Down the Rabbit Hole to PVDFest 2018

This June 7 – 10, let’s play pretend. You be Alice. Fill your mind with awe and curiosity. Be eager to seek out oddities and adventures. Providence will serve as your Wonderland. PVDFest is back in 2018, gearing up to transform our capital city, filling it with monsters, musicians, artists, unique foods and most importantly, an opportunity for attendees to experience our cultural mecca in a new and exciting way. Are you ready?

Celebrating its fourth year of existence, PVDFest is a partnership between the City of Providence and Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, with FirstWorks and the Providence Department of Art Culture + Tourism. When asked to discuss what’s new in 2018’s festival, Kathleen Pletcher, executive artistic director of FirstWorks, the festival’s founding partner, stated that we can expect “different highlights on each of the days … the combined idea of what is the very best and most exciting art and performance in Providence combined with what FirstWorks is responsible for, which is curating guest artists from across the world. The hyper vocal and global arts come together, almost like a combustion.”

Here are a few examples of these combustions. First, the South Carolina-based quintet Ranky Tanky and Rhode Island’s own choral group Collegium Ancora will be performing together on Sunday (Jun 10). Ranky Tanky, which takes its name from the Gullah phrase for “work it” or “get down,” mixes low country traditions with large doses of jazz, gospel, funk and R&B, will collaborate with our own Providence choir for “an outstanding musical melding of local and national talent.” Ranky Tanky, whose December 2017 debut shot to number one on the Billboard, iTunes and Amazon Jazz Charts after appearing on NPR’s Fresh Air, performs music of Gullah culture born in the Southeastern Sea Island region of the United States. “Gullah” comes from West African language and means “a people blessed by God.” Collegium Ancora is sure to be a beautiful complement to Ranky Tanky with their unique sound derived “from [both] ancient times and modern, sacred and secular.”


Another example of local flavor jiving with a different city’s fantastic musical offering is Providence’s budding bicycle culture and Pittsburgh’s Squonk Opera: Cycle Sonic. Providence has its sights set on becoming more bike-friendly. After a year in which plungers were lined up along Fountain Street in a force of Urban Guerilla Bike Safety tactics, Rhode Islanders could “Bike The Night” with Mayor Elorza, and buzz of Providence launching JUMP Bikes, one of New England’s first electric bike share systems in summer 2018, has many cyclists smiling. Therefore, Squonk seems like a natural crowd-pleaser. According to their website, these bulb-horn sprouting, whirligigs, whistles and bells-infused parade floats become instruments of music. Cycle Sonic “celebrates bicycles with human-powered stages, propelled by our original chamber rock music … With no carbon footprint, [we] combine the thrill of a live concert with the world of everyday transit.” You can catch Squonk Opera on Saturday (Jun 9) and Sunday (Jun 10).

On both Friday (Jun 8) and Saturday (Jun 9), Kathleen advises that you check out Australian Sway Poles, an acrobatic number from down under in which performers nimbly dip, swing and sway

Australian Sway Poles
Australian Sway Poles

atop the masts of a ship named “The Fabulist” in a performance titled “Tall Tales from the High Seas.”

Kathleen was excited about countless festival highlights, but when asked to share what she was most excited about, she gave the following: Cyborg Cities: Humans, Technology, and Urban Spaces, a one-day Ideas Conference (Jun 7); The PVDFest Food Village in Kennedy Plaza (Jun 9 & 10); The Pakistan Truck Art project in which a master of Pakistan truck art, Haider Ali and his colleague, will be celebrating this indigenous art form, covering every square inch of a truck in flowers, trees and messages. Local painting talents will be joining the pair on Monday (Jun 4) and working until the adorned vehicle is ready to shine in the opening procession. Later, the truck will be featured around the state in its afterlife.

When asked how to best experience the festival, Kathleen had two polar opposite views for festival-goers. She stated, “Discovery is a huge part of [the festival]. Each person’s festival is their own experience. Enjoy the spontaneity … curate your own experience. Make your own discoveries.” You could choose to stay at one event or try to see them all. On the opposite side of the spectrum, and taking a more type A approach, Kathleen suggests that you, “spend some time clicking on links [in advance], listen to the artists, skim through [the PVDFest website], follow us on social media, to get a sampling of an experience that’s most exciting for you.”

Whether you choose to go down the rabbit hole with or without a plan, it might be wise to sample the many offerings this fantastical festival has to offer. For more information, links and videos, visit and take a look at the wide variety of adventures awaiting you June 7 through 10. The festival is free, but if you’d like to fully immerse yourself in the experience, head over to to check out the PVDFest Opening Night Party VIP options. By purchasing a ticket to the Opening Night Party, you will be joining the mayor of the city of Providence as he officially opens the festival, awards the grand marshalls and welcomes artists to the city. The party will be followed by a FirstWorks spectacle performance by Australia’s Sway Poles. Prices start at $125 for this option, but a Creative Capital Artist Host option at $65 is available for “millennials and locally based Artists and Designers only.” Email Holly Taylor at with your information for this discounted option if you qualify. Then, start chasing that rabbit, Alice …