This past weekend was the first Summerfest Providence. Held at the Port of Providence, at Conley Dock, it featured live music, food, arts, children’s activities and a Pro Volleyball tour. This industrial area, which is in the shadow of the construction site for the new “I-way” bridge linking Interstates 95 and 195, may not be as picturesque as the signature Waterplace Park downtown, but is also not as congested. The festival was in the gravel parking lot where you catch the ferry to Newport, and was organized by the same people who put on a series of music and other festivals at the Newport Yachting center across Narragansett Bay. Perhaps it was conceived as an extension of that scene, which featured acts such as Little Feat, Robert Cray and Joan Osborne earlier this year.
The Providence festival had two days of music, with a diverse lineup of Bluegrass, Cajun, Reggae, Latin, Blues, Country, Rock and Pop, but we only caught the last 2 acts on Saturday evening. We arrived shortly after 6 pm to the groove of Santa Mamba, a 6-piece Latin band with a rock’n’roll attitude. They were very entertaining to watch, especially the bass player with the Mohawk haircut jumping around on stage. During the break we went to check out the food vendors, which in addition to the ubuiqitous sausage and pepper sandwiches, also offered such RI treats as Saugy hot dogs, Clam Cakes and other seafood dishes from Johnny Angels of Newport, Brazilian barbeque from Casa Brasil in East Providence, and Jamaican fare from Tina’s in Providence. Wine and beer were for sale (for $4 and $5 respectively), with Corona as the main sponsor displaying two a giant inflatable bottles (in keeping with the Beach Volleyball them, I guess) . Soda and water were also available for $2. In the Volleyball Competition, there were men and women playing in bathing suits, on a sand court, but for “some reason” the women’s side attracted a larger group of spectators… go figure!
Then at 8pm the Fabulous Thunderbirds played an energetic 90+ minute set of rockin' boogie blues to an appreciative audience, which had finally grown to a respectable size. The Thunderbirds, fronted by Kim Wilson (the only original member) on vocals and harmonica rocked the house. They did some of their signature tunes such as Tuff Enuff, and Wrap it Up, Why Get Up, and plenty of other danceable songs, as evidenced by the dust cloud in front of the stage. RI sure loves the blues ..maybe some were reliving past shows at Lupo’s. Kim was not even phased by being hit by a beachball a few times, just coolly batted it back out into the audience. We did not return Sunday, opting instead for a bike ride – during which we stumbled across more live music, a local Blues/Classic Rock cover band called Shot in the Dark playing for free in a local park. Sometimes you have to work to find the music, and sometimes it finds you!
I can see the Providence Summerfest growing over the next few years. Since I wasn’t there for the whole thing I can’t give my impressions of the rest of the weekend’s festivities, but there is a more complete account in the Providence Journal.