The Sharp Dressed Band Is Looking…well…Sharp!

sharpIt’s no secret that blues jams have been popping up all over. Musicians from all over Rhode Island and the surrounding states come out to share their talent while the rest of us come out to listen or maybe just dance our worries away. There is a pretty standard procedure of how things run in a blues jam. People write down their name and what instrument they play on a sign-up sheet and the MC calls out names and sticks a hodgepodge of talented musicians on stage together. The musicians whisper back and forth about what songs they know and who is going to sing what. And then the most amazing thing happens — five or so people who have never played together or never even met manage to create something extraordinary. They play their hearts out and you would swear their performance was rehearsed. I frequent blues jams and for people like me, the not musically talented, these nights are all about seeing who is playing where, deciding which event to attend and socializing.

Every once in a while someone on stage has the power to control the entire room with a guitar or drum solo ripping across the crowd. The chitchat silences as the audience listens in awe. I experienced one of those moments during the performance of young musician and Rhode Island native, Rob Davis. His guitar and voice silenced the crowd for two reasons — one, he sounded amazing, and two, he is only 19 and sounded amazing. How does someone so young have the knowledge and talent to not only keep up with performers with more experience, but to actually surpass musicians who have had more stage time than Rob has been alive? I needed to know the full story so I asked Rob for an interview.

You might imagine that Rob has been playing guitar since birth, but it’s only been about seven years. Rob told me that the first time he picked up an instrument, he was in the sixth grade. He played the drums at school and the guitar at home. Later that year, he took a real interest in his musical education and talked to his parents about taking guitar lessons. Rob reminisced about his family’s support, sharing that his mother, stepfather, grandma and father all pitched in through the years. Somewhere around his junior year of high school, he and some friends formed a band called The Sharp Dressed Band.

The members of The Sharp Dressed Band are Sam Hemmendinger on bass, Jason Taylor on guitar, Evan Perry on drums, Dave Priri on piano and Rob Davis on guitar and vocals. Rob mentioned James Roy, who also sits in from time to time. The band played together for the first time at the Cranston West High School holiday show and their chosen song was “Sweet Home Alabama.” Rob never really sang and never really wanted to, but the band needed a vocalist, so he stepped up to the microphone and away they went. Rob described how his voice has progressed since then; he has learned to control it and has even added a bit of a rasp. Soon winter turned to spring and the spring talent show was knocking at this band’s door. They entered the show with two songs: “Pride and Joy” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” In the show program, the band was listed as The Sharp Dressed Band and the name stuck.

Making the transition from school shows to local bars proved easier than expected. Rob walked into FitzPatrick’s in Cranston for a jam when he was 16 years old. There he met Billy Lehourites, a frequenter of jams and an amazing guitarist. Billy mentioned to Rob that he was looking for a band to open for him at Christopher’s just down the street and wondered if Rob’s band would be interested. The members of The Sharp Dressed Band managed to slap together two and a half hours of music and they took the gig.

While the band sticks to mainly ’60s, ’70s and ’80s classic rock, there seems to be no limit to Rob’s ever expanding knowledge of genres and artists. “When playing acoustic my set list can be anything — rock, blues, jazz, top 40 hits. There is a huge difference between songs I know how to play and songs I perform. I could sit down for four hours straight and not play the same song twice.”

Rob’s fascination with different genres began when he started taking guitar lessons. “Guitar Hero had a huge influence on me. Yes, it may have been a stupid video game, but it really broadened my horizons and introduced me to artists I had never heard before.”

After that, Rob was hooked on classic rock; he talked of raiding his father’s CD cabinet for Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Van Halen. Rob slowly fudged his way through these legendary albums on his own guitar.  Senior year, Rob transitioned from rock and started taking to the blues. “My first time walking in here [Murphy’s Law] was last year, scared shitless. I did not know any blues. I played stuff like Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Thoroughgood, and Tom Petty.  People would ask ‘Do you know Robert Cray, or Buddy Guy?’”

“I don’t know them,” he’d reply with a shrug. But Rob continued as he always did, learning new artists and absorbing new material, with a little help along the way. He became a blues aficionado in no time. “I learned a lot from these guys. The blues community really takes you under their wing.”

Most talented musicians tend to see themselves becoming rich and famous in the future; however, for this modest artist that is not the case. “I’m not in it for the money, I’m really not. As long as I can put gas in my tank I’m happy.”

Despite school never being his thing, Rob is working his butt off at URI to get his degree in sociology. Why not music? “I know a lot of music majors who graduated with their degree and they’re just miserable. Music is no longer fun. To them it’s just work. If one day one-third of my income is made by music, that’d be great. But I’m not going to force it.”

As the night wore on, Rob and I continued to chat about the music scene in RI and how it’s exploding. “The Cranston music scene has been growing exponentially over the past year, and I am so glad to be part of it! Every day my name gets out there just a little more and I have the Rhode Island music community to thank for that.”

Free live music can be found seven days a week in your local townie bars. Near the end of our conversation, Rob delivered the quote of the night: “The age of the night club is dead; the local bar is now the place to be.”

The Sharp Dressed Band will be performing on Block Island at Captain Nick’s every Saturday and Sunday all summer long and Rob can be seen performing at local jams on the mainland Monday through Friday.  For more information on the band, check out their Facebook page: facebook.com/TheSharpDressedBand

95.5 WBRU Summer Concert Series: Torn Shorts

By Jeffrey Folker

June nights: not too hot for a stroll in the park, not too cold for an Awful Awful from Newport Creamery.  Growing up in New Jersey, three miles from the Atlantic Ocean, summer has always been the time of year to relax, hit the beach for a tan, and grab an ice cold beer at the local establishment.  Now living in Providence, summer has a new meaning: 95.5 WBRU’s Free Summer Concert Series.

In the heart of downtown Providence, catchy beach-y, blues-inspired, indie rock (that’s a mouthful) tones filled the scenic Waterplace Park  on June 14th, as over 1,000  spectators sat, laid, or danced – enthralled by the musical talents of local band Torn Shorts and a night of good, clean fun.  Lead by front man Josh Grabert, Torn Shorts has taken the New England music scene by storm after winning WBRU’s 2013 Rock Hunt.

According to Michael Christofaro, (Marketing Coordinator and Photographer for the City of Providence), early June has a reputation among city event planners for rather unpredictable weather– in past years, rainouts have pushed the concert series indoors (to Lupo’s).  After a rainy morning on Friday, by mid-afternoon, the weather had cleared enough to keep the concert outside.

If nothing else, people-watching entertained many, as venders sold the usual Waterfire wares, kids as young as 1 sat with families, punks, grandparents, and even a handful of dogs, PVD Pudding Pops sold their… well, pudding pops, Dunkin Donuts handed out free samples of their newest coffee line (which was phenomenal!), and kayakers floated lazily down the Providence River, drinking in the sounds of the city.

WBRU’s Free Summer Concert Series continues this Friday, June 21 with The 1975, and runs every Friday night, concluding with Cold War Kids on July 12th.


Stay tuned for video!

ROOTS REPORT: Folk Music Heats up the Summer

Okee dokee folks … I have one foot in the modern era and another still dragging behind me in antiquity. I like the dragging foot; I am stubborn! Last month I wrote my first online column and also recorded an episode of Motif TV. I plan to TRY to keep up with contributing an online column and an episode of Motif TV as well as my monthly print column. If you didn’t get a chance to check either of them out, please do. Hop over to MotifRI.com.
We are just a few days past the unofficial start of summer and a couple of weeks before the solstice, and already things are heating up for a great summer of music. I’m sorry, that was very cliché. Read on as I try to let you know about some of the good stuff happening over the next couple of months. Have I mentioned that summer is my least favorite time of year? It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.

Women of RISA
The Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA) presents its 10th annual “Women of RISA” show at the Church Street Coffeehouse in Warren. This show was started by RISA member Jan Luby because I (yes, me) inadvertently booked all MEN at a RISA showcase at Stone Soup the prior spring. This year’s set of lovely sirens spotlights Tammy Laforest, Jenny White, and Colby & Keila with Jan Luby hosting. The Church Street Coffeehouse is located at the First United Methodist Church on Church Street in Warren. For more, worship over to churchstreetcoffeehouse.com.
RISA/AS220 Songwriters in the Round shows continue all summer on the second Sunday of every month from 6 – 8 pm. It’s a unique opportunity to hear four different songwriters’ takes on the same theme. The June 9 program presents host, Joanne Lurgio, with Dawn Kelley, Rick Demers and Meg Braun all penning tunes about “staying the course.” RISA also will be hosting Thursday night music at the Fort Adams Summer Celebration Series. June 20 is Dan Durand, Ronnee Ringquist, Perry Desmond-Davies and Jacob Haller; July 18 is Louis Leeman, Ed McGuirl and Jacqueline Bartlett; August 15 is John McAuliffe, Paul Pasch, Marc Douglas Berardo and Steve Allain; and September 19 is Kala Farnham, Rick Demers, Earl Faria and Kayla Ringelheim. For more about all RISA events, compose your way over to risongwriters.com.

Thursdays at The Towers

Thursday nights are ALWAYS happening during the summer at The Towers in Narragansett. The Towers coordinator, Kate Vivian, has a passion for music and dancing and it shows in the variety and caliber of bands that she books. The Towers in Narragansett was a Mecca for fun in the gay 90s (the 1890s), and it continues to be more than 100 years later. On June 6 is Eight to the Bar, on June 20 is The Revelers, on June 27 is Coastline Swing Band, on July 11 is Reminisce, on July 25 is Sarah and the Tall Boys, on August 1 is Honky Tonk Knights, on August 8 is Roger Ceresi and his All Starz, on August 15 is Superchief Trio, on August 22 is Slippery Sneakers, and on August 29 is Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys w/ special guests. There’ll be lots of sweating and a shimmyin’, so bring your dancin’ shoes and a bandana/towel. The Towers is right across from the ocean and the wall at 35 Ocean Road. Yeah, it’s the building that you drive under. Where else can you dance over a road? For more about The Towers shows and events, promenade over to thetowersri.com.

Summer Solstice Festival
The Blackstone River Theatre (BRT) will present its 3rd annual Summer Solstice Festival at Diamond Hill Park on Route 114 in Cumberland on Saturday, June 22, from 11 am – 7 pm (Rain date: Sunday, June 23). Performing will be Aoife Clancy, Eastern Medicine Singers, Atwater-Donnelly Trio, Cantrip (from Scotland), Core 4, Sheila Falls and Mark Roberts, Genticorum (from Quebec), The Gnomes, Paddy Keenan, Cassie & Maggie MacDonald (from Cape Breton), Robbie O’Connell, Devine’s Diner, The Broad Street Ceili Band, Debbie O’Carroll, Marvelous Marvin’s Circus Arts and Pendragon. This year there are three music stages, as well as stages dedicated to both Irish dance traditions and children’s entertainment, all running continuously throughout the day. If you don’t get enough of the daytime show and want more, or you just would like to hear some of the festival performers in an indoor setting, the music continues from 8:30 – 11:30 pm with a separate admission “After-Festival-Music-Session” in a casual pub-like atmosphere. Many of the day’s performers will head over to the BRT to keep the music going. There will be a cash bar and complimentary food will be available at the Saturday evening event. For more information, ring up 401-725-9272 or step over to riverfolk.org.
Downtown Sundown Series
Bring a lawn chair, a blanket and maybe even a picnic dinner and sit on the lawn at the beautiful Roger Williams National Memorial and enjoy FREE concerts by some of the best songwriters RI has to offer. Hear In Rhode Island and Roger William’s National Memorial will present several evenings of music over the summer as part of the Downtown Sundown Series. Saturday, June 22, (special “Singing About Providence” celebration show) from 4 – 6 pm are WS Monroe, Billy Mitchell, Indigo Bethea, Heather Rose, and Jacob Haller. The remaining concerts start at 7 pm and continue until 9:30 pm.
Scheduled to appear on Saturday, June 29, are Kerri Powers, Kris Hansen, Dan Lilley with Scatman, and Malyssa Bellarosa; on July 13 are Lisa Couto and Ray Cook, Lisa Martin with Brad Willard, Kala Farnum and Tracie Potochnik; on July 27 are Mark Cutler, Bob Kendall, Heather Rose and Jesse Liam; on August 10 are Emma Joy Galvin, Ed McGuirl, Steve Allain and Aoife Clancy; on August 17 are WS Monroe, Dylan Sevey, and the Rank Strangers. There is limited parking available at the park. Lots of street parking and pay parking lots are available. All ages are welcome. Please don’t confuse Roger Williams National Memorial with the Roger Williams Park Zoo. They are totally different parks on opposite sides of the city. Roger Williams National Memorial is located at 282 North Main Street in Providence’s College Hill Historic District. It’s a small park that you have probably driven by hundreds of times. You can get more info by phoning 401-521-7266 or by discovering (does anyone remember the “Discover RI” license plates? If you do, you’re old!) HearInRhodeIsland.com and
Sunset Music Series
Every summer, a big white tent transforms the Newport Yachting Center into one of the premier concert venues in Southern New England. The Sunset Music Series is packed with a boatload of music, and the Series and a medley of festivals take the tunes to summer’s end. The gates open early and local performers play the Point Stage until the main stage openers begin. Brandi Carlile is on June 14 while Heather Rose plays the Point Stage; Willie Nelson is on June 15; Chicago is on June 20 while Glenda Luck plays the Point Stage; The B-52s are on June 21 while Motif Award Winner Lisa Couto is on the Point Stage; Moe – JamFest is on June 23 while Steve Allain plays the Point Stage; Foreigner is on June 28 while Lisa Markovich plays the Point Stage; Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are on July 6 while Kala Farnham plays the Point Stage; Chris Isaak is on July 10 while Allysen Callery plays the Point Stage; BB King is on July 12 while Joe Silva plays the Point Stage; the Doobie Brothers are on July 17 while Marc Douglas Berardo plays the Point Stage; One Republic with Mayer Hawthorne and Churchill are on July 30, while Dylan Sevey plays the Point Stage; Smashmouth, Sugar Ray and Gin Blossoms are on August 4, while Kris Hansen plays the Point Stage; George Thorogood and Buddy Guy are on August 9 while Ed McGuirl and Mike Fishman play the Point Stage; The Fab Four Beatles Tribute are on August 17 while Billy Mitchell plays the Point Stage; Styx are on August 22 while Emma Joy Galvin plays the Point Stage; Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo are on August 31 while Malyssa Bellarosa plays the Point Stage. That big tent is going to hold a lot of music. For more about the entire goings on at the Newport Yachting Center, sail over to newportwaterfrontevents.com/sunset-music-series.

Dig Your Toes Into Sandywoods
The Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton is providing Tivertonians and beyond with a hub of unique and exciting activity. Located at 43 Muse Way in Tiverton (that’s greater Massachusetts for all you Rhode Islanders – just kidding!) This is just a sampling of the summer schedule. On June 9 are The Jammin’ Divas, on June 28 is Cliff Eberhardt, on July 6 are the Twangtown Paramours, on July 27 are Planet Zydeco, on August 9 is Grace Morrison and the RSO. Oh, yeah, the part that folks really seem to like – it’s BYOB and food. There’s so much more to Sandywoods than just music. Check it out. For more, dig your toes into sandywoodsmusic.com

Music Worth the Drive
Coming in as still one of the best bangs for your festival buck is the 18th Annual New Bedford Folk Festival. Weekend passes are a bargain at $20 in advance. The July 6 and 7 music feast will feature the best in contemporary, traditional and Celtic folk music on seven stages. Featured among the nearly 50 nifty musical acts are Roy Book Binder, The Kennedys, Lori McKenna, Ellis Paul, Cheryl Wheeler, Tiffany Rozenas, Antje Duvekot and more. For more info, harpoon over to newbedfordsummerfest.com.
One of my favorite venues to play and to see music is the Narrows in Fall River. I always say that they should open a bed and breakfast there because they have so many back-to-back-to-back great shows! This summer is no exception. Head out across the Big ole Braga Bridge to Fall River for some of the best music anywhere. Here is a sampling of the summer schedule: Julia Sweeney and Jill Sobule perform on July 10, Jimmy LaFave is on August 6, Nick Lowe is on August 17 and Leon Redbone is on August 24. For the amazing and complete summer line-up, taper to ncfta.org
Get your RI passports ready, you will have to cross state lines – a couple – for these. Yes, the next two events are a little bit of an adventure, but just like the donuts, they’re worth the trip. Okay, maybe the donuts aren’t, but the music is! Lots of RI folks head up to these two festivals every year. In the beautiful Catskill Mountains, you can bear witness to a Who’s Who of Bluegrass Music. The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival takes place July 18 through July 21 on the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill, NY. Del McCoury, Jerry Douglas, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Infamous Stringdusters, The Duhks, Dry Branch Fire Squad and lots more are on the bill. Get your camping tix early – only 4,000 are available and they go FAST. Day tickets are also limited. For more, sly your way over to greyfoxbluegrass.com.

The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2 through August 4 at Dodds Farm, just off Route 22 in Hillsdale, New York. That’s near the corner of Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Vance Gilbert, Susan Werner, Ellis Paul, The Grand Slambovians and many, many more are slated for this year’s fest. For more, fly over to falconridgefolk.com. Trust me, they’re both an easy drive – it’s mostly Mass Pike all the way!
File this under saving the best for last! On August 31 through September 2, which is Labor Day weekend, the big summer-wrapper-upper is The Rhythm & Roots Festival, held at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. Now in its 16th year, the festival features four stages of music, a family tent for kids, dance lessons, all day and evening dancing on two dance floors, gourmet food and drink, and the best that roots music has to offer. Weekend camping is available and parking is free. Scheduled for your listening and dancing pleasure are Steve Earle, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Marcia Ball, Brown Bird, and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. There are special early bird prices on full festival and camping tickets. For more, beat it over to mardigrasri.com.

All of this is just the tip of the musical iceberg. Sorry for yet another cliché. With global warming, icebergs are melting, so hurry and enjoy. Whatever that means! I’ll be keeping you up-to-date about more shows via the print edition, online or video. Thanks for reading. johnfuzek.com

The Class of 2013 Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Members Make History

Rhode Island may be small, but there’s no doubt it’s big on talent. To honor and preserve that talent, the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) was formed in 2011. “Rhode Island has produced an inordinately large number of truly great, successful and important artists,” says RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive Director, Rick Bellaire. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that world-acclaimed artists have roots right here.” The RIMHOF aims to make it impossible to forget that fact.

This is the organization’s second year honoring Rhode Island-based musicians with an induction, and it expects this year’s ceremony and concert to rival last year’s sold-out show. The 2013 inductees include The Cowsills, made up of six siblings and their mother, who raised her chart-topping brood in Newport; George M. Cohen, who had his start in Fox Point; Sissieretta Jones, who managed her astounding opera career from Providence’s East Side; Bill Flanagan, who started in Rhode Island and headed to the top, promoting music from his home state all the way; Jimmie Crane, who maintained a Providence-based jewelry manufacturing company while huge stars like Doris Day and Elvis crooned the songs he wrote; Federal Hill-born Bobby Hacket, who grew up to be one of the best jazz improvisers ever seen; Eddie Zack & The Hayloft Jamboree, a band known for bringing country and western music to the Northeast; and Paul Geremia, who grew up in Silver Lake to become a world-acclaimed acoustic musician. The final inductee is Steve Smith & The Nakeds, who is celebrating its 40th anniversary, putting out a new album titled Under the Covers, and planning a full tour schedule. But that doesn’t mean the band doesn’t have time to honor its roots by joining The Cowsills in a special concert that follows the induction ceremony.

To allow more fans to be part of the action, this year’s ceremonies, which will be held on April 28, will be split into two events. Afternoon inductions and performances will be held from 2 to 4 pm, and the evening inductions and performances will begin at 7 pm at The Met. If you’re attending both sessions and are looking for something to do between them, head to the RIHOF museum space in the Hope Artiste Village at 4:30 pm to see the unveiling of nine new displays honoring the 2013 inductees. As theorganization grows, the museum will hold over 100 inductee displays, as well as Rhode Island music memorabilia, complete with interactive components. According to Bellaire, the museum space is just one of the RIHOF tools that will allow the organization to showcase the best musical talent in Rhode Island.

To purchase tickets to the events or view the day’s schedule, go to http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.