Got in from Boston in a bus packed with Brown University students who took themselves quite seriously, debating for the full hour-and-a-half ride about international policies non-stop (probably getting pumped up for a model-UN Conference or something), leaving Mika and I in a state of stress dangerously close to annoyance when we both realized that cranking up the volume on the Ipod wouldn’t cover their academic chatter anyway.
The anti-gentle driver of the “Peter Pan” Bus threw our bags out the trunk like garbage, which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Thank God my guitar case fits in the overheads and I don’t have to trust those brutes with it. Mika mumbled a well-deserved “Hey, fuck you” to which the driver replied with a low grumble that (maybe) expressed semi-embarrassment. He then full-throttled through Kennedy Plaza, happy to be relieved of his duties.
After checking out the local high-school ice-skating talents doing a free show outdoors and going through the thin Occupy Providence settlement, we got caught in the usual hell of american public transportation: no schedules listed, no bus numbers or line itineraries on the bus stop pole, just figure it out man! After much confusion and back-sweat, we found the right bus that dropped us in a pretty shady part of town. Firehouse 13 was standing there in its magnificence, unlikely joint located in a dark deserted back-alley behind a Mc Donald’s parking lot ; it’s funny how culture somehow manages to find its way in the cracks of the mainstream entertainment (Remember Ground Zero in the suburban mall…). The staff was extremely nice and supportive, the sound was great and the local acts full of talent (special mention to Keith McCurdy of Vudu Sister, who nailed it with solid heartfelt vocals and strong effective songs) but unfortunately, it was a poorly attended Saturday night shindig. The awesome owner Lizzie made up for it as well as local punk/roots band Revered Bastien’ cover of The Misfits: “Brains for breakfast, brains for lunch, brains for dinner, brains for brunch…”.
We learned some cool things on the ride back thanks to nice fellow Bastien, like how the Italian mobsters ruled Providence for a long time when they came in the 60’s (before being busted and handcuffed after the Reeko act) and reshaped it to resemble their homecountry, building Venice-style water fountains, cobblestoned streets and other great architecture that enhanced the city’s beauty. Built in 1630 and full of nice historical districts (the gorgeous Benefit Street with its old Brown University buildings and student residences, which represents a good third of the city, Wickenden Street and its great strip of privately owned antique shops and coffee houses, and finally India Point Park where the wharves used to swarm with commercial boats’s goods flowing in from India and Africa), it apparently has the biggest design school in the country and as you may see in the pictures, is home to lots of interesting buildings from the late 17th century.
Spending a beautiful sunday walking around to get a sense of what was Providence was about, we were definitely hit with a weird sinking feeling strolling through these pretty but extra-deserted streets, spotting lots of abandoned boarded-up businesses no one seems to bother to pick up, even Downtown. Sometimes a student or two would exit a huge ancient building and pass by with an Iphone with a hood on, like a ghost rushing to its next haunting mission. When feeling uneasy and a little spooked in empty Providence, I couldn’t help but think of the horror master H.P. Lovecraft who used to roam around the West Side of this city, and definitely understood a little more where he got some of his inspiration for coming up with the Miskatonic University, Arkham and the creepy parallel worlds he conceived and located in or around Rhode Island.
Of course, our Couchsurfing host Dan was fantastic, furnishing us with warm welcome (even with repeated late-night arrivals) and delicious breakfast with his favourite hard-to-find hot sauce Lingham’s that he orders by cases from Malaysia from the Internet. Dan’s roommate Brie told us about where she was from in Pennsylvania and mentioned the oddly-named Amish towns of Virginville, Blueballs and Intercourse.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a pleasant surprise, which proves once again that good thing come to the ones who don’t expect them at all. Twenty minutes north of Providence, it was even more deserted and gloomy and when we got off the bus (yes, hell again to hop on that one), I knew we were in for a trip. But as soon as we pushed the door of The News Cafe, odd little bar at a odd corner of an odd town, we were greeted with a larger-than-life smile from Jill the bartender who shouted: “Welcome to Pawtucket, sirs! Please help yourself to the hot-dog table, if you’re hungry, they’re still hot!”. It was all uphill from here, meeting Matt the friendliest booker who performed a great opening set of Nick Drake/Jeff Buckley- influenced songs with a lot of soul, gutsy lines and successful ambient instrumentals. His brother Mike closed the night with a great set, playing tasteful electric guitar that had a fantastic tone, and singing beautiful songs in a raw and energetic voice.
So here is how this week-end went: two poorly unattended shows in a deserted city, which made me feel quite alone on the Providancefloor, but I leave with my pockets full of new friends and great inspirational music. This is why I’m in for.