“There is no other community like it.” That’s what Davey Moore, owner of the city’s newest music venue, Alchemy, has to say about the Providence music scene.
Providence is not only home to unique, artist-centric venues, but it is also an ever-present “it” destination for in-the-know traveling bands. These bands are looking for a great local spot to play that is more than just a stopover between New York and Boston on a regional tour. The Columbus Theatre’s Tom Weyman defines the “big music scene in a small town” as a place rich with local talent that collaborates, supports and is always proud of the places at its fingertips looking to show off the constant influx of new creative minds.
So, take out your calendar, block off the next few weekends (and weeknights), because these Providence venues have some music you need to hear.
Expect to see: Something you may not be able to adequately explain.
AS220 is a place for art kids, art rock, non-art kids and the polar opposite of art-rock. Since 1985, AS220 has been a venue for anyone with something original to show, “regardless of perceived ‘talent,’ experience or whether or not they will draw a crowd,” says AS220 Communications Director David Dvorchak. AS220 looks to provide an all-access, all-inclusive “unjuried and uncensored forum for all Rhode Island artists” that allows them to perform exactly what and how they want. Just no cover songs, and, David adds, “check your expectations at the door.” 115 Empire Street. 831-9327.
The News Cafe
Expect to see: Something sincere, to the point and, possibly, a little wild.
It’s favorite of the local DIY scene and a welcome stop for traveling bands. Music booker Justin Foster promises “an intimate venue with nowhere for your favorite bands to hide.” In the world of self-booking, self-promoting bands, The News Cafe is always good for 100% of the proceeds at the door going to performing artists and an anything-goes attitude. The News Cafe is an incubator of local talent that gives anyone who goes a place to love. Is it the dive bar aesthetic? The art gallery? The checkered floor? Probably all of the above. A listener can expect a great sound mix, cheap drinks and friendly, organic and intimate performances with no real separation between band and fan. 43 Broad Street, Pawtucket. 728-6475.
Expect to see: Exactly the what you were looking for.
The newest venue downtown is the collective effort of some old faces to the Providence music scene. Davey Moore views Alchemy as a welcome place for any musician regardless of genre. “We deeply respect our local musicians and artists and do everything in our power to promote and support them,” Davey says. It is this sensibility that has led to Alchemy’s boisterous opening month featuring successful nights of hip-hop, rock and everything in between. While some venues rely on artist self-promotion, Alchemy works to actively get the word out on behalf of the scene. 71 Richmond Street, 2nd Floor. 383-6336.
Stone Soup Coffeehouse
Expect to see: Raw words and raw music.
On the recommendation of Pete Seeger, a collection of local musicians started the Stone Soup Coffeehouse in 1981 in the historic Slater Mill. The old wooden beams, floor and ceiling give the 120-seat venue a characteristic sound that Stone Soup’s Eric Anderson likens to “performing inside a cello.” The Stone Soup books acoustic performances from Americana through singer-songwriter, blues and a blend of modern interpretations of the genres using both traditional and non-traditional instruments. Armed with nothing but coffee generously supplied by the Coffee Exchange, the Stone Soup looks to provide organic music as it should be: a product of place from unplugged musicians to the people. 67 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket. 335-0371.
The Columbus Theatre
Expect to see: Music that’s meant to be heard.
While renowned for bringing bigger national acts such as Iron & Wine and The Tallest Man on Earth to Providence, The Columbus Theatre also plays host as a genre bending local venue in their intimate upstairs stage. The space might at first seem uniquely suited for acoustic acts, but The Columbus Theatre’s Tom Weyman points out that while the space is great for those kinds of acts, some of the greatest shows have been punk bands or rappers. “I'm interested in challenging the expectations of what can happen in a seated theater,” he says. With an eye on keeping a healthy blend of music in a space designed for listening, The Columbus Theatre is a place to hear music, no matter what genre it is. Plus, it is also the only venue that offers a marquee for advertisement. Pretty sleek. 270 Broadway. 621-9660.
Expect to see: Something that intrigues with an equally intriguing cocktail in hand.
Jenny Young of Aurora puts it this way: “Aurora seeks to provide a safe space and a creative platform for all those interested in music, performance, discussion, dance and theatre.” To think about Aurora in the heart of downcity is to begin to unravel everything the quirky and conscious venue has to offer to the equally quirky and conscious people of Providence. A glance at their monthly poster reveals a welcome place for the fringe musicians, comedians, one-act plays and performance artist that all find an accommodating space to bring varying definitions of art to the masses. “We strive to program a diverse calendar including, but not limited, to local rock, punk, noise, folk, hip hop, DJs, jazz and more,” Jenny says. With a variety of art to show, Aurora has become a melting pot for all the genres and scenes that call this city home. 276 Westminster Street. 272-5723.
Expect to see: Something loud and necessary.
Firehouse 13 might often get lumped in as a strictly punk venue, but a quick look at the concert calendar shows a wide variety of genres being given stage time in this old 1856 firehouse. I think that John Difruscio and Windsong Hadley say it best in the venue’s mission statement: “It’s not about money, it’s not about fame and it’s not about ego. It’s only about the scene, the community. It’s about a secret told only in Providence, whispered from hipster to hipster, punk to punk, kid to kid over the booming echo of clinking glasses and drunken nonsense.” What more is there to say? Now, go see a punk show! 41 Central Street.
Expect to see: Either the metal show you intended to see or something unexpected.
Metal heads rest assured, Dusk has a home for you. Adorned with band stickers featuring every variation of heavy metal font available, Dusk stands off the beaten track from downtown out in an old mill behind the new Promenade off I-95. Take in the sight of racing street bikes as you enter a space solely devoted to the stage and the people on it. But, with metal aside, Dusk owner Rick Sunderland makes sure it is a home for anyone looking to play their music. Amanda Salemi, of Dusk, The Parlour and many other venues, says, “They do not discriminate against any type of music or art and are always willing to give anything a chance.” Dusk has also played host to the popular Revival Brewing and Julian’s Revival Fest, an up-and-coming festival two years running featuring the very best of the local music scene. 301 Harris Avenue. 714-0444.
Expect to see: Something really cool, craft beer in hand.
The Parlour would be the place where the cool kids go. Between the reggae night, funk, retro 45 spinning DJs, karaoke, solid bills, sea-shanty sing-alongs and the best sound mix for a venue its size, The Parlour always seems to be wearing sunglasses no matter what time of day it is, plus it’s just close enough to Pawtucket to never sell out. The Parlour allows bands of all types to perform, but bills are finely curated to make sure that each concert night is the best it can be. Owners Greg Rourke and Aaron Jaehning run a tight ship, and make sure the artists are always treated fairly. 1119 North Main Street. 383-5858.