210930ind Duguay

While many people hoped the 2021 summer season would be a return to normalcy for live music in Southern Rhode Island, the COVID-19 pandemic still loomed over large shows and festivals like the Rhythm & Roots Festival, pictured above. Regardless, music writer Rob Duguay says, the season was just what local artists and fans needed after a 2020 where events were few and far between.

This year’s summer officially ended on Sept. 22 and you can notice its conclusion due to the slight chill in the air and the leaves changing into those autumnal hues of yellow, brown and orange. As an arts & entertainment journalist and as a music fan, it’s a good time to reflect on a very important few months for live music in general. This past summer provided a thorough view of how we as a society can be safe in the midst of the COVID-19 delta variant while enjoying ourselves and doing what we love. There’s a mix of excitement and caution, excitement for the shows that are planned for the fall and winter but also caution because there are constant reminders that we still have to be safe during these crazy times. With this mix, I know I speak for a lot of people when I say that it felt so good to head to a venue or a festival this past summer and enjoy some bands exhibiting their skills on stage.

When things started opening up at the beginning of the summer in late May, I had yet to be fully vaccinated but I was feeling that live music itch. The light at the end of the pandemic’s dark tunnel started getting brighter and brighter. There were also a ton of friends and family that I hadn’t seen in over a year who I was looking forward to seeing and catching up with. The first show I went to after getting both my Pfizer shots and chilling out during the two week period afterwards was on July 15 in the parking lot right next door to Dusk on 301 Harris Ave. in Providence. Warwick math rock trio Strip Mall were ringing in the release of their self-titled EP with Providence indie rock act Beauquet, Providence via Charlestown instrumental progressive math rock shredders People Eating Plastic and Providence indie jazz heads Mutter being the opening acts while Providence soul-prog phenoms Bochek made a surprise appearance.

A few days later I headed over to Pump House Music Works on 1464 Kingstown Road in Wakefield to see Providence instrumental funk dynamos Slurp perform with Phat A$tronaut from New Haven. In my opinion, Slurp is one of the 10 best bands in all of Rhode Island right now and the latter act is one of the most inventive I’ve ever seen. While flowing through the realm of soul, funk, R&B and hip hop, Phat A$tronaut wowed me with their progressive structure and fearless way of getting weird. Then a few days later, it was the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams which was happening a bit differently this time around. Instead of just one weekend, it happened in two sets of three days from July 23-25 and July 26-28 under the name “Folk On!” and it was magnificent.

I wasn’t able to get to every day of this year’s installment of the festival due to commitments at my other job but it was fun seeing Black Joe Lewis, Lucy Dacus, Middle Brother, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Christopher Paul Stelling, Billy Strings, Langhorne Slim, Sharon Van Etten and Beck perform on various stages. It was also great seeing some fellow compadres and compadristas in the local and national media while shooting the breeze about the fantastic music that was all around us. The same goes for the Newport Jazz Festival that happened on the following weekend at the same location from July 30 - Aug. 1. I was only able to go there on the second day but seeing Kenny Garrett, Robert Glasper performing “Dinner Party” with Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington & 9th Wonder and Mavis Staples made it worth it. What made that day the most special of the summer was being invited that night to a private jazz jam happening at the top floor of Fluke on Bowen’s Wharf in Newport by my cousin who shares the same first and last name as myself and he’s a professional jazz bassist.

There must have been barely 30 people in the small room with seating and a bar while a bunch of musicians, including my cousin, who were in the backing bands of the star performers from that day played music in the corner. It was such a fun atmosphere and then Washington showed up out of the blue. I shook his hand after my cousin introduced me to him and then the owner of Fluke gave me a drink to give to him. Washington proceeded to take his saxophone and start jamming with the other musicians while the audience was in the midst of pure bliss. It was a surreal moment but also an awesome one that I’ll never forget, thanks again for extending the invitation.

That August ended with me going to the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts, which happened at the Franklin County Fairgrounds from Aug. 27-29. It was a pleasure seeing the likes of Antibalas, Deer Tick, The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, Sammy Rae & The Friends, Cimafunk and JD McPherson and many others exude musical excellence into the air. The following weekend was the one that rings in Labor Day and around these parts it meant that the Rhythm & Roots Festival was happening at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. I was only able to go on the second day of that particular festival as well but it was fun hanging out at acclaimed photographer Richard McCaffrey’s photo tent while seeing local country artist Charlie Marie and her band perform on the Rhythm Stage and getting immersed in the fun that the Dance Stage brings. That’s how my personal live music summer ended and as you can tell, it was a whole lot of fun.

No matter what happens going forward, there’s always going to be a feeling of uncertainty when it comes to putting on shows and festivals. After what we’ve been through with COVID-19 so far, you can’t really blame the mind for learning towards those thoughts. At the same time, these days and nights of normalcy where we can celebrate life and the ones we care about are very important. It’s going to be interesting as live music goes indoors for the next six months or so but it’s up to you if you want to take part in the experience. I personally hope you do while being safe about it because my experience of this past summer was exactly what I needed after a year of not having it.

Rob Duguay is a Rhode Island-based music writer. Send him email at rob.c.duguay@gmail.com.

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