You could say last night was a good night. After a week of gloomy days where it would look nice for a few hours, then torrential rain for the next couple, seeing the sun on Friday afternoon was a boon of good things to come. For last night was The Spot Underground’s first outdoor block party headlined by none other than Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers.
The Spot is located on Elbow Street on the Eastside of Providence, Rhode Island. Like its namesake, Elbow St. is shaped like an elbow between Chestnut St. and Richmond St. and is a perfect spot to block off both ends of the street and have a party. Now, the Providence music scene has had somewhat of a bumpy ride in the past 20 years. Providence doesn’t get too much consideration of a music mecca city, but from the 70’s to the early 2000’s, it was just that. Home of amazing musical acts like the Talking Heads and Lightning Bolt, Providence was always ahead of the curve in the music world.
Unfortunately, for a few years after that, a lot of the great music venues either closed down, moved, or just stopped having as many national acts as they used to. Small up and coming jambands were forced to play Jerky’s which was the second floor of a building, just above Club Hell(a bar for mostly metal bands and the occasional 80’s night) and just below a Tattoo parlor, right in the heart of Providence’s club district. Since then though, new(old) places started to open back up and revitalize the once amazing Providence music scene. Lupo’s continues to get the bigger national acts while medium-sized shows can now be seen at the new Met Cafe in Providence’s redheaded stepsister city Pawtucket and good bar sized shows can be seen at the Spot, which was a venue formerly known as the Call.
I got there at 5 pm, right before show time, and saw that Route .44 was tuning up onstage. Now I’ve seen Route .44 about six years ago opening up for former Jammy Award winners, the Breakfast at the Middle East in Boston. I remember them being pretty good then(for a band that opens at the Middle East), but they’ve come a long way in the past 6 years. They’re a seven-piece band w/ a drummer, guitarist/lead singer, bassist , saxaphone player, amazingly beautiful viola player, percussionist and a keyboardist. Their music is a mix of swing, rock and funk and even brought up comparisons to Morphine at certain points of their set.
This past year, they won “Best Local Act” and “Best Local Album” in the Providence Phoenix’s yearly awards issue. sidenote: the Phoenix is the best paper in New England as far as being informed about music and local restaurants and bars is concerned. It prints weekly and has a seperate edition for the cities of Boston, Portland and Providence. Their set was very upbeat and ranged from the swing-like opener “MARS” to the deep and mellow tones of a Tom Waits cover all the way to the polka genre for their set ending jamathon simply named “Polka.”
After the set, I chatted with Ian and Teri, lead guitarist/singer and fiddle player respectively. We chatted about our roots in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and why they named themselves after a second-rate state highway. Apparently members of the band met while working at Butler Hospital in Providence which is a mental hospital on Rte. 44. According to them as far as mental hospitals are concerned, they spoke highly of Butler, but I had my own fascinations with Route 44 so we continued on talking about the Haunted Hitchhiker, who has supposedly terrorized late night drivers on the Seekonk/Rehoboth line of Rte. 44 just over the state-line in Massachusetts.
Now, the main event:
I met Kermit briefly inside the bar before the show started and we took up shelter behind the stage for the opening set. Now, I’m not a New Orleans native, and up here in New England, New Orleans is like a whole different world to us. The closest I’ve even been to New Orleans was a weekend in Atlanta, and the only similar style band I’ve even seen was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band opening up for moe. on New Years Eve. The only thing we had in common was being Saints fans and our partying habits, yet Kermit and the band were all down to earth kind people and helped show me what New Orleans was all about.
The crowd built up quickly as Kermit and crew took the stage. They opened their set with a nice rendition of ‘I Can see Clearly Now’ which was perfect considering the lousy weather leading up to this evening. After that, Kermit introduced New Orleans legend Henri Smith who came on-stage to introduce the band. This wouldn’t be the last we saw of Mr. Smith. The band followed up with a great take on the New Orleans classic ‘Aiko Aiko.’ It was at this point I noticed the deftness of keyboardist, K2, who was very talented. note: I don’t know the proper spelling of his name, but his playing was on par with the second biggest mountain on the planet, so it works for me.
Soon afterwards, Kermit introduced the newest member of the band, Mikiya to join the stage for a couple of tunes including Norah Jones’ hit ‘Don’t Know Why.’ As far as I am concerned, she should have stayed on-stage all night because she had an amazing voice. But alas, she left the stage to let the 4 piece(drums, keys, bass and Kermit) do their thing.
The Lovely Mikiya
The Barbecue Swingers continued to play a tight set combining New Orleans staples mixed in with the occasional original number or hip-hop tune. The drummer at one point sang lead vocals on ‘Does That Make Me Crazy’ while Kermit wailed away on his trumpet with a little help from his Bud Lite bottle. The set got harder and harder and people were grooving to a song introduced as a Jessie Hill(Trombone Shorty’s grandfather) number which got people’s booties shaking.
The closer of the set was a segue of one of Kermit’s attempts at rapping into a version of the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Goodnight.’ Now I’m not a fan of the Black Eyed Peas at all, but the BBQ Swingers took it to a different level musically and almost sounded a bit like electronica at parts, definitely a stellar band. Overall it was a great set, I guess since they were in Rhode Island, they probably played more standards and less originals than if they were in New Orleans, but a fun time was had by all, booties were shaking, drinks were spilling, and it was indeed a good night.