All That Jazz: Our expert tells you the can’t miss sets at Newport Jazz Fest
It has been a long time for jazz fans to wait, but we are finally nearing the date when the historic Newport Jazz Festival will make its triumphant return to Fort Adams on July 30. For those who haven’t purchased your tickets yet there is still time but as we get closer and this incredible lineup looms on the horizon, I’d expect those available spots to tighten up, especially considering the reduced capacity for health and safety protocols. I’m excited for a smaller festival that will hark back to the early years of the festival and should make for some intimate performances. Though it may look and feel different from previous years, I’m thrilled to see what the Festival has in store for us all, so I wanted to highlight a few sets that I’m looking forward to experiencing.
There are a few obvious sets and musicians that you’re going to want to check out like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and Christian McBride. Anything that any of those three are a part of will be jammed with festival goers and for good reason. The sets of Yola and Mavis Staples — who are both crossing over with the Folk Fest — are not to be missed, as well as Andra Day’s closing set on Sunday. For the rest of your day, try to explore some of the musicians you may not be as familiar with, and since there are only two stages this year, catching larger portions of their performances should be more manageable.
Friday is going to be a day of heavy grooves including a set by guitarist Cory Wong, perhaps best known for his involvement with the sensational band Vulfpeck, but who has developed a widely praised solo career as of late. Chicago-based drummer Makaya McCraven will be leading his own ensemble through a set of interwoven grooves and beats inspired by hip-hop and spiritual jazz. And make sure you check out The Arturo O’Farrill Quintet, lead by pianist O’Farrill, who will bring Cuban and Latin rhythms to round out the day’s feast of grooves.
So far Saturday is the only sold-out day, but considering the stacked line-up, it’s easy to see why. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will bring the fun, vitality and history of NOLA to close out the day at the Fort, but before that, be sure to check out whatever project trumpeter Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah will be bringing as it will absolutely be the talk of the festival. If you need a primer for his music, check out the album Axiom, which was recorded live before the pandemic shutdown and released in 2020. After watching the Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science Tiny Desk concert that NPR released in early March last year, I am bubbling with anticipation to see what kind of artistry this group has in store.
As with all good things, there must eventually be an end, and this year’s Sunday line-up is one for the ages. First of all, who needs any other reason to go than the presence of the legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd? But if you’re looking for more, do yourself a favor and lookup the line-up for the The Jazz Gallery All-Stars set, which will feature a roster of contemporary jazz All Stars. I’m intrigued to check out David Oswald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, who I’m sure will be bringing the love and appreciation of not only Satchmo’s legacy, but a nice taste of the history of this musical form to their set.
Bring lots of sunscreen, a water bottle and good walking shoes so you can fully enjoy what this year has to offer. Hope to see you all at the Fort!
Newport Jazz Festival takes place at July 30 – Aug 1 at Fort Adams in Newport. For information regarding health & safety protocols and requirements, please visit newportjazz.org, where you will also find links to tickets, schedules, vendor lists and more.
Jazz Insights: Joe Holtzman
Rhode Island’s veteran drummer Joe Holtzman stills pats the snare and bass drums in greater Providence. In 1954, while growing up in South Carolina, Holtzman joined The Brooklyn-Cayce Marching Band. After a few beginners lessons, he taught himself the basic artform of drumming, began winning drum competitions and joined The All-State Band.
In Junior High School, he and his brother began performing professionally with country and rock-and-roll bands. They also worked on early television with a country-western group.
When Holtzman’s family moved to Rhode Island, he entered Central High School and began taking musical lessons from young trombonist Harold Crook and young trumpeter Paul Philips and Yank Ragosta. For many years Joe has performed regularly with local and regionally talented musicians and groups. His preferences in music has always been into jazz, the “oldies” and the wonderful American Songbook.
Joe Holtzman’s professional rhythm is still remembered throughout his on-going preforming career.
Providence Art Revolt: A summer celebration of art, music and community
On July 24, from 3pm until midnight, Providence Art Revolt will take over Revival Brewing in PVD.
The idea for Art Revolt came from the three co-hosts of the local podcast Providence Leftist Radio. It’s a political podcast that never hosts politicians. Rather it hosts local mutual aid organizations in hopes of helping them connect to like-minded listeners. The Providence Leftist Radio hosts wondered if they could bring this type of connection into the art world.
“We wanted to host an event where people could get together and appreciate the art that’s coming out of our community,” said Art Revolt organizer and Providence Leftist Radio co-host Alex Herbert. “People buy art for their walls all the time, but my question is: If you really want to support your community, why not display a piece from a local artist?”
Art Revolt will allow people to do just that. Ten local artists will have their work displayed and available for purchase at the event. In addition to the artists displaying their work, there will be vendor tables and food trucks, and bands will play all afternoon into the night. “The point of Art Revolt is to celebrate art from the community, and the vendors, musicians, even the food is a type of local art,” said Herbert.
Will this become an annual event? “We’ll see how Saturday goes,” said Herbert. “The enthusiasm has been really cool. The vendors, musicians, sponsors and artists are really excited. And as long as the community-funded and community-oriented aspect of it remains, I don’t see why we couldn’t do this year after year.”
Art Revolt takes starts at 3pm at Revival Brewery, 50 Sims Ave, PVD. Gallery artists include Derek Raymond, Vickie Smalls, Still Hear, Dsfcult Dopesicksf, Doodle in Your Head, Marius Marjolin, Hell Dweller, Gostgod, Anobelist and Wormo. Performing musicians include Dirty Mushrooms (in their first ever performance!), Baby Baby, Burr, Darklands, Bochek, DJ For All Masters, John Prince, Von the General and Satin Suede. For more info, go to fb.com/plrpod or @plrpod.
Between the Notes: Becky Bass talks steel drums with local nerd at The Parlour
Becky Bass is a talented percussionist and vocalist from the US Virgin Islands. She appears on this segment of Between the Notes with a musical version of the tropical escape you’ve likely been craving. Between her talents with steel drums and the smooth tenor of her voice, her musical style will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the world.
Here is an excerpt of her conversation with Motif’s publisher Mike Ryan about the history of the steel drums and how they came to be:
Mike Ryan: How did you get into music?
Becky Bass: I was born and raised in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, so that’s home. And at a young, ripe age of 2 years old, I was taught by my father to play the steel pan. “Steel pan” is the more authentic term for it. I know people have also called it “steel drums,, but steel pan is the authentic term. My father is also a musician, and he’s still playing down in St. Croix at the young age of 80 years old.
MR: What does he play? Does he also play steel pan?
BB: He plays the steel pan but there are actually a lot of different types of steel pans. This one that I play is called a tenor pan. The lowest note is middle C, and it has a range of about two octaves and some change. And all notes – all keys, major, minor, can do literally anything you want. And then my father plays the double tenor – so he actually plays two. And they’re actually set up very differently. The thicker the skirt, the bigger the notes are, and the lower the tone the instrument has. So this is considered the lead pan. Which is why it has all those higher notes so I can try to get through.
MR: Well I noticed during your performance, that there were certain techniques you were using to either dull the sound, or not. Because obviously when you are playing with different melodies, there are all different choices you have to make. Note-wise, but in terms of the timber, messing with the steel pan, what is it you’re doing? Just so I can get some of that nerdiness out of me – I got a million questions about it!
BB: I love it! So it’s actually one of the youngest acoustic instruments made today. I can play it without a microphone, and it can still be very clearly heard. And so, if you hit it – there’s little depressions. In between those, if you hit them, there will be no sound at all. But if you hit them right in the middle, that’s where the tone comes from. And depending on how hard or soft you hit it that can determine the tamber. So different techniques I use would be rolling, which you can hear if I stay on one note *mimics trill noise*. Or there’s just hitting, and if I hit it hard, there will be more of a sharpness. But then if I hit it soft, there’s more of that rounded, beautiful, lullaby tone. And there’s no harshness; no sharpness. It’s really how you play the instrument, and it’s literally all in the wrist. Depending on how – you never wanna hit it too hard. The smaller the notes, the harder you have to hit it for a certain sound to come out.
MR: That is so cool! Now when you said that it’s one of the youngest acoustic instruments, what did you mean by that?
BB: So, it requires no microphone (technically). When I’m with a band – sure. Or in this case, since there’s music playing, it’s good to be supported. But it was created and formed, I believe, in the fifties. So it’s that young, and it’s created from fifty-five gallon oil drums. That’s kind of how it came to be. There’s a long history for it. It was created in Trinidad and Tobago, and became a replacement for drums, since drums were taken away from Africans that were brought over and enslaved. So they found another way to communicate, using scrap metals on the island, and they found the fifty-five gallon oil drum. And from there, just started to morph and morph into what you see today.
Between the Notes: Netflix and spill with Rather Nice
Rather Nice is an indie pop band made up of some rather talented musicians. Joe Johnson leads the pack with vocals and rhythm guitar, supported by lead guitarist extraordinaire Mike Tenreiro, with Nick Reagan holding the beat down on bass, Oliver Littlefield rocking out on drums, and Carlos Fragoso adding sonic texture on trumpet. Together, they blend sweet melodies with clever lyrics that sound like sunshine on a mild summer day.
For their segment of the Between The Notes podcast with Motif , they talked about where they get their inspiration as a band, and how they like to let the audience get in on the fun!
Motif: So what is your writing process like? Is it collaborative?
Rather Nice (Joe Johnson): The first EP was a lot of my stuff that I had written, but after Mike (Tenreiro) joined, it became more collaborative. He’s like a genius music producer and stuff. He didn’t tell me to say that – don’t worry! He only implied it. With his creative energy coming to the band, it really brought us to life. “Zoinked” is one of our favorite [songs] to play, and it kind of just happened by accident while we were playing at practice one day. “Her Mom” was made kind of in collaboration with the fans. We had a sweepstakes thing where if someone recorded a cover of themselves and sent it to us, they could win the ability to have a video chat with us. We always say we’re going to write a song in that time, and we always do. I don’t really know how the story started, but we were thinking “a dude is in high school, and he meets this really pretty girl. But that’s lame, so what’s a cool caveat?” So we made him really attracted to her seventy-year-old mom. So that’s the song, and it’s good. It’s not like the other song you’re thinking of! Don’t think that.
Motif: Who would you cite as major inspirations?
JJ: Boy Pablo, Hippo Campus. Mike and I kind of listen to the exact same people.
Mike Tenreiro: My inspiration for “Thai Food” came from the Backstreet Lovers. Backstreet Lovers, if you’re watching this, we love you. Also Mickey Darling, we love you.
JJ: It helps when half the band is only interested in one genre, so we can copy that genre. And that’s kind of how it works. The rest of them are like – Oliver, you can explain.
Oliver Littlefield: Yeah it’s good that we all have similar, but also very different genres of taste. Like Joe and Mike said, they like the same type of stuff where I’m on the complete opposite spectrum. I like metal, funk, soul, and all that type of stuff. And we hope to eventually bring an EP that would be silky on the ears.
JJ: Oliver’s really different from us; he got a tattoo, so we’re kind of scared of him.
OL: Yeah they don’t know me.
JJ: I don’t know him anymore; he’s totally changed. I don’t know what happened; must’ve been the Internet. Oh and Nick listens to videogame soundtracks.
Motif: So what other kinds of stuff do you draw on for inspiration? Besides Netflix and pee?
JJ: That’s about it! That’s 90% of it. Honestly, some of the songs we put on the set were written with an audience, and the audience gave us the idea of a relationship that’s kind of open-ended, on the rocks. So that’s where “Loose Ends” came from. And then I kind of think for “Her Mom,” we kind of took the conversation away from her [an audience member]. She was like “Oh yeah, this guy is gonna be in love with a girl, and we were like, “No! The girl’s mom!” But she dug the concept. Then sometimes, it’s just playing around with chords. We’ll play around with chords and then be like, “This sounds nice, what can we make with this?” Then we’ll think of something random and it just sometimes works. That’s what “Zoinked” was. It was just us being like “Ooh, okay!” And then just going off of that. But mostly, Netflix and pee.
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
Roots Report: Puff Puff, I’ll Pass: Music should be the only thing smoking
Okee dokee folks… This bit is going to annoy 14% of you folks. Who are these 14%? Smokers! Because I haven’t been many places in the past year and a half, I haven’t really had to deal with cigarette smoke, but now that things are opening back up I again have to contend with this vile scourge. When I started performing publicly in the mid-’80s, people smoked just about everywhere. Back then you were even still allowed to smoke on planes. In addition to playing solo gigs I was a bartender. When I came home from slinging drinks or a gig I would reek of cigarette smoke. It permeated everything — my clothes, my body, my music gear, even the money I made. I took a hiatus from performing to produce for a while, and by the time I got back to gigging again smoking had been banned indoors. But now that the pandemic and summer have pushed a lot of shows outdoors, the smoking issue is a bit unclear. Folks figure that if you are outside it is okay to smoke. Rhode Island prohibits smoking in public places and people smoking are supposed to be at least 20 feet away from the entrance of any business, but it seems like no one pays attention to this. Most large, outdoor concert venues do not allow any smoking, so why do the local nightclubs? Well, smokers tend to drink.
You would think after the pandemic that maybe fewer people would be smoking and everyone would take better care of their lungs. Smokers, please be courteous to the majority of people in the world who do not smoke; let us breathe clean air and take your pollution elsewhere. Here are some lyrics for you from the 1947 song,”Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” written by Merle Travis and Tex Williams, “Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette, Puff, puff, puff and if you puff yourself to death, Tell Saint Peter at the golden gate, Lord, you hate to make him wait,You gotta have another cigarette!” Please do us all a favor and quit. Read on…
A lot of you may know Rick Couto as drummer of Rhode Music Hall of Fame bands Rizzz and the Schemers, but did you know he was an amazing photographer who documented lots of RI concerts and musicians in the ’70s and ’80s? The pandemic gave Rick time to go through his immense collection of photos, and the culmination of this is a virtual exhibit by the Narrows in Fall River called To Have Been There. To view, snap over to NarrowsCenter.org/to-have-been-there-video-exhibition. The accompanying drum music is a Couto original called “The Other Other One.”
A couple of the photos in the Couto exhibit are of John Hall (Orleans, John Hall Band, and former US Congressman). He is best known for his songs “Still The One” and “Dance With Me” as well as the No-Nukes Concerts/Musicians United For Safe Energy. John Hall is a Providence [Rhode Island] Folk Festival alumnus and one of the musicians/people I most admire. His 1981 “Crazy” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Hall just released his 6th solo CD called Reclaiming My Time. Check out the video for the oh-so-timely song “World on Fire”: youtube.com/watch?v=qgc7yc3MFoI. For more, “Power” over to JohnHallMusic.com.
The Bacon Brothers are coming to the Greenwich Odeum on July 16. Believe it or not, you can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with me. I played a show with the Bacon Brothers years back and according to Kevin, that counts. I spoke with Kevin Bacon the other day and you can read our interview at motifri.com/kevinbacon.
A Different Beat: The Providence Drum Troupe takes it to the bridge
I spoke to David Lee Black (founder/photographer) and Jamie Lyn Bagley (performer/marketing and collaboration consultant) of the Providence Drum Troupe. The troupe uses drums to bring people together in joyful spirit and to connect in a meaningful way, and when I met them, I felt like I had been introduced to a magical group of humans. I was lucky enough to interview them as they embark on the adventure of creating space for performers and audience alike to be our whole selves and to heal through the cleansing power of a drumbeat.
Mayté Antelo-Ovando(Motif): What is the troupe and how did it come about?
David Lee Black: The Providence Drum Troupe (PDT) was born from the pandemic. We combined percussion, dancers, street performers and the healing arts to activate a space with positive interactive energy and demonstrate that living in harmony with one another is not an antiquated notion. I initially invited my musician and visual art friends to gather and simply play, not unlike a childhood playdate. PDT organically grew from there. Knowing that bureaucracy kills creativity, we have only one rule, “Don’t be annoying.”
MA-O: What’s your vision or utmost hope for the group?
DLB: As the public interest, gigs and bookings continue to grow, the vision for PDT remains simple: Connecting creative forces for the greatest good.
MA-O: Jaime mentioned that you rehearse/perform at the pedestrian bridge every Thursday. Is there a specific reason to use that location?
DLB: In early 2021, PDT realized the timing was perfect to create our own vision featuring our unique brand. [We] created our own vibrant art scene at the Michael Van Leesten Memorial Pedestrian Bridge. Taking it to the bridge is perfect for the troupe to perform and for the public to interact. Michael Van Leesten was a visionary African American leader and civil rights activist who provided leadership in pursuit of economic and social justice for the citizens of Rhode Island. He also was a friend of the arts. We are honored to play at such a poignant place.
MA-O: How did you become involved with PDT, Jaime?
Jaime Lyn Bagley: Okay, are you ready for just a little story?
M: I love story!
JLB: It’s been important to me to do things that bring me joy. And one of the things that brings me joy is singing. Another thing is singing with my drum, and taking my drum and my voice and bringing it to the water as a form of prayer. I get to connect with the water, I get to sing. I create songs, I just improvise. It’s just something between the water and me. It’s become like a form of connection and meditation for me. So I go where I feel called to be. And one night, I went by the pedestrian bridge. I’m sitting by the water by the bridge, and I’m playing my drum and I’m singing. And [I met someone who] said, “Hey, there is this group of drummers here sometimes.” So they entered my awareness. Then the next time I show up, again, feeling called to be there, I’m singing, I’m with my drum, there are a couple people watching me, and this man walks by and he [says], “I heard you playing from down the way a bit. We’re with a drum troupe, and you’re invited to join us at 6:30 tonight.” David Lee black — that was him. He invited me to just go and join them because he heard me playing my drum. And so, I joined and then they invited me back and it’s, you know, you take the step. That first step to do something that brings you joy, because you know that you need to right?And then that’s what happens.
MA-O: So much goodness in what you just said.
JLB: Yeah. That’s kind of everything right now. Because people are like, well, what’s my purpose? And how do I feel fulfilled? And how do I find my tribe? And it’s a matter of, “Hey, you can even go back to childhood. What did you love?” I’ve always loved singing. And now I have this big group of people that feel like family. And we perform together, and it’s so much fun. We make people happy. And it’s just us showing up as ourselves.
MA-O: Right, seems so simple and yet…
JLB: So simple, because there’s alignment there. So other people feel it. You were at a show. How did it make you feel?
MA-O: When I was there that day, to be really honest with you, I was a little bit nervous, just because everything is new right now. And sort of navigating going into crowds of people still feels tricky. But I loved it. I thought it was great and I could feel the community in it. And I also thought it was really interesting when I first walked up. Someone at the back of the crowd did some sort of a chanting or singing at the very beginning and it sounded kind of tribal and beautiful.
JLB: That was Rock Paint. He has Indigenous roots, and he brings that — we call it, you know, his medicine. We are a mix [of people]. He’s got Indigenous roots and it’s a very spiritual [and] native thing with him. And my background is a little bit different, but I fully dig what he brings to the table.
MA-O: I wasn’t expecting it, which I think is the reason that I was like, “Oh, I love that.”
JLB: And that’s exactly what we needed that night, because you came on the night of the eclipse. And so, people were being thrown. I mean, even internally in our group, there were people that were like, “I’m kind of low energy tonight, but I’m going to show up.” My dad had just been brought to the hospital. So, I was trying to hold it together. We’re all just kind of holding it together. And then there’s Rock Paint grounding everybody to do this. We [don’t] necessarily have a formula. [Things] morph. When something works, we tend to keep it. So that might be something that we keep, you know, his sort of starting with that grounding.
MA-O: I’ve only seen you all once, so of course take this with a grain of salt, but I like the idea of some sort of a ritual that begins the process. Is there a set vision for what you’re bringing together?
JLB: Alright. I like to think in terms of limitlessness. And when there’s alignment, and you’ve got people who are like, “Wow, yeah, we’re not going to limit this — it’s Providence.” But Providence also has a really cool definition, right? It doesn’t necessarily stand only for the capital of Rhode Island. It’s being provided for, having foresight, destiny, fate. There are so many good definitions for the word providence, it’s perfect. Our vision is just that we continue to keep it a representation of unity — different worlds coming together for the greatest good, and it’s inclusive. There’s something magical about, like, “Hey, I’m gonna bring what I bring to the table, and others do the same.” And then we do have … I’ll call them actual drummers, right? You have some people that show up as percussionists. But then some people are actual trained drummers who have been drumming in bands for a very long time. Like John Cote (aka Cocktail Cote). He’s the musical director. It’s basically his job to keep everything tight, to keep the sound tight, when we’re doing actual songs. So, David and I, our vision is to maintain the purity of what this is because so easily something like this can turn bureaucratic. It can turn into something where someone has to take control, and then it just kind of falls apart where it gets too big, and then it stops being like a tight-knit family, or it stops being special, or it stops resonating. He and I both see this as being an activator for not only creativity, but freedom. My personal mission is to help activate people to greater depth. It’s like, I am I’m activating your personal freedom. Your yes means yes, your no means no. We’re just at a time where, you know, you step into that personal power. And the drum is such a good way to connect to your own heartbeat, to get back in the body…
MA-O: Yeah. Speaking again of the grounding.
JLB: Yes, yes. It does ground. And sound has the ability to take things away with it. And I see what we do as clearing. And so, we show up to the river on Thursday night, and that’s our rehearsal. It’s also a performance. We’re not getting paid. We do collect tips that go to upgrading our equipment, maybe helping somebody get to the rehearsal because they don’t have a ride. We’re not making money on Thursday night, we’re just there to rehearse, [and] it becomes a performance. And we’re clearing gunk, you know? If you show up, it’s almost like, you need it, whether you know it or not, and it doesn’t feel like healing. It feels like a party.
MA-O: Yeah, it feels like joy.
JLB: It feels like joy. And that’s what it feels like to be making the sound, making the music with everybody.
MA-O: You are also marketing yourselves as a performance group?
JLB: Yes. So, we just did an event for Haus of Codec at Dexter park. A group of us went and we had about an hour of time, and we performed for the community that was there. We’re going to be opening for Fringe Fest on July 19 at WaterFire Arts Center. That’s also part of our vision is to be able to [provide] entertainment. [Though] what we do is beyond entertainment. It’s very activating. And so, I think PDT is less of a business right now and more just kind of [a group] organically becoming what it’s becoming. And we’re not limiting that.
MA-O: Love that. So you’re still in the process of becoming. It’s not something that’s already defined, it’s like you said, limitless.
JLB: Yeah. And I think you get that, even personally at this time, it’s important for each of us to kind of feel that way about ourselves and to be open to becoming. Because you know, you have this, you may have this idea of what you want or who you want to be. But like, maybe there’s this other thing that’s inside and it just wants to kind of come out and play. And it wants to be listened to.
MA-O: What if somebody wants to be a part of you?
JLB: We encourage [people] to come check us out on a Thursday night. So, if they’ve only heard about us, but haven’t seen us, come check us out! For example, I have a girlfriend of mine who heard about us. And she came last Thursday when you were there. She had a great time. And then [asked], how do I become a part of this? And so, she spoke with David [and he told her to] come back. She’s a dancer. We’ve got people who dance, we’ve got people who play drums, we have people who like to hula hoop. That’s a great question, because I feel like more people want to be a part of this. David, is the contact person [for those interested].
MA-O: I feel like that’s an invitation to experience it, rather than to just talk about it or see pictures of it. It doesn’t substitute for the actual experience of being there.
JLB: That’s it. People remember how you make them feel, right? So, you remember how you felt when you were there. And what you felt when you left. And we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback [from] people who maybe weren’t having a great day, and then they came, and then they felt good. And they’re like, wow, I’m so glad I came. And you don’t get that unless you’re actually there.
MA-O: Absolutely. Well, and I think, both as performers and then as people that are receiving performances… as everyone is sort of coming out… things are getting easier to access and people are now coming out and having experiences together. It definitely feels like community in that space. And everybody just seemed so friendly, and into it. It’s a nice way to gather.
JLB: It is a nice way to gather. And then sometimes a child comes up, you know, at the right moment, and there’s my drum, and they [play]. It’s community and it’s connecting with community. And not calling it a community event. You know, I like to call it bridge night, or like, hey, it’s when we take it to the bridge. There’s something even about the word bridge, you’re bridging people. [Being there] definitely feels intentional. That bridge itself holds significance. And just being on the water, too, with the smokestacks in the background, and the other bridge in the background. It’s just quintessential, it’s Providence.
MA-O: Is there anything else you want to say about the troupe about your experience?
JLB: What is valuable to [share] — it’s that the drum is the heartbeat. And I think we feel it. One of the drummers, Micaiah, he tells people that drumming is therapy. And so once you’re done, you’re done. It doesn’t matter how you play, or like how well you play, right? Just that you’ve played, and now your therapy is over. And so, I guess I encourage people to come experience it, and then maybe pick up a drum themselves. Don’t be afraid to turn a barrel upside down, and [play]. It’s rhythm, it’s grounding. If people can connect to something that brings them joy now, or finding their tribe, or even like, “Hey! Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit, and do that thing that brings you joy that you can do anywhere.” Maybe it’s painting, and maybe you want to do it outside by a tree in the park. And then you go one day to paint by the tree in the park, and someone walks up to you. And that starts a conversation that takes you somewhere else, you know, you start very small. And you just never know.
MA-O: Yes. Oh, I love that. That gave me chills.
JLB: Your tribe finds you wherever you are. I used to think that I didn’t have tribe in Rhode Island. I’ve been here for so long. My tribe isn’t here. The alignment piece, I felt like I was missing. I felt I had to be somewhere else. So, I planned to be out west as an actor. I’m like, I’m gonna move. Something kept saying, “Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.” And then my tribe found me, you know? Because I put myself in that. I allowed them to find me.
For more information, go to providencedrumtroupe.com or follow Providence Drum Troupe @theprovidencedrumtroupe
Keep on Moving: Blunt Narratives: Rock photographer makes it look like child’s play
Richard’s Rock & Roll Alphabet
Like most good and bad ideas, the genesis of the new book Richard’s Rock & Roll Alphabet happened in a bar — Patrick’s Pub to be exact. It was there that Robert Blunt asked renowned photographer Richard McCaffrey if he had photographs of musicians that spanned the entire alphabet Blunt’s idea was to use the photographs as a teaching tool for his young niece, Isabelle, to learn the alphabet and associate letters with amazing artists. One drink led to another photograph and the next thing you know, Blunt and McCaffrey had the ingredients to compile a pretty sweet book. Blunt designed and wrote the descriptions while McCaffrey unearthed the goods taken from his years freelancing for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Creem and others outlets in the 1970s and ’80s. The photos appear alphabetically in the book with a few different artists for each letter. Some of my favorite photos in the book are Stevie Nicks in 1976, B.B. King at San Quentin Prison with a guard patrolling the prison wall in the background, The Kinks in 1976, Thin Lizzy in 1977, Sly Stone at the then Palace Theater (now Providence Performing Arts Center) in 1973 and the Ramones in 1978. There are some serious gems here, and the music historian in me appreciates Blunt’s narratives.
The book is out now as a limited edition release. Blunt and McCaffrey are having a couple of book signings where you can get your signed copy and ask McCaffrey what it was like seeing Aerosmith in Newport in 1973 or about the last “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” Sex Pistols show at Winterland in 1978. Here are those deets!
July 10: Round Again Records, 278 Wickenden St, PVD. 2 – 4pm
July 10: POP Emporium of Popular Culture, 219 W Park St, PVD. 5 – 7pm
Healing Arts in the Park: Making Music with Mark Cutler
Rhode Island Music Hall of Famer Mark Cutler is hosting a free collaborative songwriting project throughout July and August at 7pm. Much like Cutler’s The Same Thing Project, this is open to all. People are encouraged to bring instruments, but it is by no means required. The July sessions will take place on Thursdays at Roger Williams National Memorial, 282 N. Main St, in downtown Providence. Register by emailing email@example.com or visit www.thesamethingproject.com for more information. In August the sessions will remain on Thursdays at 7pm, but will move to Slater Mill, 67 Roosevelt Ave, in Pawtucket. I’m excited to give this a try!
The Autocrats bring the funk-fueled dance party every Wednesday till the apocalypse and/or the next plague at Askew in Providence.
The McGunks Album Release Show at Alchemy featuring sets by The McGunks, Stubborn Hearts, COB and The Paraplegics on July 9. Doors are at 8pm, post-plague new location is 171 Chestnut St, PVD.
Electric Six, Volk, & The Smoke Breaks will rock Alchemy on July 15 — holy shit it’s like a second Bastille Day! Doors are at 7pm.
Deer Tick and Ravi Shavi will rock the Ocean Mist on July 16 & 17. Doors are at 8pm.
Scurvy Dog Mega Parking Lot Mega Show will take place (shockingly) in the parking lot of the Scurvy Dog in PVD on July 18. The fun kicks off at 1pm and runs until all 11 bands play or the cops shut it down. Some of the acts I’m stoked to see on this bill include Pony Boy, Midnight Creeps, Gamma Rage and The David Tessier All-Star Stars (A.S.S.).
Record Review Mailbag:
Kris Hansen’s Viking Jesus — Before The Mutation
It may have taken 15 years or so of reviewing Kris Hansen’s releases, but I finally found one that I love! That’s not to say the previous ones sucked, there were cool songs sprinkled here and there. I just never felt like the rawness of Hansen’s best live performances was ever captured. Before The Mutation showcases the rock, funk, folk and electro atoms that Viking Jesus fuse together to construct their wall of sound. “Hideaway Boxes” reminds me of The Police with the harmonies of the early Pixies as Hansen duets with his wife Tara Hansen. Tara takes the lead vocal on “For A Dying Scene,” which just floats into a sphere of haunted wistfulness. “Same Killer,” on the other hand, kicks somewhere between post-punk and mid-’90s rock ‘n’ roll. I’m guessing “Boston Marathon ” is about the bombing in 2013, but I don’t have the lyric sheets. What I do know is the way the song goes from the jazzy funk of the verse to the roll in the chorus is just damn hypnotizing. Before The Mutation is available now! It’s on the internet, kid!
Bill Bartholomew — Bats
What I like about this three song EP is the imagery of bats on the highway in the title track because it reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also dig the spacey parts on “(A Lot To Be) Free For,” but the rest of it is annoying as the title. The musicianship is certainly competent and I like the lo-fi clarity in the production, but I have no desire to ever listen to this again. Maybe that’s just me, though, so check it out on the streaming service of your choice.
Email music news, records, and night swimming spots to firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin’s Culture Picks: What kept our culture expert busy in May?
Every week, I’ve been doing a deep dive into cultural issues, usually theater-related, that are bothering me or that deserve a second look. But who needs another thinkpiece, right?
I host two weekly programs on my theater company’s Faceboook page (Facebook.com/EpicTheatreCo) where I ask guests what has been keeping them creatively engaged or excited, and I thought I could put together some of the movies, television shows, books and music we discuss. I’ll do this at the beginning of every month (until we’re out of … this), and hopefully it’ll keep you busy as we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
So, here’s what I enjoyed in the month of May:
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (Streaming on Netflix) Shiva Baby (On Demand) Together, Together (On Demand) WeWork (Streaming on Hulu) Cruella (Streaming on Disney+ and in Theaters)
“The Real World Homecoming: New York” (Streaming on Paramount+) “Last Chance U: Basketball” (Streaming on Netflix) “Girls5Eva” (Streaming on Peacock) “Mare of Easttown” (Streaming on HBO Max)
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz Olympus, Texas, by Stacey Swann Yes, Daddy, by Jonathan Parks-Ramage
Rosegold, Ashley Monroe Outside Child, Allison Russell Sour, Olivia Rodrigo The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania, Damien Jurado The Marfa Tapes, Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall