Times of crisis can often bring out the best in people.
An individual’s altruistic action for someone who needs it the most can get others through the day when they hear the story. It’s the inspiration that grabs hold of us and makes us push forward.
With that in mind, what’s more inspiring than music?
This past Saturday, a few individuals went up on the roof on the Gearhead DIY Super Center at 250 Oakland Beach Ave. in Warwick to perform a rocking set. In keeping with the current COVID-19 crisis, they were known on that day as “The Social Distancers,” but they’re all involved in the Sunday Open Jam at the nearby live music spot Renegades at 2007 West Shore Road.
The concert came about from an idea Gearhead owner Ron Long had that morning. He was inspired by one of the most legendary rock ‘n’ roll performances of all time to make it happen.
“I had an idea, because everyone is being a sourpuss about this and everyone is brokenhearted and sad,” he said. “I figured that I had to do something, and Gearhead is on a good corner that everyone passes through on. I was listening to ‘Let It Be’ by the Beatles that morning and I realized that 50 years ago was their rooftop concert in London, and I said to myself ‘That’s what I’m doing today.’ We let the police know what we were doing, people stayed in their cars, people were parked across the street. It was meant to have people driving by see what was going on and be happy. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved with in my life.”
Long got the musicians involved by contacting Bette Ann Spinale, who runs the open jam. After he made the call, vocalist Jo Boronzy, drummer Ron Leary, guitarist Larry Lemery and bassist Joe Coccia showed up an hour later to set up on Gearhead’s roof.
“Gearhead called me and told me their idea, so I used my Sunday jammers,” Spinale said. “It was fun. We just wanted to make some people happy through music.”
The band had a blast up there, and their hour-long set of covers – including Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’” – got people’s attention. Cars stopped to see what was going on while others honked in approval and people yelled joyfully after bearing witness to the unique performance.
“It was extremely spontaneous!” Boronzy exclaimed. ”Everyone listening seemed to be having a good time. We all love music and wanted to do something positive to make other people happy for a bit so they could forget about the stress they have been going through. It was chilly up there and the sky held back the rain right up until we got the music gear off the roof. We had to bring all the speakers drums and instruments up a ladder, we were blessed that it didn't start to rain. I was so happy seeing people dancing and singing along. Music is a beautiful thing.”
One of the people who parked their car to see what was going on was Warwick musician Nate Jones. He was heading back to his place after doing some grocery shopping and he ended up filming a bunch of the performance.
“As I was driving home from the market, I heard Fleetwood Mac playing but it was strangely loud,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t a radio and I could tell that it was live. I looked up to my left and saw a band playing from a rooftop. I said to myself ‘Nothin like a little rock ‘n’ roll to heal the soul.’ I decided to pull over and enjoy the tunes despite the cold winter air and bleak gray sky.”
He added: “The music was all I needed, and to my surprise I then recognized everyone on the roof. Jo was killin’ it up there doing her best Stevie Nicks, Larry was ripping tasty electric guitar solos, Joe was holding it down on bass and Ron was rocking the hell out of a bright orange drum set with big shiny cymbals that echoed across the four-way intersection to Oakland Beach below … People driving by kept honking their horns and expressing appreciation for the good vibes. I stood outside filming for a glorious 45 minutes before making my way home. It was a moment of synchronicity and being at the right place at the right time!”
At a time where so much is uncertain, happenings like these can lift people’s spirits. Like the ’80s metal band Twisted Sister once said, “You can’t stop rock ‘n’ roll.” A few musicians on a Saturday afternoon gave that phrase some validity when they brought music to the isolated masses.