RI Music Awards Winners

Profiles by Bobby Forand, John Fuzek, Marc Clarkin, Bradly VanDerStad, Meg Coss, Tess Lyons, Lee Adrain & Mike Ryan.

The bustling crowd at the 2023 RI Music Awards (Small Frye Photography)


Favorite Americana Act

I don’t entirely regard The Silks as an Americana act, personally. Their sound is heavily grounded in the blues, which was invented in America… so I guess that sort of counts? The Silks throw in some early ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll (ala Small Faces) and a tinge of country into their sonic cocktail to create a sound that makes it just fun to go out and dance the night away. – MC

World Music

Atwater-Donnelly have been RI stalwarts since they started performing together, shortly after meeting in 1987. Their music is transcendent; simple in nature, but packed with well-thought-out instruments and musicianship. Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly both have beautiful, comforting voices at the center of each song. They make any style they play sound great.
On a personal note, I’ve been seeing Atwater-Donnelly live since the early ‘90s. My parents were big fans and would take me to see them perform at outdoor events and local venues. As a tween/early teenager at the time, I’m sure that I complained, but I always loved watching them perform. Looking back, those performances were priceless family moments. Thank you, Aubrey and Elwood, for unknowingly having a major influence on my musical taste (which is all over the place) and for the wonderful associative memories for my family. – BF

Favorite R&B Act

Steve Smith and The Nakeds have been entertaining audiences in RI and far beyond for half a century. They began as Naked Truth and transformed into Steve Smith and The Nakeds and are now the official band of Narragansett Beer. The ten person band consists of a four-piece rhythm section, a five-piece brass section, and its lead vocalist, Steve Smith. Over the past 50 years the band shared the touring stage and recording studio with Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist, Clarence Clemons for a series of critically acclaimed performances. They have been featured on television, appearing on MTV’s video countdown program “The Basement Tapes”, as well as an episode of “The Family Guy” where their song, “I’m Huge (And The Babes Go Wild)” was featured. – JF

Favorite Small – Medium Venue

The Parlour has, from day one, provided a place for musicians to work on and showcase their gifts. The Parlour has a kitchen that offers a small but tasty palette of choices. One of the nice touches over the last year was the addition of murals on the outside memorializing three musicians Mike Schiavone, Pete McClanahan, and Nick Iddon, who left us too soon. – MC

Favorite Live Americana Act

The foot-stomping Sasquatch and the Sick-a-Billys are no newcomers to RI stages, and although they haven’t played out as much lately, their long-standing reputation still brings out the superfans when they perform, famously splaying dancers around any venue, with table-top dancing, hair-tossing and hard-dancing hijinks. In addition to performing, Sasquatch has his own venue in Warren called the Galactic Theatre that started as a clothing/thrift store and turned into a full time venue with drinks and food. You can catch Sasquatch opening for the Goddamn Gallows at Alchemy on April 9. – MC

Favorite Country Act

Jake Hunsinger and company refer to their sound as “Powerhouse Americana.” Based in PVD, the band showcases high-energy performances with rollicking arrangements, dynamic production, and serene hillbilly harmonies over Hunsinger’s inspired songwriting. The band embraces a sound that is simultaneously classic and new, traditional and refreshing, and they perform all around New England – and, as we learned from their long-distance texted acceptance remarks, in Texas too!
They released their debut EP, Jake Hunsinger, in 2019, and Hunsinger has spent years since writing a new catalog of songs. – BV

Favorite Open Mic

The Parlour has a great open mic every Wednesday, hosted by Steve Donovan, when he isn’t snowbirding around Florida doing gigs. The atmosphere is very welcoming to all types of music. The signups are usually around 7pm and it’s usually full enough for the music to go all night with a community vibe that’s attracted a lot of top-notch local talent to come out and play. – MC

Favorite Singer/Songwriter

Allison Rose says, “I sing the truth and make you cry.” She is a musician, mental health counselor, mom and dog worshipper. Allison is now a multiple Motif Award-winner and anyone who hears her sing knows why. This singer-songwiter-guitarist-pianist plays songs about life, family and love. A classically-trained pianist and vocalist, Allison grew up on piano lessons and choir rehearsals, eventually choosing music as her college minor. She is a board member of the RI-based nonprofit RISING, which serves young adult and beginning songwriters and musicians by providing music education, mentorship, and performance opportunities. Aside from music, she is a photographer, and enjoys the ocean, a comfy bed, and dropping a good F-bomb. – JF

Favorite Americana Vocalist

Steve Smith started out as a kid at the beach playing music with his cousin John Cafferty. While he was enrolled at St Philips School, his band, The Nightcrawlers, played. The nun who booked them “caught holy hell for bringing the Devil’s music into the classroom.” When his voice changed he quit music to play hockey, but he would pick up music again during college. He worked at a factory to pay his college bills, but this was taking its toll on him. His friends asked him to join their band Bloody Mary and music replaced the grind of factory work. After a few double bills with another band called Naked Truth, Steve was asked to join them as their lead singer. The rest, as they say, “is history.” As a Smithfield native myself, I saw Naked Truth play many a prom at our high school and I have known Steve for almost all of the time he has been in the band. I will never forget the charismatic Steve coming off stage and jumping on my table at Prom and singing up a storm! – JF

Favorite Bluegrass Band

The Ocean State Ramblers are a four-piece bluegrass band based in southern New England. They have been up for this award before and if you catch their act, you’ll see why. They began as folks jamming together at local bluegrass events when they eventually decided to perform as a group at an open mic night, and the rest, you might say, is history. They can be found playing in RI and surrounding states at various events at farmers markets, bars, and libraries, to name a few. Their sound is upbeat and fun as they play their renditions of some bluegrass standards, or put their own spin on some folk and country tunes along with their own original songs. Listening to them is a pleasure and their varied talents and musical skills are always evident. Their sound is sweet and pure homespun bluegrass. – LA

Favorite Jazz Act

Evening Sky
is a Jazz/Roots quartet featuring Chris Brooks on pedal steel guitar, Joe Potenza on bass, composer Gino Rosati on guitars, and producer Eric Hastings on drums. They’ve been performing around RI for as long as most of us can remember and are always supportive of other acts and bands – and the members also take part in a number of other musical undertakings. Joe Potenza even headlines any number of configurations.
The band combines elements of jazz, folk, R&B and country to form a unique, spirited sound. They perform their own original instrumentals, and released a few original albums in 2022. Recently, they have been releasing a series of “Plus One”s, where they play with a local guest musician. They also reinterpret classic songs and collaborate with guest singers and instrumentalists. Currently, they have a monthly residency at The Parlour in PVD, which means you can catch them there live on the second Saturday of any month. – MR

Favorite Concert Photographer

Local shows were always judged a success if Favorite Photographer Lisa Gourley was in attendance. Even if no one else was there, having Lisa at the front of the stage using multiple cameras to photograph and take video (often at the same time) made for a great night with plenty of footage to share. Lisa has documented the highs and lows of the RI music scene. There are few people that she doesn’t know, and she is well-respected by the community.
Lisa has dedicated her life to her art. She is passionate and bands in almost every genre have had to pleasure of feeding off her kindness, whether it’s through a swig of the Jim Beam she keeps in her trunk or the dessert she’ll bake for to celebrate a birthday. The world has a lot of great photographers, but only RI has a Lisa Gourley. This community is incredibly blessed to have her. – BF

Favorite Blues Act,
Overall Favorite Americana Act

Neal & the Vipers have become one of those deeply loved local legends that never disappoint. They’ve won enough of these awards to count as “legendary” status, which means they won’t be nominated last year, just to give someone else a chance.
The Vipers are Steve Bigelow on bass, Dave Howard on vocals & harmonica, and Mike LaBelle on drums. They have released nine albums over the years and been recognized with many other honors.
Neal Vitullo is still making great music and wowing audiences with his guitar chops. For over 30 years, the Vipers have been playing blues, roots, rockabilly and surf music around RI and beyond. They’ve torn up stages with music legends like B.B. King, Roy Buchanan, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Albert Collins, Greg Allman, Jimmy Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Dixon, Johnny Copeland, Robert Plant, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. And that’s just a few. If you patronize outdoor festivals during the warm weather, Neal & the Vipers are in a dead heat with Steve Smith & the Nakeds for the band you’re most likely to randomly find performing, getting the crowd on its feet and dancing. – MR

Favorite choral act

Providence Gay Men’s Chorus
is always a pleasure to hear and watch perform. They are not strangers to winning this award, and with good reason. They are a diverse group of talent, delivering messages of equality and uplifting messages of empowerment through song. Their joy of performing always shines through and they take their audience with them on their musical journey from beginning to end. They have been delivering their touching, sometimes playful and lighthearted, joyful, exuberant, and always top-notch performances for over 25 years now, and they only get better. Their musical interpretations are fun and unique. Their focus on positive messages through musical excellence continues to make them a PVD treasure. – LA

favorite folk act

Allysen Callery
writes music that has found a home in the ghost folk style – in fact, one recent album is titled Ghost Folk. She has a mesmerizing sound to her songs that draws the listener in and captivates them. For the longest time her tag was “quiet music for a loud world.”
Her style is that of folk from the British Isles and is compared and influenced by Sandy Denny and Kick Drake. She often tours Europe and has a dedicated following overseas. Allysen is a multiple Motif Award winner and has taken home trophies of different sorts many times over the years. She is a board member of the Rhode Island Folk Festival, where she curates the Songbird Stage. – JF

Street Band/Brass Band/Marching Band (Mobile)

Providence Drum Troupe
marched off with this honor this year. They took the trophy by only a few votes, but that’s still quite a trajectory for a group that was birthed during COVID, and largely by accident. Their organic growth from a collection of stir-crazy quarantiners who found a musical outlet together, but six feet apart, by drumming on the new PVD Pedestrian bridge, to one of the most spatially activating acts in the city, has been nothing short of epic.
Known for their boisterous presence and ability to turn anything into a funky, memorable party, they have become regulars at many major events around RI and beyond. Under the leadership of photographer/drummer David Lee Black, their exact members will vary from gig to gig, depending on who is available and up for having a good time, but their vibe will always include surprises, audience interaction, funky hats and costumes, angel wings. And, of course, drumming. – MR

Large Instrumental Ensemble (Stationary)

The Ocean State Pops Orchestra
is a nonprofit 60-piece touring group of talented musicians performing over six annual concerts throughout Southern New England. It was established to enhance the cultural vitality of the region through performances of great music and through educational programming.
Founded in 1993, the Orchestra’s repertoire includes a broad variety of light classical pieces, movie and show compositions, patriotic music and big band pieces.
Music director Dr. Brian Cardany is in his second season as the OSPO’s director, in addition to being the director of the American Band of PVD and the director of bands at URI. – BV

Favorite Americana Festival

The Rhode Island Folk Festival
is a free annual festival that celebrates local folk, acoustic, and Americana acts. The event takes place at the waterfront Rose Larisa Park in Riverside. It began in 2014 as the Providence Folk Festival, and its following and growth necessitated both the move across the Seekonk and the change in moniker. This year’s festival includes three stages of acoustic-themed music for bands, soloists, and for an unjuried open-mic, and the event is supplemented by local food and art vendors to entice all the senses.
The event is produced by Hear In Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization founded by RI native, musical community leader and Motif contributor John Fuzek. In addition to writing a music column and several of the profiles in this very article, he is our publication’s podcaster-in-chief. Take a listen to his regular Roots Report Podcast! – BV

Favorite Americana Album

Mark Cutler’s Side Effects is a stripped down album of folk and blues which really allows Cutler’s stories to breath. I dig “Jimi Hendrix Changed His Own Strings” for the way Cutler relates the oddity of a rock star changing his own strings to meeting a new neighbor. “Queen of the Dive” is blues romper. “I Didn’t Know” is another favorite with some excellent slide guitar work.
You can check out Side Effects on Bandcamp. You can also check out Mark Cutler and the Men of Great Courage at Askew on April 21. – MC

Favorite Music video

NOVA ONE is the musical project of Roz Raskin and their friends. Their winning music video, “Feeling Ugly” captures Raskin with their signature peachy colored bob, dressing a mannequin to look like them while performing their dreamy song “Feeling Ugly.” NOVA ONE just finished their April tour so be on the lookout for future local dates! – TL


favorite alt-rock act

The Quahogs
suffered a debilitating blow in the last year with the passing of their drummer and brother, Nick Iddon. Nick was just the sweetest human I’ve ever encountered and you’d always see the band hanging out together when they weren’t performing. Fronted by the raspy voiced Stev DelMonico, The Quahogs remind me of ’70s rock in the spirit of Gram Parsons. The Quahogs haven’t released new music in a bit but they are working on a new album that is due later this year. You can catch The Quahogs opening for Lydia Loveless at Askew on May 7. – MC

favorite jam band

Over the past several years, Jabbawaukee has become one of the top jam/funk bands in PVD and New England. The group consists of bassist and vocalist Brendon “Low B” Bjorness-Murano, guitarist and vocalist Dave Hobson, keyboardist and vocalist Jack Skiffington and drummer and vocalist Stu Taylor.
Jabbawaukee released their debut full-length LP Family Tree in late 2021, followed by the release of the video for their first single, “Ting Pop (Time Flys By).” They are quite familiar with the local music festival circuit, performing regularly all over New England, including at RI festivals Rhythm and Roots and Block Island Music Festival. – BV

indie rock

Ravi Shavi also lost a brother and drummer in the passing of Nick Iddon. Ravi Shavi are one of the most exciting bands around to see live. Their sound tends to evolve – in their early years, it was more trashy garage rock. When I saw them last fall they played a lot of new stuff that had a definite Prince feel. It has been a couple of years since their last album, Special Hazards, so I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. You can catch singer/guitarist Rafay Rashid opening up for Matthew Logan Vasquez (of The Delta Spirit) at Askew on May 19. – MC
Favorite Alt/Rock Live Act
A Z-Boys performance has the rush of a supersonic rollercoaster. The Z-Boys play frantically as if on an endless quest to keep the wheel in the sky turning with a sound that merges surf rock, funk, and rockabilly. They have a new single, “The Spice,” coming out soon. Also keep your eyes peeled for upcoming shows as The Z-Boys play out fairly regularly. – MC

favorite reggae act

has grown from three to six people in the last couple of years, and in this past year there have been months when the Motif team assembling our event listings thought they were a typo because they seemed to be playing everywhere, all at once.
They’re no typo, it turns out – the band has really gotten out and about with their jazzy approach to reggae, and they have a subspecialty in taking tunes traditionally in other genres and reggaeifying them to produce a whole new feel, both recognized and new. And very danceable.
Dudemanbro jams out of the South County area and venues like the OMist, but like we just said, they seem to get out a lot, so keep an eye out for shows near you. – MR

favorite ska band

The Agents
have broken the nearly-ten-year reign of The Copacetics in taking the best ska band. It feels like the fall of the Roman Empire of ska bands. The Agents aren’t exactly upstarts – in fact, I believe they date back to the 1900s. That hasn’t slowed down the party as they still play out regularly and are always a blast. Get out your dancing shoes and catch The Agents live at Askew on April 22. Get ready to experience the band “from the small town with a big sound.” – MC

favorite garage band, breakthrough alt act, overall alt act

Ziggy Gnardust
is fronted by Ziggy Coffey, long a renowned drummer in a number of local acts, including Favorite Alt Live Act 2023, The Z-Boys. Many of these bands are known, in particular for their energetic drumming.
While a drummer-frontman combination is a bit unusual in the universe of bands, Ziggy has transcended any Spinal-Tap-style expectations and broken out of the drummer-box, performing vocals and guitar with the same long-hair thrashing gusto that has characterized him as a drummer. It’s certainly working for the band, as they’ve been booking a lot of smaller venues and acquired enough fans for Gnardust’s gritty rockers to get more votes, overall, than any other alt act this year. – MR

favorite noise band

Department of Teleportation
brings the noise with slashing riffs and punk rock energy. When I reviewed their self-titled EP, it reminded me a little of the band Helmet. Department of Teleportation have a new EP, Lifestyles of the Spatially Unreasonable, out on all the streaming services as well as cassettes available through their Bandcamp page. – MC

favorite pop-punk act

The Dust Ruffles
identify as pop-rock or power-pop, but nonetheless this category was the next best thing and they’re grateful either way. Fronted by vocalist Tammy Laforest, with drummer Alvaro Diaz and SexCoffee’s Sharlene DeNardo on bass and backup vocals, The Dust Ruffles have played everywhere in Rhody from the Pride Fest Main Stage in Downtown PVD to the Galactic Theatre in Warren. Catch them performing live around the East Coast and listen to their EP Innocent Filth. – TL

favorite punk act

made a loud comeback after many years dormant. They added lead guitarist Bob Kadlec, released their five-song EP, Meet Me at the Bar and won Favorite Punk Band. Their rambunctious brand of garage-punk rock & roll easily gets people moving, whether they realize it or not. They already have a dedicated fanbase and have been winning over fans at will.
“I just want to say “thanks” to everyone who took the time to vote and show their support,” says drummer Doug Metivier of winning the award. “And an even bigger “Thank You” to everyone who comes out to shows ready to dance and have a good time!”
Congratulate Sourpunch at Nick-a-Nees on Saturday, April 1 with The Birkitt Transmissions. Show is free and starts at 9 pm. – BF

favorite hardcore act

The Hammer Party
mixes noise rock and post-punk – there are no perfect boxes for their art. They put out an EP last year called Earth Abides from which I really like the track, “Walk The Walk.” Its dissonance creates a trippy vibe. Lead singer Dan St. Jacques is a force of nature as a frontman. If you like your music loud and jarring, keep an eye out for upcoming The Hammer Party shows! – MC

favorite metal act

is metal with quite a few hyphens: doom-metal, rock-metal, stoner-metal. Their hard sound comes from Zigmond Coffey (drums, vocals), Dillon Stankowitz (guitar, vocals), Jonny Sage (bass, vocals), Greg Aaron (guitar, lead vocals), who got together just pre-pandemic – which means it hasn’t been too hard to find inspiration for lyrics of doom and gloom. And yes, here again you will find the steady drum work of Ziggy Coffey. We’re trying futilely to find a local rock band that doesn’t include Ziggy.
Princess’ first, eponymous album was released less than a year ago, with old-school vibes, by PVD-based Yuggoth Records. – MR

favorite prog/emo act

People Eating Plastic
have been voted first in this award before, and have been bringing their math skills to the stage for quite a few years – remarkably, their diet doesn’t seem to have harmed them yet, and they continue to thrive in this challenging style of rock. It’s an experience to see this trio play live, and they will experiment on your ears and other senses. Meanwhile, you can always talk to the folks at EcoRI about the hard to digest statistic that the average person will eat over 40lbs of plastic in their lifetime. That’s scary math. – MR

gothic/post-punk act

Joy Boys
shade more to the post-punk side of the coin than goth. They crank out sludgy anthems about the likes of the “Cleveland Browns,” “Tuxedo Boy,” and “The Fucker.” It’s been awhile since we got new tunes from Joys Boys so hopefully that is in the works as well as more shows! – MC

favorite cover band

Take It to the Bridge
is a cover band with a devout following and a versatile selection of covers from many different styles. Pre-pandemic, they were mistakenly nominated under Favorite Jazz Act, and were extremely polite in pointing out that, while they do some jazz covers, the category didn’t really seem like a fit. They were gracious about it, and several odd years later, our process finally put them into the right category and karma took them to the win.
Take it to the Bridge can be found on a regular basis in South County at locales like the Charlestown Rathskeller, getting audiences on their feet to whatever classics fit the mood of the night. They were born as a wedding band nearly 10 years ago, and come in seven, five and three-person configurations that may include Greg Marcotte, Christyn Marcotte, Carl Bugbee, John Richards Jr, Josh DeFedele, Colby Geaber and Scott Roddick. – MR

favorite tribute band

The Winehouse Project does a great job of re-creating the magic of Amy Winehouse’s music. I’ve seen them a few times over at the Met Café and definitely will keep coming back. The Winehouse Project will be at Chan’s in Woonsocket on March 31. – MC

favorite alt/rock vocalist

Julie Rhodes
is a powerhouse when it comes to singing blues and soul. She is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, but different. She can pull off doing something like Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” and hold the room hostage with her voice. Definitely a must-see performer – which one can do, when she opens for Sarah Potenza at the Met Café on May 13. – MC

favorite album

Three years in the making, The Benji’s Kitty Pills barely made the cut, coming out right before the nominations. My favorite cuts are “Skate” and “Good Living” which are both up-tempo rockers. The Benji’s don’t really fit in a box, description-wise. They are somewhere between new wave and punk-pop, while being none of the above at the same time. The Benji’s are one of my favorite local bands to catch live, so I’m looking forward to the Kitty Pills release show, whenever that may be. – MC

favorite karaoke night

The Parlour’s
karaoke night is Friday and has been running for years. I’m not sure what makes a night the best karaoke night – is it just that the people that frequent are more passionate? Anyways, it is on Fridays. Karaoke. The Parlour. Got it? – MC

favorite alt festicval

PVD Fest
was the clear winner this year, and it’s hard to know what to say about about this megafest, except that it might have outgrown this category like Newport Folk Fest. The Creative Capital’s show piece has survived a few reinventions over the years, most notably during COVID, but the City has always kept the lights on and the music and art flowing, and recent years have sought a fine balance of local acts and national ones to keeps its multiple stages rockin’ over several days. – MR

favorite sound person

You’d be hard-pressed to find a venue or owner/promoter that Soundperson of the Year Kris Hansen hasn’t done sound for. He has been doing sound for an incredibly long time and built a strong reputation along the way. While he knows his way around a mixing board, it’s his personable approach that puts him over the top. He is easy to work with and quick to lend a helping hand that will make the band sound as strong as possible. He always has a kind word to say and treats everyone with the respect of a peer. He has a keen ability to listen to the band’s requests and accommodate as much as possible, and clearly loves his job.
“I see Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Lennon, The Beatles, The Who, Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, Harry Nilsson, Joni Mitchell, DiFranco, Floyd every single night,” Hansen says excitedly. “The absolute equivalent, and beyond! They are performing at our local bars and venues. They are giving the best there is and all you must do is leave your house. Instead of being spoon-fed another greatest hits album or the next overpriced tour, please go see the new Elton before he was signed… or the New Regina Spektor before she was discovered. I know these people on the local level. Undiscovered heroes, go and check out your local scene. Take another chance on all of us.” – BF

favorite promoter

Rob Duguay has become an RI fixture since moving here from CT to attend Rhode Island College in the late 2000s. He has become a prolific music writer, penning articles about local and national bands for various publications. He also started booking shows under the Top 5 Fiend moniker, which has successfully earned him back-to-back Motif Awards as Favorite Promotor.
“Rob is the kind of guy that is really cool to work with and accommodating towards newer or lesser-known bands,” says Jarrod Pimentel of Today is Tomorrow. “He gives them a chance to hang out and show what they’ve worked on to a new audience.”
Duguay books shows all over RI, with The Parlour, News Café and Dusk among his favorites. His April birthday coincides with Autism Awareness Month, which leads to a birthday weekend of benefit shows. Go congratulate him on his award in person at the next Top 5 Fiend show, a “Thuriety” show at The Parlour on Thursday, April 6 with The Sleds, The Bluechips, and (Writer’s Pick winners) Balloon Thief. – BF


Favorite Hip-Hop Act,
Favorite Hip-Hop Album,
Overall Favorite Electronica

“I was born at Women & Infants in 1991, the same day Magic Johnson retired [due to] AIDS, but we don’t have to include that in the thing, that doesn’t matter,” said Jesse Ramos, aka Jesse the Tree.
Except it kind of does matter. Because with a lyricist like Ramos, the more you know, the richer the experience. His lyrics unfold like a litany of observations masterfully interentwined to provoke gut-punch moments of reflection, like when you’re recalling something past and able to feel it in the present.
He stitches basketball references alongside the likes of Hey Arnold, David Berman, Shawshank, and Mary Oliver to tell you who he is and what he thinks and how he’s feeling. He’s driven by a writer’s hunger to comprehend and rectify matters of the heart and troubles of the mind. He falls down rabbit holes of curiosity, piling reference upon reference to create his own symbols that open doors to larger worlds and deeper understandings. He’s a poet. And poetry’s all about the details.
“Writing is my most healing avenue in life and always has been… In some ways it’s a strange introverted path of, ‘I’m not going to tell you anything, you gotta go listen to the album.’ Emotional catharsis is the best way to describe the writing process.”
Born to a music-loving family, Ramos’ traces influences from Nas, Gang Starr, MF Doom, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, to Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Bill Callahan, The Grateful Dead, and Zappa.
“Music was always present and somehow intertwined in life at all times…. A combination of all that stuff is what’s going on in my brain. It’s like psychedelic, sad, jaded ’90s sitcom, boom bap rap.”
In 2020, Ramos signed to Strange Famous Records and in 2022 he released his label debut. The album name, Pigeon Man, is a nod to a Hey Arnold character who lived on a rooftop with a family of pigeons, a character exhausted by life yet somehow still hopeful.
“Pigeon Man had some gems when he was talking to Arnold, he’d be like, ‘I’m tired of people, it’s people.’ As a kid I was like, ‘Oh my god this is me and I’m way too young to be feeling like this.’ That scene of him flying off into the sun, being carried away by pigeons, that stayed with me. I was thinking of using it as a stage name but I named the album that and essentially it’s me saying, this album is about me.”
Ramos is an artist who acknowledges the blue side of life and the destructive toll of emotions when felt in high doses. On “Blue Dream,” a track off Pigeon Man, he walks you through a family history that begins in Florida and leads to Rhode Island. He tells of his dad laboring on a farm then lyrically sends you to his parents meeting in the Southwest (his mom was singing Joni Mitchell, perhaps peyote was involved) to the birth of his sisters and his adoration for them, to finally his own birth and eventual pursuit of finding catharsis through writing. I heal through conveying a poem you can feel, he says.
On the subsequent track “Miss Tonin” Ramos raps against the toxicity of a cruel and tiring society with untenable expectations, and tells listeners they don’t have to be alright, then extends a compassionate line worth putting into practice, We can all try to walk each other home.
On “Fuzzy Orange Headband,” a track fromoff I’m Fakin’ My Own Death Just to Get Some Rest, an album done in collaboration with his friend Andrew, a Philadelphia-based artist who makes up one half of the sleepingdogs duo, Ramos pays homage to the Silver Jews, citing what he calls that “’90s drawly ehhh sound” as a huge influence.
“David Berman was the master of saying something very simple and then something really fucking intense that you’re almost uncomfortable with. There’s a lot of Elliot Smith influence, too. We both like that droney sad stuff, and we both super love hip- hop, so we wanted to bring those together.
That album is us being like, ‘Let’s be ourselves and see where it goes.’ It’s super near and dear to me, and I think people are getting it. People are like, ‘This is the happiest saddest album I’ve ever heard.’”
Ramos is currently pursuing a masters in social work at Rhode Island College, a field of study he shares with his mom.
“She and I are both social workers, we’re very interested in learning how to care for others and for ourselves.”
Recently, he won Motif’s award for Overall Favorite Hip Hop/Electronica artist and described the ceremony as akin to a high school reunion.
“There’s a lot of people around here who’ve been so supportive and helpful and engaged, and that can be hard to find. It definitely takes a village. Somebody’s gotta record you and somebody’s gotta help you get it out into the world, you need collaborators. I’ve met a lot of people here who’ve been instrumental in keeping this dream alive.” – Meg Coss

Jesse the Tree accepts his award on stage (Small Frye Photography)

Listen to Jesse the Tree and support his music at Follow him on IG @jessethetree for current info. And visit to purchase the happiest-saddest album you’ll ever hear.

breakthrough hip-hop act

is the solo project by Mike Jencks, frontman of Toad and the Stooligans. Jencks has been creating ToadStool projects for a bit, but seems to have gathered steam in the last couple of years, with about 20 releases of various lengths since 2020. With clever, quick-thinking and quick-moving lyrics, this condensed Toad is hopping along at a pace that fans clearly want to keep up with, and he shows no signs of slowing down. – MR

favorite dj

For a someone with a name that sounds really tough, Pauly Danger is a super sweet guy. Pauly plays a mix of reggae and dancehall that gets the room moving. He has been DJing for years on Monday nights at The Parlour’s popular Reggae Mondays as well as other spots like The Hot Club, Troop, The Ocean Mist, and more. – MC

favorite dance night

I think all it took was for the POW Indie Dance Party to return for the first time in years to get a nomination and win the damn category. Pretty impressive feat, pulled off by DJ Handsome Pete Lima. POW is a night of indie and electro dance bangers from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. At that edition in February, Handsome Pete shared the decks with DJ Desirenegade so she’s really a co-winner. I’m not sure if that is the plan going forward, or even if there is a plan to go forward, but I’m hoping for something POWerful. – MC

favorite electronic act

“I love Rhode Island Music.”
Artist Jackie and the Wizard prove that dedication and hard work pay off. They have made a name for themselves with energetic and entertaining shows to go along with their dancy, hypnotic songs. Not ones to sit still, the two are either performing or in the audience supporting their peer musicians.
“I’m very thankful to be part of the music scene and be appreciated by so many,” Artist Jackie says of their second Motif Award for Favorite Electronic Act. “Not very long ago I would just daydream about being part of something like the Providence music scene and now we won 2 years in a row. I really think it comes down to if you invest in others, they will invest in you. Winning isn’t just because of the music we make, though we do kill it every time. It’s also because we have The Artist Jackie Show showcasing talent from Rhode Island and I’ve made over 500 videos of bands, rappers and singer-songwriters. We’ve given a lot to Providence music over the past five years so it’s really nice that our efforts have been recognized and appreciated.” – BF