Prospect Street] because there’s a keg party going on.’”
I instantly imagined a group of 10 or so mullet-sporting, talented young men racing down to get a solo cup, no idea where the road would take them but feeling, in that starry-eyed night, that it was going to be good.
“We always focus on the music. When you’re younger, alcohol becomes involved, women become involved, drugs become involved… These things are temptations, they’re easily acquired, and we’ve had guys leave the band because they’ve lost their focus on the music. We have a reputation that you’re going to see good music, and there’s no bullshit.” 50 years later, Steve Smith and the Nakeds are as intrinsic to RI as coffee milk and Iggy’s doughboys.
Steve Smith and the Nakeds are a show-stopping, foot-stomping, wreck of a time and the vast assortment of people at Steve’s shows will attest: from 70-year-old women to 16-year-old kids, parents and infants; from a man called “hop-scotch” (seriously), to people laughing, kissing, hugging and howlin’ at venues from beer-sticky floors to suit-and-tie gazebo-based affairs. It is an experience that encapsulates Rhode Island — an honest, genuine allure that truly is, to quote Smith, “No bullshit.”
Their consistent, athletic showmanship, larger-than-life attitude and frequent sweaty bare-chestedness has won the band renown in every corner of our state, throughout the region, and nationally – they are the only RI band to have appeared, in caricature, in Seth MacFarlane’s RI-based series Family Guy, and one of the few still-performing bands to be inducted into the RI Music Hall of Fame.
Next time (or the first time) you see Steve Smith and the Nakeds, and he roars “Hi Neighbor!” from the stage with a Narragansett can in hand, make sure to shout back “Howdy Neighbor!” and take a slug for our li’l corner of the world.
Steve Smith and the Nakeds celebrate their 50th anniversary at Cranston’s historic Park Theatre, with special guest appearances by The Cowsills and Family Guy Executive Producer (and Steve’s brother) Danny Smith, on Saturday, February 11, from 7pm – midnight.
Fields and Freedom: Youth sports deserve attention
August 1st is a holy day: part reunion, communion, and boot camp. The sun, peering from the sky. Waiting. Witnessing. Arms folded watching our boys march onto the barren fields, lined with bleachers and baby sisters. August 1st – the start of youth football season. I remember my son’s first summer. Sending him to the field was like seeing him off to college. His cleats, tied tightly against his chocolate skin. Helmet snug against his head. Behind the pads, this lengthy boy put down his video games to become an athlete.
I have the privilege of hovering between worlds. By day, I spend my time convincing people that the skills youth develop by practicing art extend far past what can be seen on a canvas. As a former football volunteer for the West Elmwood Intruders, I learned that sports can be just as transformative. Over the years, I’ve met many people who are responsible for this transformation. Pamela Huges, former president of the Mount Hope Cowboys, ran track for Hope Highschool and still holds multiple high school and college records, including a 38-year RI High School Girls Outdoor Long Jump Record. For her, running track was more than running fast. Track created opportunities for her to travel and compete. Pam understands that she and her Mount Hope staff create more than football teams: They create community.
Nadim Robinson is one of those staff members. As a Cowboys coach and founding director of Behind The Pads – Nadim views coaching as a way to practice his most sacred values. As a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths, “One of our main duties is to teach the babies,” says Nadim. “Everyone has their form of protest; an individual’s idea of how to change the world.” Changing the world starts with our youth. Behind the Pads is a youth travel league that elevates the value of discipline, structure, and teamwork – “If you’re signing up to play football, you’re signing up to block and tackle.” Nadim’s sentiment demonstrates the way football teaches youth to be accountable to themselves and others.
It’s also about the joy, which is so connected to not only our kids’ mental health but their life force. 10-year veteran coach Zayquan “Ziggy” Gadson of the West Elmwood Intruders gets it: “My favorite part of the job are the smiles we create. Those moments when a kid scores, makes a tackle or catch. Win or lose, the feeling lasts a lifetime.” Youth sports undoubtedly cultivate life skills. So why are youth sports organizations (YSO) so under-resourced? YSOs are independent of school system support; they’re lone non-profits. They have three streams of income – registration fees, sponsorships, and grassroots fundraisings. Staff are unpaid volunteers. There are very few grant opportunities, which is different from youth arts programs, whose operations are largely grant-funded. As workers, we are paid. On the other hand, YSO’s operational expenses are at the whim of a team’s ability to hustle, which often means passing the can at busy intersections. Lorenzo Perry – Cowboys coach and founding director of Game Day Fitness, a training arena for youth athletes, says lack of funding was the reason for diversifying how he approaches his work. “There was never any money. I eventually decided to start my own gym with a privately funded model.” Lorenzo believes his kids deserve more. Waiting for funding is not an option.
Working within the arts, I’ve come to understand:
People fund what they know about. Lack of public visibility impacts advocacy efforts. Pam recalls news outlets affirming that they “don’t cover youth sports,” but as soon as a far-from-flattering situation occurs, the cameras show up. “Where are they,” she asks, “when our kids go to Nationals?”
People fund what they care about. Does a country obsessed with competition really not care about youth sports? Or do they not care about the people playing them? Demographically, art organizations are heavily non-Black and attract families that come from more affluent backgrounds. However, the football field is filled with African Americans who have grown up in PVD and are underrepresented in formal leadership roles within our community. Does the difference in racial makeup explain the difference in care/funding?
People fund what other people fund. People are followers. We know this… but so are philanthropists. The more funding an organization has is often tied to how much more they can get. Maybe it’s the law of attraction? What does it mean when an organization has 0 dollars? Does zero keep attracting zeros? Lack of existing grant opportunities makes it harder to attract future funding, creating a perpetual cycle of little-tono support.
The bottom line is youth sports organizations, especially inner-city youth football, deserve our attention and investment.
This is not about pitting arts against sports. We should be investing in both. As both teaching artists and coaches, we know our work is much deeper than creating rock-star athletes and celebrity artists; it’s about supporting youth in becoming the best versions of themselves – a self that has the capacity to hold the challenges and beauty of life ahead. Let’s fund our youth, period. Our kids deserve it.
It’s On Us: An interview with Dewayne “Boo” Hackney
Dewayne “Boo” Hackney is a legendary community organizer, barber, father, husband, brother, musician, and so much more. His commitment to justice especially here in Providence cements his legacy as one of our City’s most Beloved Community heroes.
This piece is dedicated to my brother, Bucky. He paid the price of allowing me to do this work without complaining about not having time with me.
To my I.O.U. brothers: Gerard Catala, Pastor Sherrod Jones, Pastor Rah’D, Dennis Lassiter, Ray Watson aka Two Hawks, Brother Arthur Johnson, Brother Everett Muhammad, Brother Osiris Harrell, Brother Ray Smith, Terrell Osborne Jr. aka DJ Spin, Sterling Mousey Washington. And last, but certainly first, to my wife Kia Clement Hackney. I am incapable of adequately expressing the significance of your role.
Anjel Newmann (Motif): Who do you hail from?
Dewayne “Boo” Hackney: My roots are in Mississippi and Virginia. My dad is J.C. Thomas. My mother is Gloyce Hackney. They raised me as royalty and that started to permeate through the city, through the people. Everybody around me raised me. And I don’t mean “raised” me like my parents. I mean, they held me up. Kept me up. That gave me very few opportunities to fall off or be less than what I was supposed to be. There are places in PVD that we consider the “eyesores” of our city: in front of Dunkin’ on Broad Street; Central High School; McDonald’s. The people hanging outside those establishments have a history, a legacy, and played a role in protecting me. I have so many surrogate uncles that lived “that life.” A lot of my friends were some of the biggest hustlers, victims, and victimizers. I was in it, but never in it. Never smoking, never hustling, so when it came to me understanding my influence, I’m like, “I owe you.” I owe you a better and more powerful influence. Those letters (IOU) turned into, “IT’S ON US” because I want that culture to exist. I want us to be held accountable. I want us to not only take accountability, but for us not to look outside of ourselves for our solution and our salvation.
AN: What is It’s Hair?
DH: It’s Hair barbershop was always a space for everybody. We had priceless conversations there. My brother, Mike Hoston (rest in power) and I were co-owners. In many ways, It’s Hair was an extension of the Southside Boys and Girls Club. The ethics and etiquette that came out of that building came from Mr. Roosevelt “Bells” Benton, Ms. Beatrice, and all the other staff members. Ms. Doreen Dennis, we called “Auntie Dor,” and the rest of em, Kyle and Kobi Dennis came from there, Shawndell Burney-Speaks. All of us came from there. That’s what I hail from as well.
When our barbershop was on Broad Street next to Tony’s Meat Market, we had a sign that said, “No niggas in here, just brothers. “We drew the line on the term and how we would address one another. So we were either “mister” or “brother,” you know what I mean? And we weren’t elevating ourselves like we are “mister” because we’re older than you – we’re all “mister” because we are somebody and we’re going to put respectful titles on ourselves. We had mentees in there from high schools and middle schools that we would call “Mr.” whatever. Everybody was Mr. and Mrs. It became a way of life. We set the tone with “Peace.” That’s not a “hip-hop” term. That’s greetings. Like, we’re opening up with peace.
I also hail from Minister Farrakhan, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. All of that was in the barbershop. Farrakhan said the names Muslim, Christian, and Jew were just labels that separate the family of God and I saw the names South Side, East Side, and Chad Brown as labels that separated the families of Providence. That understanding allowed me to connect with my Christian family. It allowed me to put a group of accountability partners together – myself, Mr. Kev McNeil, Mr. Kev Saunder, Mr. Joey Gomez, Bold Island Troopers – using Its Hair as the home base.
I’ve given young men their first haircut and if, unfortunately, they get murdered at 18, their family asks me to give them their last haircut at the funeral parlor. Nine times outta 10, I’ve been cutting the person who killed them as well. So I have like a 20-year relationship with these young men on both sides of the gun. We used It’s Hair as a mediation center. We stopped a lot of murders. We’d have brothers who had murder beef, and we would set up a date to bring those guys there. Its Hair was the safe haven. Guys would leave their weapons outside. Sometimes we had to take drastic measures to the point where we would suspend a whole crew or a whole block. We lost a lot of money just off of responsible suspensions, but we saved a lot of lives.
AN: What was it like to move on to that next phase of your life?
DH: I ran into a brother yesterday, whom I haven’t seen in 10 years. He was like, “I’m angry with you.” I’m like, “What’s the matter?” He said, “You closed the barbershop. You guys were the Black Pillar. You left us.” But like Deion Sanders said, “I left the Black school. I didn’t leave Black people.” I had a strategic second phase of my life orchestrated. As a people, we are in such despair that any symbol of hope, we latch onto it and we hold it sacred. We think that the symbol is ours. That’s why we get so emotional when that symbol transitions when that symbol is called to do other things or more on different levels. As that “symbol,” it’s painful to be restricted when you’re supposed to be doing so much.
I never disconnected from my people. I wanted to be a symbol of freedom. I wanted to show everybody you can just bust a move and jump in another lane. I even went to grief counseling as part of this move. I needed a break from the 24-hour access, open-door policy. Someone could just come through the shop and be like, “Yo, my son just got shot,” or, “The cops just beat up my nephew.” Never ever tired of that work but also telling myself 20 years ago, “I’m too valuable to be unorganized.” Transitioning was about playing fair with my family. They submitted and supported all throughout my journey. They weren’t gonna ask me to stop. So I needed to be the man, make the move, and acquiesce to their interests.
When my daughter was 11, I said, “I’m gonna turn my phone off for two weeks and just be with the family.” She said, “Dad, if MLK turned his phone off, you think we’d be where we’re at right now?” I said, “Damn. She understands.” But she didn’t understand the cost that she and her brother were gonna pay. Dad might not be home at 3AM cause he might be running to the emergency room. He might be with the Nation of Islam taking shooters to DC, which we did. Southside and East Side crews. Took them to DC for the anniversary of the Million Man March. Rival members sharing seats with each other.
People also didn’t understand my paranoia. Nipsey was literally dedicated to his hood when he was killed in front of his business. People were inboxing me like, “Mr. Boo, I know that would never happen to you. The hood got too much love for you.” They don’t know that I never slept on the possibility. Maybe it’s PTSD – in this case, PRE-traumatic stress disorder; like the anticipation, because of the environment that we’re in. I would always look both ways when I came out of the barbershop. I don’t park my car nose in. All of these things were necessary steps for me to make the transition to what I’m doing right now.
AN: What are your future hopes for our Beloved Community here in Providence?
DH: I hope we end up in a better place, not heaven, but heaven on Earth. As we create and contribute to the hell on Earth, create and contribute to heaven on Earth, on a tangible, visible level. Some of the stuff I’ve been working on are the aesthetics of the city, inclusive neighborhoods, for example, the red, black, and green stripes on Ms. Rosa Parks Boulevard. We have to start seeing ourselves. You never know what’s going to turn on the “Malcolm” in you. The “Serena” in you. The extra extraordinary in you.
I definitely wanna see policy change, but we have to be a part of it. We’ve been beaten down so much, that we’ve perfected the art of complaining about organizations from the outside, so that’s why I chose to join the board of directors of the Nonviolence Institute and the NAACP, and do some things on a city level like being a member of the African American Ambassadors group. I’ve always had a super active relationship with my council people, cause I understand that they’re really the president of your daily life.
I also hope that we always remain hopeful. Never fold. And we don’t. It’s not in our DNA. I have so many pillars of my thinking. Lil Wayne said, “This is my theme park, so what should I scream for?” Like, I own this. I gotta have that mindset. I come from God. I hail from God. Nas says, “As long as I’m breathing, I’m winning.” Jay-Z says, “Never let ‘em see you frown, even smile when you’re down.” Denzel in Training Day; when it was all said and done, was found to be a dirty cop. Lost all the money. His cover – blown. All shot up. Car flipped over 30, 40 times. Dying… and he’s patting his chest, patting his body – and it looks like he’s counting how many times he’s been shot, but he’s only looking for his lighter. He burns a cigarette like, “Shit! I’m winning anyway, I can’t lose.” These are the pillars of my thinking. I can’t lose. I literally can’t lose. So it’s just that type of thing. Us knowing who we are. I hope we know who we are, you know what I mean?
Guest Editor Anjel Newmann was recently a featured performer in Bliss Body, an experimental performance at Everett Theater and School in PVD, along with Christopher Johnson, Ari Brisbon and Grace Colonna. She talked about the piece and its impact with both makers and audience:
“Struggle is a part of it.” In some ways, this is the production. A single line that encapsulates the entirety. This line has become a sort of mantra for our cast. It comes from a longer Bliss Body poem where Christopher Johnson illustrates his journey through meditation, a practice that started 13 years ago. “Seeing Christopher finally being able to talk about his meditative practice instead of talking about his response to racism was such a beautiful growth space for me,” said April Brown, writer and co-director of the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading Committee. Brown was in the audience on the last Sunday of our 11-show run. As we reflected, she said that it’s evident that the cast discovered a Divine Practice. “That’s the genius of us having the arts. We actually get an opportunity to show our humanity by singing, dancing, writing, acting on a stage, and being vulnerable, and there’s something about a spiritual practice that involves those same components and pieces.”
April is right. This production is much more than a performance — it’s a journey back to who we were. The creative process is a shovel that helps us uncover and pull out pieces, limbs, fragments of ourselves that were buried deep beneath the sands of time. A cave of wonders. Every rehearsal, we practiced meditation and yoga as a way to teleport into our untapped truths; a place that resides within each of us, like an underwater garden hidden far beneath the surface. Bliss Body was created from that garden. For a year and a half, Creative Director Aaron Jungles and our cast worked to understand the meaning of Bliss.
Two years prior, Everett Company Stage and School, the creators of Bliss Body, dedicated an entire production to exploring trauma, even bringing in a therapist to work with the cast. As the newest edition, the most recent Bliss Body was meant to be a pilgrimage back, away from trauma, but as we danced, sang, meditated, remembered more — there was Christopher’s reminder, “Struggle is a part of it.” April says that there is something about our piece that elevates the “dysfunctional aspects of who we are as people and with our bodies” and that our efforts model what it looks like to get that dysfunction out of our bodies, “like this illustration of body betrayal.”
I think the audience can relate to that summation. Night after night, they reflected back gratitude for the complex layering of not only our personal stories but the dips and pulls of emotion. The piece has a way of positioning dark melancholy memories against other bright, almost manic instances of pure elation. Some say that what we created is a microcosm of life itself – demonstrating the highs and lows of a universal human experience. Together we offer the ingredients of a storm — pressure, cold and hot air, clouds, water – all hovering, swirling above the heads of both performer and audience.
April pointed out that the soundtrack of this production is so undeniably jazz, which she loves. And considering the juxtaposed themes of motherhood, racial disparity, celebration, spirituality, and even suicidality, who better than the likes of Coltrane and Simone to provide the backdrop for such a tumultuous ride through the past? April felt deeply connected to Ari’s pieces, many of which were crafted and performed with a jazzy, smooth-guy aesthetic. Even as he reflected on prior NA meetings, the creatively humorous nature of his presentation made his recollections relatable and digestible.
Grace’s work carried a graceful feel. As she danced, whether with cloth, a box or a ladder, she unpacked her journey of self-love, which in some ways seems to have prepared her to be the loving mother, dance teacher, and community member she is today.
My own pieces explored elements ranging from my hair, the origins of my name and what it means to have both love and smoke with your 16-year-old daughter, who is a living representation of all the pain in bliss in the world. My mother was also a muse for my dark and dramatic ending piece, “Night Goddess.”
On the stage, our stories pour down and somewhere in the overlap between pain and promise, a rainbow emerges. A stand-in for Bliss. This moment can be experienced but never kept. Bliss is not ours to have, it is ours to behold and to let go. “Bliss is really about several things,” said April. “It’s about the breath but it’s also about centering my mind… it has a lot to do with being able to get my thoughts out of my head and into my body or into my mouth.” When I asked April what she thought people would take away from this show, she said, “It’s important for us to be humans that are well. What I saw were four individuals trying to be well, attempting to be well, working at being well, and having these moments where you discovered wellness and trying to keep that… and that is bliss.”
Each cast member has evolved our understanding and relationship to “Bliss.” It’s no longer something we chase, it’s something we thank. Every time she shows herself, we inhale her, and then in one big exhale, we send her back to the universe from which she came.