Welcome to The Raven Music Hall
We are open Wednesday through Sunday 6pm to 2am.
We are a music venue, bar, pizza kitchen, and all around good place to hang out. Come see our great atmosphere, and have a good time with us.
At The Raven, it's all about the music.
A few brothers playing honest music.
The Raven News
By: Lindsay Corcoran
WORCESTER â" In setting out to visit every bar in Worcester, Dante, the semi-anonymous blogger of "Gin and Tonics Across Worcester," admitted he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
When he began this project last March, the blog was more of an art project. He would go into every bar, order one drink he could get everywhere (and happens to be a favorite of his) and leave to later write a few hundred words about the experience.
"Of course I didn't have any clue that there was more than 100 bars in Worcester. Man, was I wrong," Dante admitted.
Now, 100 bars down and 100 reviews later, Dante's learned a thing or two about the bars of Worcester.
"I can identify the dreaded Gilbert's gin in one sip," said Dante, noting bad gins have become his nemesis. "Some people can identify all the wine varietals of Bordeaux, I can divine all the well gins of Worcester."
He's also learned what bar one might be threatened at, where to find people salsa dancing in the back and how much â" or maybe how little â" one can learn by spending just enough time at a bar to have one drink.
Above all, he's discovered the bars in Worcester are as varied as the city itself.
"The bar scene of Worcester is like Worcester, spread out in scattershot fashion but something for everyone. There is nothing centralized, everything seems to be micro - communities spread all around," Dante said. "I really think there is something for everyone. I actually don't think I could tell someone where to go to learn the bar scene. I say go out, go to a bunch of places, have a drink, find out what works for you."
Of course, he's identified a few favorites along the way.
"The Fix, the burger joint on Shrewsbury Street, had the best gin and tonic I have had on the tour," Dante noted.
He said his favorites tend to be neighborhood bars, "the places where people read books at the bar or at a table playing cards with friends."
"I was really charmed by Breen's Cafe in Webster Square. You can get a good affordable drink, a burger called a friendly burger and a nice environment," Dante said. "There are a few dive bars I dug like Guertins that has a great old bar feel... Vincent's is also a great, hip neighborhood bar. It has a great style and the drinks are good."
Dante added George's, the bar on the side of Coney Island Hot Dog, and the music club The Raven on Pleasant Street, to his list of favorites, as well.
While he didn't want to name names, Dante did find a few less-than-appealing bars along the way.
"There is a place on Pleasant Street that is the ultimate dive bar. This is where people go to drink and wait for their time to come. This is a just the saddest place; a dirty, hard-drinking joint for people who can't think of any other place to be," Dante said.
There were other places he found to be a little dull or in community that wasn't his own, but Dante said he's left with a generally positive opinion.
"[For] the most part, I just am pleased I was allowed in and treated well," Dante said. "When I decide I don't like a place, its purely subjective, just my opinion. For the most part, there are people suited for most bars."
Dante said he doesn't consider his blog and his views to be the final say on whether a bar is good or back.
"I call myself a tourist and that's the way to look at it," Dante said. "I take snapshots and I mount them in a scrapbook. The snapshots are 500 word pieces of writing and the scrapbook is the blog."
Dante said he plans to keep touring, but only for another 35 bars or so and only into the summer. He said he knows he'll be missing a few, but noted his liver can only take so much more.
By: GoLocal Worcester News Team
On Wednesday night, Jillian's of Worcester hosted the 2015 Pulse Magazine Worcester Music Awards.
2015 Worcester Music Award Winners
The raucous evening was highlighted by performances by Ashley Jordan, Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli, Cougar Bait, and Hothouse with Jim Perry. The night ended with a roaring performance by Rolling Stones tribute band Let it Bleed.
The big winner of the night? The band Tester took home three awards including Best Rock Act, Best Live Act, and Band with Best Groupies.
Local radio station WICN took home two awards - they were named Music Station Most Supportive of Local Bands and DJ Nick Noble won Best Radio DJ.
Up-and-comer Ashley Jordan also took home two awards for Best Female Vocalist and Best Solo/Acoustic Act.
Here are the 2015 Worcester Music Award Winners:
WINNER: The Raven
Lucky Dog Music Hall
The Bar: The Raven
The Address 258 Pleasant Street
The Day and the Time Wednesday at 9:52
The price 5
Did they ask me if I wanted a lime He did ask and I got a thin slice to accompany my libation.
What was the type of gin It was well
What was the gin and tonic like Not a bad drink. Once again, the old Gin and Tonics Across Worcester Axiom â" If the place is good, the drink will improve.
The Joint This is not a place with a lot of buzz in regard to no one mentioning it in the litany of rock clubs in Worcester, and thatâs wrong. Sure, its in the worst part of Pleasant Street, but the joint is wonderfully deceptive. The outside makes it look like a run down house. Hell, you have to go into a side door, and as you enter, you get a huge large clean rock club. Hey presto, it appeared out of nowhere!
The place is big. And it has a hell of a stage and from what I have been told by multiple people, an amazing sound system. The bartender owner told me that they can have 100 people in and it doesnât feel packed. Thatâs a good sized joint. Its big enough for a couple pool tables and dart boards and a side bar and andâŚ.
This was open mic night and it was supposed to start a half hour before I got there, so of course it hadnât started yet. But thatâs open mics. They occur in a wormhole of broken clocks and discarded guitar picks. A large, older guy with a big beard was roadying the sound system from the stage. Playing guitars in different spots of the stage. He looked like one of the Hellâs Angels from the film Gimme Shelter 30 years late (but much nicer).
There were about ten adorable people in faux punk gear waiting for the music, soaking in the scene. They were young and clean and dressed to be punk rock kids. You just want to take them home in your pocket.
Also at the bar were local faux tough boys from the neighborhood playing pool. One of them tried to act gangsta and impress the college punk girl at the bar. It was awkward. There is a strange dichotomy about the music kids and the local tuffs playing pool. I could imagine issues occurring, that they would all break into syncopated rumble dance routines like they were the Jets and the Sharks. I have been assured by friends who have been there, that though this weird divide between locals to Pleasant street and the kids coming for the music is there, the place is big enough for it to be amicable. I didnât see any music, but I liked the strong rock club feel. Bartender Brian said that it reminds him of the clubs he ran into in LA. It felt a little like the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip. Thatâs high praise indeed. For me, it reminded me of the Living Room in Providence, though the Raven is bigger and cleaner.
General Impressions I came in older than most there, though the friendly bartender was about my age, which was nice. He was one of the owners of the place and he grilled me on why I showed up and what I think of the place. I lied a little, or a lot, but we had a mutual acquaintance and chatted about him and about music. He was welcoming to everyone. He made the place even a little better.
Amount of Time in the Joint 20 minutes
Will I come back I canât imagine I wonât. I really enjoyed my time there. It was the better version of all those clubs I went into in my twenties when my friendsâs bands were playing to almost empty houses. Its in a bad stretch of town, but I liked it a lot.
By: Worcester Herald
Probably an unpopular subject to bring up.
Since we are very aware of the Sign Ordinance in the City of Worcester, we are starting to wonder where exactly we are going with all these murals.
This one is up
canal district mural
Second mural planned for Weintraubs
Now one being applied for on Pleasant Street
By: Nick Kotsopoulos
In what is believed to be a first for the Historical Commission, it has given the go-ahead to the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association for a painted mural along the west side of the Raven nightclub building at 256-258 Pleasant St.
The colorful mural, which will be roughly 100 feet long, will be painted along the Newbury Street side of the building. It will range in height from 5 feet at the Pleasant Street end to nearly 10 feet at the other end of the building, and it will cover the building's concrete lower portion.
Susan J. Champeny, a local artist who has been working with the neighborhood on the design of the mural, said the artwork will depict various historical and cultural characteristics of Crown Hill, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
Ms. Champeny said the mural will include a map of the Crown Hill Local Historic District as well as a welcoming image to the district. It will also include renderings of notable individuals who lived in Crown Hill, as well as the neighborhood's architecture and history, including Congress Alley and the musicians who made it famous, she said.
Members of the rock group Orpheus, which achieved nationwide fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the release of four successful and well-regarded albums, lived in Crown Hill during that time. The group wrote a song titled "Congress Alley" that made the Crown Hill landmark famous nationwide.
Ms. Champeny said members of Orpheus have given permission to have their likenesses depicted on the mural, along with other notables.
Normally, the Historical Commission doesn't get involved with outdoor murals, but it had to get involved in this instance because the Raven nightclub building, which was built in 1925, is within the newly created Crown Hill Local Historic District. As a result, the commission had to hold a public hearing regarding a certificate of appropriateness for the mural.
To facilitate the project, the City Council last week also approved an order authorizing the acceptance of a public art easement. The easement will allow the city to permit the creation of the mural.
Tom Johnson, a Congress Street resident and member of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, said the idea for the mural originated with fellow Crown Hill resident Elizabeth Mullaney, who is also co-chair of the neighborhood group.
Mr. Johnson said it is a concerted effort by the neighborhood that began three years ago. He also praised the donation of Chris Bettencourt, owner of the Raven, for allowing the mural to be painted on the side of his nightclub.
"We couldn't be happier with this," Mr. Johnson said. "It's a process that has taken a considerable period of time, and it's been a project involving the whole neighborhood."
Members of the Historical Commission praised the project, saying it was in perfect keeping with the history and culture of the neighborhood. The commission unanimously approved a certificate of appropriateness for the project.
By: Jennifer Russo
For local, up and coming bands, exposure is the name of the game. Getting the band names out there, getting people to come to shows and getting their music heard. If there were a place where local bands could submit their music to be heard by the masses, grab on-air interview time, meet and talk shop with the bands that have made it past that point and just have a great time, they would be smiling from ear to ear.
Guess what? There is a station that does this. Not just an online station, CNEU has recently opened a studio in Lowell and will cover not only music, but include sports, pop culture and live talk shows.
Lowell-based CNEU Rock Radio is taking a new and innovative direction in true music support. New station manager Melissa Beaudet envisions the station not only pouring out great music to listeners but seeing the local music community truly come together, give support and be supported.
âI would like to see harmony within the scene, where everyone supports each other. We want to pack shows, so all these bands are heard, and we want to spread the fan base from one band to all the bands on the bills. We want fans walking away from shows with love for new bands they might not have had the opportunity to hear before. I have spent countless hours finding new bands from all over the world and putting new music into the station rotation. Examples might be Losing September from Indiana and Another Lost Year from North Carolina. We also have had music submissions from bands like Shagging Ponies from the Netherlands and Two Faced from Australia. We have music from all over the world. My main goal for CNEU is to be the biggest local and worldwide supporter for all of these unsigned bands. I want CNEU to be a stepping stone for them on their journey to becoming signed,â Beaudet said.
So what can we expect from the station, on top of the music and becoming the new band hub?
CNEU has its hand in several projects, including sponsoring several shows throughout August, live broadcasts and branching out and adding to its rock and metal repertoire with country and hip hop choices and some talented on-air personalities.
Along with all this, there are beautiful girls âŚ wait âŚ what? Oh yeah. The sexy CNEU Rock Radio girls help promote the station, mingle with bands and fans at live shows, take part in car washes ~ as well as other fundraisers and charity events ~ and may be available for hire as guests at local shows to help promotions in the near future. CNEU is looking for more Rock Radio Girls, a position which can be applied for online.
âTo become a Rock Radio Girl, one has to simply go to CNEUradio.com. Within the site, there is a submission tab for the Rock Radio Girls. All they have to do is fill out the quick form, add a few pictures and hit submit. The interview process consists of filling them in with what the Rock Radio Girls do and what direction we are looking to head in. We are interested in normal, everyday type girls who love the music scene. There is no specific look for our girls; we want a variety. The only requirements are that you are dedicated and love the music scene,â said Kerry Keaveny, who heads the program.
Brad Auricchio, part of the station (along with Keith Bosivert) and DJ in his spare time, credits the level of support given to the community and local bands for helping CNEU to get ahead of the pack.
âAs a supporter of local artists, CNEU airs the local bandsâ music in rotation on the station. We promote any shows we know that are coming up, as well as attending the shows if we are available. We put bands in touch with other bands if they are looking to fill a bill for a show. We share band pages and/or websites to gain likes and exposure for them. We have what we call the âBand Wallâ on our website. On this wall, it shows band logos, and when you click on the logo, it brings you right to the bandâs Facebook page or website,â Auricchio said.
CNEU, which was nominated for a Worcester Music Award this past year, might just take that coveted bronze microphone home in 2015. From contests to local coverage, live shows and concerts to the girls, CNEU certainly is ramping up to explode in the industry.
In August alone, CNEU will sponsor the Rock the Boat Cruise in Boston on Aug. 21; celebrate The Raven owner Christopher Bettencourtâs birthday at The Raven on Aug. 22; and attend two events Aug. 23 ~ the Affliktion Bitchâs Pig Roast in Fitchburg and Rocks Outdoors at Drafters in Dudley.
To check out more of what CNEU is working on, see show schedules and hear some great tunes, visit cneuradio.com or facebook.com/CNEURadio.
By: Brittany Durgin
This year's New England Ska Tour makes its ways through the Northeast, stopping in cities like Portland, Maine and Wakefield, Mass. The tour comes to The Raven Music Hall in Worcester this Sunday, July 20, from 3-7 p.m. for an all-ages show with El Grande, Mr. Furious, Threat Level Burgundy and Sonic Libido. $8 cover fee. The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. theravenrocklub.com.
Learn more about the bands below.
El Grande (Maine) https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Grande/113935868624121
Mr. Furious (Boston) https://www.facebook.com/MrFuriousSka
Threat Level Burgundy (Billerica, Mass.) https://www.facebook.com/ThreatLevelBurgundy
Sonic Libido (Maine) https://www.facebook.com/soniclibido
By: Victor Infante
Not knowing a whole lot about the ska band El Grande, we went and did some research, expecting to find a few clips and not much more. So imagine our surprise when we found out that just last month the band opened for one of our all-time favorites, The English Beat! Which goes to show that, no matter how jaded you get, you can still be surprised, too. And listening to songs such as "Saving My Pennies" and "Don't Take it Personal" reveal a big , horn-laden ska sound that's an absolute blast. El Grande performs for Wormtown Ska Promotions with Mr. Furious, Threat Level Burgundy and Sonic Libido, 3-7 p.m. July 20 at The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. $8.
By: Jon Brien
Worcester has long been a city that fosters a sense of community and city pride, from the popular âParis of the '80sâ t-shirts, to the annual stART on the Street, which brings out hordes of people from all walks of life to Park Ave. It is also a city with a flourishing local music community, and nowhere is this more evident than on the staggering achievement that is the new record by Worcesterâs Speaker for the Dead, âThe Ballad of the Undercrust.â
Started by Worcester local Greg McKillop as a moniker for his solo output, Speaker for the Dead eventually grew into a local music collective of sorts made up of a brass band, more than three guitarists, several drummers and others playing various instruments. Anyone with an instrument who knows the songs can play with the band, and as a result their live shows tend to be high energy and very crowded. Speaker for the Dead has released several EPs with varying lineups that usually range from three to eight members, but this new record is the first time Speaker for the Dead has attempted to capture their larger-than-life live performance as a recording. In order to do so, the band has crowdsourced instrumentals from 20 contributors playing roughly the same number of instruments, to create an album sound that is both widely eccentric and strangely whole.
The record kicks off with the brooding, stomp-ready opener, âSounds Like A Protest,â which in many ways sums up the thesis statement of âBallad of the Undercrustâ perfectly: The music scene is broken and we are here to fix it with the power of punk-rock and friendship. The track begins with lightly-strummed minor chord banjo and ominous drums before bursting forth into a metal-tinged ska-punk indictment of the racism, classism and homophobia that exists within many aspects of the music scene, particularly at pay-to-play shows, which are particular recipients of the songâs rage. The song sets the tone well for the rest of the record, as McKillop and friends continue to ârage against the sceneâ with reckless abandon and glee for the next nine tracks.
This is not to say that the album is all fire and brimstone about the state of the music industry. There is also plenty of love present on this record, such as âWorcester Song,â in which McKillop sings of his love for the city that raised Speaker for the Dead and the people who live there.
âIf you live in Worcester please make sure someoneâs singing someone for youâ he shouts over pounding drums and vibrant, triumphant horns, in a tone that makes us believe that McKillop would without question be the one singing for us. And for all of the moments where it seems that McKillop is overwhelmed by the amount of cruelty that exists in the scene (whether talking about issues of consent on âAsk Consent Before (Anything)â or discussing hypocritical bands on âPunk Rock Didnât Save My Lifeâ), there are also plenty of moments where the band stands triumphant in the face of growing scene adversity, such as on the albumâs beautiful centerpiece âSaint Peter Part Two,â which features a powerful chorus: âI can do it myself, I donât need your helpâ as heavenly gang vocals burst through in the background and the horns section plays more resoundingly than ever.
For the wealth of heavy topics discussed on the record (depression, sexual abuse, homophobia, racism) the albumâs sound is overwhelmingly fun. The songs frequently bounce forward with energy and punk-rock fervor, and the horn section is always a delight to listen to in tandem with the group vocals in songs like âThe Trollâ and âSongs So Sad.â The highlight of the record, however, is the near 7-minute closing track, âContract,â which contains both the most complex instrumental track on the record and McKillopâs best vocal performance without a doubt. âI could sell my soul, if youâd show me the contractâ he growls with a Tom Waits-like rasp over a creepy punk-polka arrangement that is endlessly catchy and perfect for a night of rowdy dancing. The shouts of âHey! Hey! Hey! Hey!â in the bridge are also infectious, and the track provides the perfect end to a chaotic, yet composed, debut.
Much credit has to be afforded to the albumâs producer, Taylor Goodman (of Worcester's local Bright Red Reason), for his ability to rein in the albumâs many sounds and shouts. Nothing sounds out of place or overdone, and while at times the record has quite a lot going on at once, the abundance of musical tracks makes it all the more fun to just get lost in the insanity. What is most impressive about âBallad of the Undercrustâ is the way in which it manages to bring so many different artists together in a way that sounds cohesive, theatrical and organized, without losing the raw punk edge that the groupâs music naturally contains. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it also takes a village to raise a punk band like Speaker for the Dead, and throughout the duration of âBallad of the Undercrust,â the band makes it clear that Worcester is the perfect village for the job.
âThe Ballad of the Undercrustâ was released May 28 on speakerforthedead.bandcamp.com. Catch the band live at Worcesterâs The Raven, 258 Pleasant St. for their album release show on June 6 with Uh-Huh, Jake McKelvie & The Countertops, and Holy Shadow.
By: Bronislaus B. Kush
WORCESTER â" The Crown Hill Local Historic District is noted for its carefully restored Greek Revival-style homes.
But there was a time when those stately houses weren't as tidy as they are today â" serving as home to college students, "misfits" and others who embraced the culture brought about by the social upheaval of the 1ate 1960s and early 1970s.
"That neighborhood was filled with all kinds of creative people who were products of the times," said William Wallace, executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum.
Centered on Congress Alley, a short pedestrian path on the hill, it was the place where poets, writers, musicians and photographers gathered to rally their opposition to the Vietnam War and to share their thoughts on social inequalities and civil rights.
Guitars strummed and the smoke of marijuana wafted about.
A visitor could run into Abbie Hoffman, the Worcester native who was co-founder of the Youth International Party ("Yippies").
Today, local historians want to renew interest in the neighborhood and to remind people that Worcester had its share of "flower people."
One project is painting a 100-foot mural on The Raven rock club, whose ownership has been a booster of the neighborhood.
There's also talk about putting a historical marker somewhere along Pleasant Street and making notations on city street signs that the neighborhood is a historic district.
Historians believed that the area became Worcester's Haight-Ashbury â" a reference to the San Francisco neighborhood known for its history of hippie subculture â" because it had a lot of cheap housing and its landlords were "student friendly."
Mr. Wallace said there's not a lot of archival material on the neighborhood, though some old issues of Punch, an alternative publication, offer some details on what life was like.
In fact, Mr. Wallace is hoping that museum officials themselves will learn more as residents come forward to tell their stories.
The museum held a public event last week with Susan J. Champeny, the artist selected by the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association to paint the mural.
The association recently received a $5,600 grant from the Worcester Arts Council to do the work.
"There was a creative atmosphere everywhere in that neighborhood," said Ms. Champeny, who grew up in Lincoln but has lived in Worcester since 1987. "The 1960s and 1970s were exciting times. America and Worcester flowered."
Deborah Packard, the executive director of Preservation Worcester, said the neighborhood was typical of urban districts that hosted counter-culture populations. Preservation Worcester had sent a letter of support for funding the mural.
Ms. Champeny, who hopes to start painting in June, said the mural project is in the "sketch phase" and she wants to solicit opinions from the public.
"I want to incorporate some ideas from the people," said Ms. Champeny, who studied at the Massachusetts College of Art. "The mural should be an ode to the neighborhood. This really is a fun, fun project."
She said she's hoping that residents will also help her with the actual painting.
"It will give them a sense of ownership," Ms. Champeny, a former graphic artist, explained. "They'll be able to walk by later on and tell their friends, 'Hey, I painted that flower.' "
Ms. Champeny, who has created murals, sculptures and paintings, said she already has ideas for the mural.
One involves painting some of the landmark residences on Crown Hill. The mural might also include "rays of sunshine," singing birds, and an "artsy" map of the district.
Ms. Champeny said she's looking for help and is hoping people send her photos of the neighborhood during its "radical days."
"I'd be interested in photos of people attending a backyard wedding, stopping by the local coffeehouse, or working on their paintings," said Ms. Champeny, whose email address is email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Crown Hill Local Historic District, so designated by City Council last year, encompasses 40 acres generally bounded by Pleasant, Newbury, Austin and Irving streets. Officials said the Congress Alley "hippie haven" generally followed those boundaries.
The area includes single-family homes, large apartment buildings, emergency shelters, and small businesses. Half the properties are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The neighborhood's revitalization started in the 1970s when architect John Herron and his wife, Frances, moved from their home on Massachusetts Avenue to Oxford Street. Other professionals followed.
Community development money was invested, and in 1976, a portion of Crown Hill itself was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By: Brianna MacMillan
Almost four years after breaking up, local band Affliction is gearing up to hit the stage March 22 for its second reunion show. Affliction performed its first reunion show last year after being voted Band Youâd Most Like to See Reunite at the 2012 Worcester Music Awards.
The band won the award again in 2013 and âmade a promise to the fans that every year we won, we would do a reunion show,â said singer Jessica Hogan, who said the break up was due to a âfalling out of the inner workings of the band.â
Last yearâs show was at Tammany Hall, which is now closed, and this year, Affliction will reunite at The Raven in Worcester. âTammany was home to us,â Hogan said. However, she added, after almost selling out the show last year, the band is excited for an even bigger reunion this year.
Affliction2This yearâs show will feature at least five bands: Mindset X, Scarecrow Hill, Tester and Affliction, along with a surprise band that is to be announced.
Lead guitarist Michael Mariano was excited to talk about the upcoming reunion. He said the reunion will be larger this year, partially because the band had been unsure of how the first reunion would go and if âall of us as a band could work it all out.â
Mariano and Hogan had been working on a side project, playing some Affliction songs, and Mariano said that he felt it was important that he and Hogan stay together and play their old songs. They âvowed to keep those songs alive, in memory of our original bassist [Scott Bever],â Mariano said.
After a successful first reunion and an enormous response from fans, Affliction will be back again. Hogan said she started receiving emails and hearing rumors of a potential second reunion almost immediately after the first show. This year, the band will play a longer set, âpulling out all the old songs we havenât played in a long time,â Mariano said.
Affliction1Both Mariano and Hogan said how vital the fans have been in the reunion process, especially the bandâs large, dedicated fan group ~ the self-named Affliction Bitches. Led by âhead bitchesâ Tanya Skinner and Nicole Cyr, almost the entire group of more than 50 women is expected to be at the upcoming show.
âThey didnât let us die,â Hogan said. Starting in Hoganâs shed, Affliction has built a legacy for themselves through its songs and the enormous dedication of its fans.
This wonât be the last fans see from Hogan and Mariano, either. Both said they think Affliction members would love to perform on a yearly basis. Mariano also alluded to something new in the works, with a new name and a mix of new and familiar faces. Mariano said that although he canât give away too many secrets, fans can âexpect something in the future from us.â
By: Richard Duckett
WORCESTER â" The Worcester Arts Council has awarded $88,355 to 40 Worcester area artists, organizations, and educational institutions for 2014.
The 2014 allocation (up from $86,458 last year) includes several public art initiatives, and two $5000 artistic fellowships for glass and metal sculptor Gale Scott and art/science installation artist Lauren Monroe.
Among the projects funded are a Newbury Street mural in the Crown Hill Local Historic District ($5,600); "Worcester Arts Alley" in Allen Court off Franklin Street ($5000); the annual summer "Movies on the Common" presented by Worcester Film Works ($5000); and Worcester Public Schools students workshops and gallery visits to the Cantor Art Gallery at the College of the Holy Cross. Also, an arts and leadership collaborative between the Latino Institute, Worcester Youth Center, and Worcester Center for Crafts; World Refugee Celebration in June highlighting food, craft, music, and dance from some of the many refugee populations that now call Worcester home; Worcester Chamber Music Society's free Family Concert; the second annual Worcester Symphonic Project uniting high school, collegiate, and professional musicians; and many others.
"The Worcester Arts Council worked diligently to select recipients based on the priorities put forth through the help of the community's input," said Tina Zlody, chairman of the WAC, in a statement.
"WAC is thrilled to be able to support these noteworthy projects that illustrate the vibrant cultural community that can be found throughout Worcester. These projects and their success will play a vital and important role in enhancing the strength of our community through art and creative expression."
The WAC consists of nine members appointed by the City Manager and is part of a network of 329 local cultural councils serving all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The state Legislature provides an annual appropriation to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, which then allocates funds to each community.
A complete listing of the 2014 Worcester Arts Council grant recipients be seen at www.worcestermass.org/WAC.
By: Josh Lyford
Central Massachusetts has always had a great heavy music scene and 2013 was no different. In fact, this year was one of the most eventful that I can remember in recent years. New venues, old venues staying awesome and great bands from the area and abroad riffing it up â" Worcester is still going strong. Following is a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorite heavy shows this year. Here's to hoping next year has just as many bang-overs and actual hangovers.
-Josh Lyford, Contributing writer
Worcester Palladium on Oct. 24
The return of Ramallah was music to my ears, literally. One of the most disgustingly brutal and terrifying hardcore bands to have ever existed, a reunion of the once-defunct band was not something I ever expected to see. The entire lineup was great and a sober Rob Lind on the mic was a great sight to see.
Worcide DIY Benefit
97D (The Shop) on Oct. 26
October was a busy month and this show was one of the most fun nights out there. 97D is a fantastic venue and I had only been introduced to it this year, but you really can't go wrong with rad bands, rad people, a fire pit and an air of unpredictability. Considering the level of chaos that ensued when all of the bands played (and with that many costumed maniacs) it was a miracle that this show remained at the level of pure unadulterated fun that it did. But it did, and a big hell yeah to that.
Comeback Kid âTurn it Around 10 Year Anniversaryâ
Worcester Palladium on June 14
Comeback Kid is one of the tightest hardcore bands to have ever existed and they completely kill it with their current lineup featuring Andrew Neufeld on vocals, but it is a special treat to see them with Scott Wade on the mic ripping through some of their most beloved songs, a la 2003. Not to mention, Neufeld slays on guitar and it was great to see him return to that roll, just for a little while. Classic songs, great vibes and people going nuts. Stooooooked. Plus they have a new album and tour coming out in 2014, so there is even more reason to appreciate the monster that is CBK.
Comeback Kid at The Palladium. Photo by Ryan Macneil
A Loss For Words
Worcester Palladium on Nov. 2
A Loss For Words may not adhere to the rigid guidelines set forth by the heavy music powers that be, but they have an unrelenting ethic, a close connection to the hardcore scene and this is my list. This show was awesome, totally sold out, people having a ton of fun, the beers flowed like beer and Yellow Stitches played, which was an unexpected surprise.
Tinnitus Five Year Anniversary W/ Cleansing Wave
Hotel Vernon on June 13
I had seen both of these bands a bunch of times at this point, but there was something about this show that was extra special. The entire Hotel Vernon vibe really can't be duplicated (and I wouldn't want anyone to try) and the combination of these two awesome bands on one show with $1 beers pouring from the rafters was one for the record books. Loud, oddly lit, drunk and insane, just the way I like it.
Shoe City Records Showcase (Featuring Streetsweeper, Immolate, No Shit, Suffer on Acid, Fuming Mouth and a surprise Abomination reunion)
Rad Skatepark on Oct. 12
So many awesome bands played this that I couldn't even list them all. Rad Skatepark is not only a â" ahem â" rad skatepark, it is also an awesome venue and Shoe City Records always delivers the goods. This was a once in a lifetime chance to see a lot of these bands and anyone who didn't make it, I apologize. It was worth the price of admission just to see the super-rare plastic table mosh in action.
Suffer on Acid, Senzu, Vein-Friendsgiving
Marlborough house extravaganza on Nov. 30
The bands ruled, but the real show was in the living room. Marlborough is like Worcester's psychotic twin brother when it comes to house shows. Turkey touchers, food fights, interior/exterior remodeling and a manic night of savagery, more shows need to be this debaucherous.
The Mongoloids, Wrong Answer, Revenge, Villain
The Raven on June 5
I wasn't at this show (I was on tour), but it needs to be included. The Raven has been offering up great hardcore shows recently and that shouldn't be overlooked. For a show of this size to happen there says a lot and I didn't stop hearing about how great it was for months. I hope shows like this happen more often, and props to The Raven for doing cool all-ages hardcore shows.
Danzig featuring Doyle (Rock and Shock)
Worcester Palladium on Oct. 19
I wasn't at this show either, I wasn't willing to pony up the money and I honestly think Danzig is a bit of a dingus, but that didn't stop me from kicking myself when I heard the set list that featured some incredible cuts from The Misfits. No one got beaten up for taking cell phone pictures of his royal highness, Danzig, though, so that alone is a success.
Club Oasis on May 12
This was a bit of a surprise, but it was fantastic. I had seen Slapshot before and I assumed that I would again, but I certainly didn't expect it to be in Worcester at Club Oasis. The lineup was rad, it was Gator King's split release as well, and it was a fun night. I have mixed feelings about Club Oasis, but once in a great while, they put on all ages (where old men can still drink at the bar) shows and that is respectable.
New England Metal and Hardcore Fest
Worcester Palladium from April 19-21
You really can't argue with NEMHCF, with as many acts as they line up, there has to be something for everyone. Featuring sets in the upstairs and downstairs venues, you were hearing awesome rock from all directions. Some standouts for me were Turnstile, The Greenery, Incendiary, Trapped Under Ice (I believe their last Worcester show before hiatus), Suicidal Tendencies, Terror and Power Trip. After 14 years, NEMHCF's still has it. Here's to many more years to come.
By: Matt Robert
Rap, like most pop art, is a young manâs game, but, having been around a while, it inevitably has its elder statesmen, who carry the torch of former incarnations of the form, much like jazz and blues artists, many of whom become revered as treasures in their later years. (Snoop Dogg is 42 and Chuck D of Public Enemy is 53 and Ice T is 55!)
Bruiz, a Philly rapper with a quarter-century of experience, will make a stop in Worcester on Friday, December 6, at The Raven, on Pleasant Street for a hip hop concert as part of Da Stand Up Guys Tour presented by Sewey Hole Family, Bruizâs production company out of Philadelphia.
The show will feature a solid slate of national underground MCs, such as Six, Boodang (Detroit), Bruiz of da Outfit (Philly), Judah Priest (Philly/NYC) and headliner Buddha Monk of Wu-Tang/Brooklyn Zu.
Itâs not Bruizâs first time in the area. âWe definitely have a little following up there,â he says. âI was there a couple of months ago for a performance in Boston, but my friend lives in Worcester and we did his birthday party at the Raven last year or the year before. We come up there often just to hang out.â
Expect a night of danceable âgrown-folk music,â appealing to a little older hip hop audience, without âtoo much cussing.â Bruiz says that his music isnât really political or religious, but rather âstreet wise.â
âPolitical is on one side, religious is on one side and street wise is in the middle,â he says. âI like to stay in the middle, because when you go on one of the other ways itâs too much opinion. With the street wise, if you know it, then you know weâre speaking the truth. And if you donât know it, then you donât like it. Political, to me, itâs got too many opinions.â
Fans can expect âsamples of some really old school stuff,â Bruiz says of his producer of 20 years, Izzy. âI have some samples on there from, of course, Sam Cooke, I have some samples on there from Mahalia Jackson. Whatever he finds that catches his ear he just samples it and makes it happen. On my last stage show I had Kevin Hart [samples] on there.â
âI like to add some stuff thatâs relevant, that people know,â he says, âto keep their mind into what Iâm doing. I feel like if youâre not doing anything extra to keep their attention, you could lose them.â
Bruiz says that the tour, which will also make stops in Atlanta, Detroit, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Ontario, Canada and Brazil, will feature âgood hip hop, music that you can understandâ inspired by the great hip hop groups of the late â80s to the early â90s, like EPMD, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Bruiz, who has performed full-time since the age of 15, is presently finishing up his 10th studio album, Stand Up Guy, which he hopes to release in February of 2014 to coincide with the premiere of his new clothing line, Anchor Apparel. And though heâs been at the game for a long time, he hasnât slowed down at all, including lots of touring. âI havenât done a show in [my hometown of] Philly in about a year,â he says. âIâm in Detroit a lot, in North Carolina a lot, Atlanta a lot.â
As to what Bruiz listens to for inspiration, he says, âRight now Iâm listening to Wu-Tang, Jadakiss, and stuff like that. When Iâm recording I try not to listen to the radio too much. I donât want nobody saying that we sound like this person or we sound like that person. All I know about is us right now.â
âI do hip hop all day long,â Bruiz says. âIâm in the studio all day â" and thereâs a whole bunch of rap in my ear, so when I get in the car I like to listen to Sade, Anita Baker and stuff like that. I listen to a lot of R&B.â
âItâs like somebody working at McDonaldâs. You know, they work there. They donât want no double cheeseburger when they go home. They want something different.â
Come on out to The Raven, 258 Pleasant St. in Worcester on Friday, Dec. 6, from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. for a taste of something a little different.
By: Hilary Markiewicz
After a year of bringing ska bands from across the country to Worcester, Do It Yourself Wormtown Ska Promotions, a not-for-profit project run by Worcester native Matt Caranci, will celebrate it's one-year anniversary at The Raven this Saturday August 17 from 8 p.m.-1 a.m.
The project bagan through Caranci's love of ska and his passion for bringing the scene to Worcester, where Caranci says it is often misunderstood. When you say the word "ska", a lot of people associate it with the punk genre, he says "Ska really is the grandfather to reggae. If you listen to 1940's and '50's New Orleans blues and jazz, that's where it started." Eventually that sound was brought to Jamaica, where it was tweaked and transformed into reggae. Once American jazz, rhythm and blues were combined with Caribbean mento and calypso, the ska genre was born.
Caranci works almost exclusively with the Pleasant Street venue The Raven. "It's really a great place to have a great time." Caranci has heard from fans and artists alike that his productions are some of the greatest shows they've attended and encourages more people to give the location a chance. Though he is appreciative of other music venues in the area. Caranci feels that ska doesn't quite fit in anywhere else. He says that The Raven gave him the chance to promote ska the way nobody else did.
Caranci describes a unique sense of community existing amongst the ska genre. "The music scene is so supported here. Bands will come for their set and stay for the whole show. They stick together, go to other bands shows and back each other up."
Caranci's goal in promoting is to showcase all different varieties of ska, from reggae and old school ska-jass to ska-punk. He says that in this genre fans, can range in generations both young and old and that it really appeals to everyone. "You can't listen to ska and not be happy," he says.
DIY Wormtown Promotions is also operated by Caranci. which he created after being asked to promote a hip-hop concert. "The name Wormtown Ska Promotions really wasn't going to work if I wanted to collaborate with other genres of artists. With (DIY Wormtown Promotions) I do hip-hop and acoustic stuff. " Through this new side project, Caranci also became the first person to bring music to an unlikely venue, Pleasant Street's Pickle Barrel Deli, where he organizes acoustic sets.
Saturday's anniversary show features a ska-punk lineup of bands like A Minor Revolution!, Backyard Superheroes, poor Jeremy!, Short Handed Goal and J and The White Kids, Caranci plans to sell t-shirts at the event as well, in an effort to raise money for WCUW radio's roof replacement fund, where he is a contributor. After a year on his own, Caranci intends to slow down his own promotional work and look into a career as an event manager or promoter with bigger-name companies. Yet wherever he may end up, Caranci will always owe his start to ska.
Celebrate Do It Yourself Wormtown Ska Promotions' one-year anniversary this Saturday, August 17 at The Raven, 258 Pleasant St. facebook.com/WormtownSkaPromotions.
By: Bronislaus B. Kush
WORCESTER â" Congress Alley is a short dirt and rock path on Crown Hill that, in the 1960s and '70s, was viewed by locals as Worcester's mini-version of San Francisco's infamous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
It was the place where young poets, writers and musicians â" the âflower childrenâ produced by the social upheaval of the times â" gathered in the nearby low-rent housing to craft their songs, words and art.
Guitar music flowed from the flats and the smell of marijuana smoke wafted about.
Abbie Hoffman, the city native who founded the national hippie movement, was a frequent visitor and Orpheus, the local rock and folk band that once shared show billing with the likes of The Who, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, was so enamored of the well-worn pedestrian way that members named a song after it.
Now, there's some talk by neighbors of cleaning up the area and creating a âwalk of fameâ that would recognize prominent artists and writers with Worcester ties.
Congress Alley is just one of the unpolished historic gems that's hidden in the newly established Crown Hill Local Historic District.
The district, which is made up of 40 acres generally bounded by Pleasant, Newbury, Austin, and Chatham and Clinton streets, is an oasis of sorts that's composed of slivers of inner-city neighborhoods that lie just a few blocks west of the bustling Worcester Common area.
It's a physically eclectic place that includes single-family homes, large apartment complexes, emergency shelters, churches, ethnic mom and pop businesses and a bar.
What binds the divergent pieces together is the desire of those living and working there to stay true to the historic character and roots of the area.
Nearly half of the neighborhood's properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Overall, the Crown Hill district contains 166 parcels and 173 buildings.
âPeople who live here really care about their neighborhood,â said Elizabeth Mullaney, who moved 30 years ago from the more suburbanized Newton Square to Congress Street, one of the narrow roads in the district that evokes Dickensian memories of cobblestone streets lined with gas-fueled lamp lights.
It took residents four years of hard work before their neighborhood was formally designated by officials this spring as a local historic place.
The neighborhood's transformation began in the 1970s, when architect John Herron and his wife, Frances, saw the area's potential and moved from tony Massachusetts Avenue to Oxford Street. Other well-to-do professionals from the West Side soon followed.
A small âpocket parkâ at Chatham and Crown streets that's owned by Preservation Worcester is named after the couple.
âMany view the Herrons as pioneers,â said Deborah Packard, PW's executive director.
Crown Hill's history underwent a dramatic impact in the 1970s, when Worcester's industrial fortunes began to wane.
The area became shabbier and drew a transient population, many of whom were addicted to drugs and alcohol.
However, residents like the Herrons joined forces with the Worcester Heritage Society, the organization of Preservation Worcester, to persuade the city to invest community development funds to stem the tide of the neighborhood's decline.
The renovation work resulted, in 1976, in the placement of Crown Hill's core on the National Register of Historic Places. The federal historic district was slightly expanded in 1980.
But as more and more structures became renovated and as the renaissance continued to pick up steam, neighbors lobbied to have their home designated a local historic district.
Such areas began to be established in Massachusetts in 1955, the first being Nantucket and Boston's Beacon Hill.
Since then, 200 have been created. In Worcester, the Massachusetts Avenue and Montvale Road areas carry the designation.
Districts are founded to preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of historic structures and to encourage the construction of new buildings that are compatible with the historical designs and nature of existing ones.
Local historic districts are closely regulated by special boards, with some property owners needing special permission to do work on their landmark structures.
However, the rules generally aren't as stringent for non-historical buildings in the district.
In Worcester, each historic district has a member serving on the Worcester Historical Commission, the local regulatory board.
Proponents said the strict governmental overview is worth it, given that a historic district usually boosts the values of properties located within it.
Crown Hill district advocates feared opposition, since a large number of properties in the area need substantial work.
However, no formal objections were raised at any of the numerous hearings held on the proposal.
In fact, one property owner went out of his way to have his Austin Street building located in the district.
Still, residents believe a number of issues have to be hashed out before the Historical Commission, among them the proliferation of TV satellite dishes.
The Crown Hill district, which contains a large number of 19th century structures, is home to the largest concentration of Greek Revival homes. About 35 percent of houses in the neighborhood are built in that style.
The district also has a number of houses fashioned in the Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, Italiante and Second Empire styles.
Crown Hill is much larger than its two sister districts. It also contains many multi-unit structures.
Residents said they like living in the neighborhood because of its historical appeal and its proximity to downtown.
For example, Ms. Mullaney, who lives in a condominium, said she's always loved going to visit the city's commercial heart.
As a child, she said she enjoyed shopping at the former Kresge's and taking music lessons at the old St. Gabriel's School of Music, which is now home to Abby's House.
Ms. Mullaney said many of her jobs were also located downtown.
For example, she worked at a nursing home on Fruit Street, a pizza parlor on Highland Street, and served as a dormitory directory at Becker College.
âI've always been drawn by the city,â said Ms. Mullaney, co-president of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association.
Though they love their neighborhood, residents recognize there are still problems.
Crime is an issue and there are many properties in poor condition. Three neighborhood homes, for example, have been listed on Preservation Worcester's annual Most Endangered Structures list.
âEverything's not golden,â Ms. Mullaney said.
Timothy J. McGourthy, the city's chief development officer, said that the districts are one way of preserving the historical uniqueness found in each city neighborhood.
âThe challenge is in adopting older buildings into modern living,â Mr. McGourthy said. âIt's certainly doable.â
He noted, however, that it could be a burden on some property owners who might not have the financial resources to modify their structures to meet historical standards. But he added that the City Council is considering providing those individuals with some funding help.
Mr. McGourthy said city officials would probably welcome the creation of more districts, but that's all dependent on the support of neighbors who would be impacted by such actions.
âThe districts are labors of love,â he said.
By: Victor D. Infante
Having a long (and admittedly, somewhat sordid) history with âThe Rocky Horror Picture Showâ - the cult-classic movie starring Tim Curry as a transvestite alien mad scientist who ensnares an innocent young couple (played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) into his clutches for a night of debauchery and song â" it's amusing to see that the show seems to be resurging again.
There will be screenings at 9 and 11 p.m. April 13 at The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester, that will feature a performance by the 16-piece gypsy punk brass band Speaker For the Dead. Proceeds for the event will benefit Worcester Pride.
For those who've never seen it, a screening of âRockyâ usually comes attached to a âshadowcast,â wherein performers dress up like the characters, mimic the action on the screen, and generally enact mayhem for the audience's amusement. The audience shouts at the screen. Rice (and other things) are thrown. It's all very raucous.
There are a lot of different things that make the âRockyâ experience appealing, and the music has to be high on the list. Written by British playwright/songwriter Richard O'Brien, the movie is, at times, melodramatically awful - so bad it's actually entertaining - but the songs are actually pretty memorable. âThe Time Warp,â of course, has been a fixture of Halloween parties for decades. Other songs, such as Curry's âSweet Transvestiteâ and Meat Loaf's (oh, yeah. Meat Loaf is in this, too) âHot Patootie - Bless My Soulâ are almost deliriously fun, in a camp, over-the-top sort of way.
They're not all winners, though - the floor show, late in the movie, can be a lot of fun with a shadowcast, but some of the music in that section drags a bit, at least until Curry brings the energy back singing the lead on âWild and Untamed Thing.â
Personally, my favorite song on the soundtrack is actually the opening music, âScience Fiction/Double Feature,â performed by O'Brien, a strange, fun song that stands well on its own.
And just in case you think that shadowcasting is just a âRockyâ phenomenon, the Teseracte Players of Boston will be doing something similar with the musical episode of âBuffy the Vampire Slayer,â âOnce More With Feeling,â and the online phenomenon, âDr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog,â both written by âAvengersâ director Joss Whedon, at 7 p.m. April 28 at The Lucky Dog Music Hall, 89 Green St., Worcester. So there are a couple of opportunities to join in the forbidden pleasure of talking back to the movies in the near future.
By: Jeffrey Starr
Worcester's very own resident rapper Leon Legacy writes lyrics and rhymes that tell a story, a story all his listeners can hopefully relate to in the end.
"I try to keep my music as real and honest as possible so if you listen to it it's almost like a biography. And seeing as there are so many people out there going through so many different things the hope is that somebody will find a song that they can identify with," says the hip hop artist.
He cites Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Common, and many other modern hip hop artists as influences, but he is not trying to imitate and certainly isn't in the industry just to get famous. There is in fact a very simple reason why he loves it.
"Making music is very therapeutic for me," he states. "It helps as a release to all the things I'm going through and experiencing, good and bad."
Moreover, it isn't just about one type of music. He experimented with many genres, including pop punk and even post hardcore, before settling on mainly hip hop. Even now, he doesn't like to label himself into a creative corner.
"I like to draw my ideas and inspiration from real life events that effect my own life, both directly and indirectly. A far as style goes I would consider myself a lyricist more than just a rapper because of the deep, meaningful lyrics I put into my songs. My process is pretty simple. I look for a beat from the producers I work with and try to find something that speaks to me and then I just write about whatever the beat draws out of me," the artist states of his writing method.
His love of music began to manifest inside him at a very young age. While growing up in Worcester, he tells of his father cutting his hair and popping in a VHS of Michael Jackson's "Moonwalker."
"In the introductory scene I saw him performing for massive crowds all over the world and I saw the effect his music had on people," he says of MJ's famous performance.
"They were screaming and crying and fainting from excitement and joy, and I remember turning around and looking at my dad and saying 'dad, this is what I want to do with my life.' And since then I wrote lyrics, freestyle rapped, and played several instruments including the saxophone, the bass and the guitar."
He joined his first rap group when he was 19 and the rest, as they say, is history.
His goal for the near future is lofty, but certainly attainable given the skills already exhibited by this talented musician.
"My biggest goal for the future is to be the first rap artist from Worcester to be signed onto a major label," he says
"This city has a lot of talent that goes unrecognized and I feel like we're just waiting on the first artist to make a major breakthrough to get the music industry to start paying us more attention."
Leon consistently performs with some of the best musical talent the city has to offer. This list includes, among others, Andre the Prophet, Danny Phantom, and Elijah Williamson. Venues he routinely plays at include Club Oasis, the Lucky Dog, and his favorite venue, The Raven.
Leon has already released a mix-tape. The Story of Kid Ikarus With Wax Wingz introduced Worcester's rap scene to his potential, and now the musician is looking to improve on his this debut outing. His next mix-tape, Polarity, is due out May 10th and promises to show a great amount of maturation in his sound. He is taking on a deeply personal topic, a brand new challenge that has only recently permeated his life.
"I found and solidified my sound as an artist and focused more on building solid songs that people can both relate to and enjoy. It also tells my story I from this past year being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and learning how to live with it," he remarks.
Struggle, especially in hip hop, is often the parent of creation. Leon Legacy hopes to show the truth of this statement with his new material, and given his track record chances are good that he'll succeed.
By: Walter Bird Jr.
The city does not often bestow local historic status upon just any neighborhood. Until earlier this month, there had been just two â" the last time was in April 1993, when the Montvale Historic District was established. The first ever designation, The Mass Ave. Historic District, came almost 20 years prior, in September 1975. The Crown Hill Historic District now joins them, but make no mistake: It is its own distinct neighborhood, in some spots appearing to come almost from another time.
As you walk east on Congress Street, turn right for a southerly jaunt along Crown, and then head east again on Chatham â" cutting the corner by way of the John and Frannie Herron pocket park â" it is easy to forget you are in Worcester. The Crown Hill neighborhood is nothing less than an architectural smorgasbord, with late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings looming as silent mouthpieces to the past.
As you look around and venture further out of the Crown Hill area, city life comes more into focus. On Crown Street you have two shelters, part of Abbyâs House. On Chatham Street there is an old house converted into apartments, also part of Abbyâs House. Down on Irving Street is the Durkin Administration Building, the old Classical High School, out of which the cityâs public schools are run. There are churches, like The Apostolic Church, Bethsaida Christian Center at 23 Oxford St. On Austin Street, an old factory, where Elizabeth Mullaneyâs great-grandfather once worked, is now Whittier Terrace â" home to subsidized units and housing for the disabled. There are dozens of small businesses, like The Raven nightclub at 258 Pleasant St., where many hopeful and seasoned musicians have taken a turn at open mic nights. There is the Rob Roy Academy at 150 Pleasant St., whose ultra-modern, glassed front-entrance looks like something out of Star Wars compared to the historic brick building to which it is attached.
âThink about it,â says Mullaney, who has resided in Worcester about 30 years. âMy great-grandfather worked in that factory and here, four generations later, Iâm a block and a half away from the building.â
Mullaney lives at 7 Congress St., inside what was once a single-family house. It is now a three-condo building, part of a nine-unit condominium association on three properties.
Her house, along with each of the other buildings and many of the properties around them are part of the Crown Hill Local Historic District, the result of a four-year-long grassroots effort that actually has its roots as far back as the 1970s. That is when folks started moving into what was then a rundown neighborhood and started renovating homes representing many different architectural styles long out of fashion â" Greek and Classical Revival, Second Empire, Italianate and Victorian Eclectic to name some. Earlier this month, city councilors gave unanimous approval to establish the new local historic district.
THE ROAD TO FRUITION
âThis,â Joel Fontane says with a laugh, âisnât something we do often. You can see there is a lot of work that went into this. The neighborhood put in a lot of effort to make this happen. Something like this doesnât happen overnight.â
It took a petition from people like Janet Merrill, Jim Marcotte, Marc Tumeinski, Edla Bloom and Dr. Tom Johnson. It also took a study commission and money to hire an architectural historian to craft a report. The city put up $13,300 from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and applied for a matching grant of $10,000 from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). It was around 2009, however, and the economy had basically flat-lined.
âThe state said weâd like to fund you, we like the proposal, we think itâs great, but you need a little more money,â says Fontane, who as the cityâs director of the Planning and Regulatory Services Division, helped carve the neighborhoodâs path toward becoming an historic district.
That is where the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association (CHNA) stepped in. Not wanting to miss a round of funding â" the grant comes once a year â" the group held fundraisers and raised $1,200 for the city to apply toward the grant.
âThat clinched the deal,â Fontane says. âSometimes you look at it and say âthatâs not that much,â but I celebrate that. The neighborhood stood right up and said, âWhatâs the gap?ââ
That was but the beginning. Economic fortunes being what they were, the process would turn out to be a slow one. It was, Fontane acknowledges, a deliberative process. City Hall staff shortages that resulted in layoffs, combined with employee medical leaves, made it impossible to speed ahead with the application process. âWe all had to cope with it, including the neighborhood,â Fontane says. âTheyâre really not only a very solid neighborhood group, but also really good partners. They appreciated the work that needed to go into this to do this right. Instead of cutting corners and jeopardizing the creation of this district, we did it right.â
Laughing, Fontane adds, âIn the grand scheme of things four years is just a blip on the map.â
Planners were fortunate to have the blessing of the state. By law they were required to wait 60 days as part of a nonbinding comment period for the MHC. The city used that time to hold its own comment period. As it turned out, the state loved the idea of creating a local historic district â" so much so, in fact, that Fontane says state officials thought it could be larger than it turned out.
WHAT IS THE DISTRICT?
The Crown Hill Local Historic District is framed by Pleasant Street on the north, Austin Street to the south, Irving Street on the east and Newbury Street to the west. Within it are Congress Street, Crown Street, Quincy Street, Oxford Street, Oxford Place, Chatham Street and Congress Alley. Yes, that would be the Congress Alley made famous in the 1968 song of the same name by the group Orpheus.
âThere are reasons we didnât choose as many homes as one might,â Fontane says, noting it was a case of some properties on Hawley and Piedmont streets, which were included in the original plans being considered part of a different neighborhood.
âWe were looking at this as a cohesive district, not just a collection of a lot of different properties,â he says. âThese other buildings, while signifi cant, really are part of a different district. Perhaps sometime in the future someone can look into that.â
In addition, some parcels along Chandler Street were considered not characteristic of the architecture of the period, so they were left out. There was one late addition, according to Fontane, who says an apartment building at 39 Irving St., which suffered a fire, was included last minute at the request of its owner, George Valeri.
The Crown Hill Local Historic District is roughly 40 acres and the Crown Hill neighborhood enjoys the distinction of being among the first in the country to use funding from the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. It consists of 152 buildings and 21 vacant properties and parking lots. Of the buildings, 133 â" or 77 percent â" are considered âcontributing properties,â meaning they are either architecturally or historically significant. In most cases, theyâre both. The buildings are mostly mid-19th to early 20th century. The socalled non-contributing properties were included in the district as a matter of consistency.
âYouâre trying to create an area that will have continuity of regulation,â says Fontane. âItâs not really desirable to have an historic district home across the street from a non-historic district home. You try to create a district where all the property owners are subject to the same regulations, but itâs not just regulations either, itâs benefits, too. If you didnât include them, it wouldnât be a district.â
Yes, there are regulations. In a local historic district â" the core of the Crown Hill neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Places in 1976 and expanded in 1980 â" any contributing building within view of a public way requires going through a design review and obtaining a certificate of appropriateness from the cityâs Historical Commission before any improvements or modifications can be made. The same applies to non-contributing properties, although Fontane says the rules arenât as stringent; if the owner of a property not deemed historically significant wants to rebuild or make improvements, he or she would be asked to try to borrow from some of the features on surrounding houses and buildings.
THE CROWN HILL ASSOCIATION
Randy and Edla Bloom, along with Mullaney, live in the heart of the district on Congress Street. Mullaney and Randy are co-presidents of the CHNA, which formed in 1977 to help ensure the revitalization of the formerly rundown neighborhood. There are no real geographical boundaries to the CHNA, according to Randy Bloom. âThere are core members in the neighborhood,â he says, âbut there are members who live in other parts of the city or in an outlying town. Some used to live here and have since moved out of the community.â
The association formed as a result of new people moving in and reclaiming properties, Bloom says. âThey needed to have a strong cohesive sense of unity to make sure it was going to continue. It could have easily slipped âŚ [the buildings] were rooming houses, burned out, and there was illegal activity around the area. It was very questionable.â
In the 1970s, Bloom says, an architect named John Herron moved onto Oxford Street from Mass Ave. It was, says Bloom, almost unheard of for someone of Herronâs stature to live on Oxford Street at that time. One of the neighborhoodâs more unique features, a pocket park, is named after both Herron and his wife, Frances. There are a few pocket parks in the immediate area around Crown Hill. The John and Frances Herron Park is at the corner of Crown and Chatham streets. âPeople moving in,â he says, âyou might call them urban pioneers.â
The folks living on the cityâs west side moved to the neighborhood because they recognized its potential, Edla Bloom says. âThey felt they could do something to help turn it around,â she says.
As her husband says, âThey were taking a big risk going from real comfortable living to a situation a little less comfortable. They felt this was an area that deserved to be reclaimed.â
Preservation Worcester played a big role early on in the revitalization of the Crown Hill area, according to Mullaney, who says the organization was responsible for moving two houses into the neighborhood. Preservation Worcester President Deb Packard says the cityâs other two historic districts do not have an association geared specifically toward them like the CHNA, which is said to be one of the oldest in Worcester.
âI think all the districts have a real sense of community,â Packard says. âBut I think this one has the biggest sense.â
A DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOOD
One thing differentiating the Crown Hill District from the other two is its size. There are other distinguishing characteristics, Packard says, such as the size of the houses. âThey are smaller in scale,â she notes. âThe other two districts are almost entirely single-family homes. This has multi-use buildings, churches, businesses. Some arenât owner-occupied and you have nonprofits.â
You wonât find an organization like Abbyâs House in the other local historic districts. Crown Hill did not fight the shelter as it expanded in the area; rather, it welcomed it with open arms. âWe did fundraisers for them,â Edla Bloom says. âAbbyâs bought two other buildings. When they were taking over the house next to the shelter we welcomed them. We did not oppose them.â
There are other shelters that folks donât even know about, her husband adds, saying they are run well enough that most people donât notice.
âTypically, as soon as you make a shelter, poverty is the knee-jerk reaction,â Mullaney says of the common perception. She also makes note of the vacant lots in the district that you wonât find around Mass Ave. and Montvale.
Randy Bloom brushes aside suggestions that an historic district suggests pretentiousness. Any rules that come with the designation are not meant as restrictions, he says. âIf someone doesnât like the idea of not putting vinyl siding on their house, Crown Hill is not the neighborhood to move into,â Bloom says. âThis neighborhood is very different from the other two historic districts. There is a wider range of fi nancial capability. It is not a neighborhood of rich people. Itâs people who were opening small businesses. Thatâs what it has always been.â
There can be drawbacks to an historic district, however. Historical Commission Chairman Tim McCann says there is a stigma attacked to living in an historic district and being on the historical register. âNobody likes the idea of a design review,â he says. âThere are ideas that people will lose control of what they can and cannot do their property. We try to explain that ultimately if you have a house in an historic district your property values will go up. Youâll be able to sell your home more easily.â
There are certain financial benefits as well, such as money, grant incentives and historic tax credits, McCann says. The biggest impetus for maintaining an historic district, however, is preserving the beauty that exists in each building and around the neighborhood, he adds.
âIt borders downtown, but when youâre in the district you feel like youâre in a suburban neighborhood,â McCann says. âYou have green space with the small urban parks. Those are another great detail you donât necessarily get in larger residential neighborhoods. On the singlefamily homes the architectural details on any one of these homes is astounding. The amount of effort and time put into just the gutters and downspouts, something like that is so impressive in that someone took the time to build these intricate, wooden downspouts. Every single one of the homes is impressive.â
Even with restrictions on how to improve a house or building, there was little resistance to the idea of an historic district. In fact, while there was some initial concern that establishing an historic district would draw opposition, it never came. Both Packard and Randy Bloom note that with all the public meetings held, leading right up to the City Council vote, nary a protest was heard. There were questions, Bloom acknowledges, but nothing rising to the level of criticism or opposition.
A MISSION TO HELP
Perhaps it goes back to the notion of community, of pioneers working toward the goal of keeping it all together. It is a spirit that seems to have infected even those who donât call Crown Hill their home. Pastor Kwabena Akufo can attest to that. As a mission church, it is precisely the role of Bethsaida Christian Center to help communities.
âOur church, most of the people originate from Ghana,â Akufo says. âThey come from outside. Weâve been very, very well received. When we first moved in, a retired doctor came and welcomed us. He was maintaining our yard before we came here. Iâve been part of the neighborhood association. We have a very good relationship.â
When the mission opened, the area had a reputation of being rife with prostitution and drugs, Akufo says. âThose incidents have reduced,â he says. âOur vision is to continue that and have a far-reaching impact. A neighborhood like this needs to be preserved. People are torn apart by all sorts of modern developments. Here, people are brought together by some sort of tradition.â
A SENTIMENTAL ATTACHMENT
The idea of establishing a local historic district is something City Councilor Sarai Rivera held near and dear while campaigning two years ago. There is a good reason â" Crown Hill is in District 4, which Rivera represents. She felt so strongly about it, she tied the success of designating it an historic district to her review of City Manager Mike OâBrien.
âWhen we were asked to do an evaluation, [new councilors] were all coming into office like three months earlier,â Rivera says. âIt was, for some of us, our fi rst evaluation of the city manager. I wanted to set myself up for the year. It was important to get my priorities, so if I was going to evaluate him I wanted to put some issues on the table. I felt this was a good way, that the administration understood this was a priority for this district.â
Rivera says she wanted OâBrien to realize just how important the issue was to her district, especially given the negative connotations often associated with the area she represents. âYou say District 4 and everyone [thinks of] Main South,â Rivera says. âThis was important for people, and in particular the people of Crown Hill and Pleasant Street. They really needed this.â
Having grown up in the Crown Hill area, Rivera harbored a sentimental attachment. She wanted others to see it the same way she does. âWhen you have a sense of pride,â Rivera says, âitâs nice to have a sense of validation that other people see it the same way you do. When you walk down Crown Hill itâs like an urban art gallery. You see the cobblestone, the brick sidewalks and the different architectural styles. Itâs a little stroll down history lane. You go there and you almost have a whole different experience of our city. This validates what a lot of us have been saying all along. There is a sense of pride we feel. You cannot deny the area is beautiful.â
That pride will not allow residents to rest on their laurels simply because they were successful in their campaign for an historic district. There are hopes to erect signs around the area and maybe even give tours. Oh, and that alley that was sung about more than 40 years ago? There is some talk about making it over. The alley runs from Crown Street to Newbury Street, and in the 19th century was a service road used mostly to store horses in their barns. Some residents would like to see it turned into a sort of walkable museum. Just as there was a grassroots movement to earn the historic district designation, people are ready to do yeomanâs work to rehabilitate the alley.
âWe will hold meetings to win peopleâs approval,â Randy Bloom says of trying to redo Congress Alley.
It is that spirit of community and togetherness, perhaps, which makes the Crown Hill Historic District something special. âGrassroots support is critical,â says Fontane. â[The neighborhood] understood that, they were about that. [They] just took it upon themselves to really do an outreach campaign in that neighborhood.â
In doing so, they accomplished something that doesnât happen too often in Worcester by earning an historic designation. At the same time, they took large steps toward what the city manager likes to refer to as âchanging hearts and minds.â The people that live and work in the Crown Hill Local Historic District have always believed they were part of something special â" McCann calls the area a âcultural jewelâ â" it was just a matter of convincing others. If that was the intent, it looks like mission accomplished.
âThis is a good community building tool,â says Fontane. âIt really does give you a sense of community, a sense of place. Now what youâre doing is formally recognizing it and capturing it as a place. The folks who have lived there have always known it, but now what weâre doing is projecting it outward. Thatâs an important aspect for the city as a whole.â
Have a news tip or comment? Contact Walter Bird Jr. at 508-749-3166, ext. 243, or email email@example.com. And donât miss Walter with Paul Westcott on WTAG 580AM Thursdays at 8:35 a.m.
George Bullens, 1 Ashland St.
A jeweler in business with Henry Harrington in a shop at 195 Main St. Before moving to Ashland Street, he resided with his wife, Charlotte, at the Lincoln House on Main Street. Nothing is known about his early life and career, but on Ashland he was connected to a neighborhood of watchmakers and jewelers that was established on Oxford Street 20 years earlier. He died at 81 and the house was later converted into four apartments.
Samuel Whitney, 2 Oxford Place
He is the first person recorded in the cityâs 1850 directory as living at this address. He bought the lot from Isaac Davis in 1847. Early deeds refer to it as Dove Nest Court. Built without the existing mansard roof, the house accommodated two households: one included Whitneyâs family â" his wife, Elvira, and young daughter, Emma; the other housed of D.N. and Sophia Harris. The Whitneys eventually moved to 9 Crown St., selling their Oxford Place home to Joseph Dodd, a metal smith. It was later converted into a boarding house and was run as such into the 1970s.
Samuel & Elizabeth Pratt, 107 Austin St.
This house was built for Pratt, a grocer, and his wife, who had owned the property since 1854. They bought the land in two deeds from Edward Parker and Josiah Houghton. The house is a one-and-a-half-story, wood-frame, single-family home with a front gable roof. The east side of the lot borders a vacant lot that was paved for parking. A chain-link fence now encircles the property. The house is an example of a small, mid-19th-century Gothic cottage with notable wood decoration on the front faĂ§ade.
Ezra & Eliza Sawyer, 7 Crown St.
The house is believed to have been built in 1854 for Ezra Sawyer, a woodworker and machinist. He was born around 1816 in Boylston. By 1848 he was living in Worcester and in 1851 he worked for the paper manufacturer Goddard and Rice. He and his wife, Eliza, boarded on Chatham Street in 1851, but by 1854 they were living at this house, which was No. 5 until around 1885. They shared the house in 1860 with Sanford Kendall, a druggist, and his wife, Louisa. The Sawyers moved to Sterling in 1870. The house was rehabilitated in 1998-99 by a coalition of the Crown Hill Neighborhood.
Edward Bisco, 11 Irving St.
Edward Bisco first appears in city directories in 1875. He worked as secretary of the Worcester Safe Deposit and Trust Company and lived in this wood-frame house. He was born in Leicester in 1844. He was married to Anna. By 1888 they built a brick house on their Irving Street lot. He was then listed as president of the Worcester Safe Deposit and Trust Company. By 1905 he was president of the Washington Trust Company. Their household included their daughter, Adeline, a brother-in-law, William Sprague and, for a short time, a niece, Catherine Sprague. Ed Bisco died by 1920. By 1950 the house was owned by Dr. Nicholas Scarcello and his wife, Edith. They sold the property to Dominic Shippole in 1978. The house is a three-story, brick, single-family home with a flat roof (it is now a mixed-use building).
By: Victor D. Infante
If you love loud metal music and want to do something about homelessness - we're avoiding a drummer joke here - then The Bleeding Metalfest 5 is probably the show for you. This anti-homelessness benefit features music from Faces of Bayon, Fires Of Old (members of Engorged), The Scimitar (members of Black Pyramid), Blood Stone Sacrifice (members of Engorged and Dead Languages), Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Fog Wizard, Begat the Nephilim, Apollo's Resurrection, Dyslexic Fudgicle and Abyssus. The Bleeding Metalfest 5 begins at 9:30 p.m. March 23 at The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. (Victor D. Infante)
By: Brian Goslow
Sarah Bousquet, 15, a sophomore at David Prouty High School in Spencer, has been writing since "the fourth or fifth grade" but making up stories in her head far longer than that. She's been encouraged to get out and read her work at one of the area's open poetry mic events as a way of getting her work out to people, but has yet to take the plunge.
"I hadn't really thought of it as an option until recently," says Bousquet, who thinks of herself as a novel-style writer rather than a poet, but tries to experiment with other genres and formats. "I felt that my writing was too big and long to be read aloud to people. Even then, I felt that I wasn't good enough to be up there. I was scared I would get booed off the stage."
She's recently gotten more comfortable with the thought of sharing her works behind a microphone. "It was only a little while ago, when I was reading Shakespeare and the ability to read things hit me. I could read this, so I could read my own work too," Bousquet says. "It's now only a matter of learning how to emote when I read the words."
The Worcester region has no lack of opportunities for those who want to share their talents with the world, whether through the spoken word at poetry open mics, songs and lyrics they've composed at music open mics or just taking the challenge to get up and sing in front of friends at a karaoke night.
"Everyone has a different reason for wanting to get up and do that," says Gabriel Navarre, who hosts a singersongwriter open mic at The Raven on Pleasant Street in Worcester.
On a below zero wind chill night in late January, Brian Dickens, 21, of Winchendon drove down to the Raven with his father, Jeff, to perform four of his original compositions: "Big Fish," "Toxic Concept," "That's Cash" and "My Muse and My Reason," the latter namedropping Jack Kerouac.
He's well composed onstage for his age, with a catchy song-telling delivery that easily and warmly pulls you into his subject matter. "I got that from listening to Iron and Wine (real name Samuel Beam), a singer-songwriter who has an abstract way of storytelling," Dickens says. "I took his comfort in storytelling and added in my love of Beat Culture and Kerouac."
Dickens first performed in his preschool church choir. "I've pretty much always been singing," he says. Dickens got past an early feeling of discomfort onstage by taking advantage of performing any place that offered him the opportunity.
"I'm comfortable at open mics," Dickens says. "Some people like to crap on them but the best way to get started is to go to 100 open mics and play 100 crappy shows. You get good from being bad. It's all just practicing and keeping it honest with yourself. Know what's inside yourself."
Jessica Lovina O'Neill first stepped onstage as a guitarist with her band Oversoul at the Espresso Bar on James Street in 1995 when she was 17. "I remember we were all terrifi ed," she recalls. "My bandmate and I were talking about the line that you cross when you step from being in the audience to being onstage, and how we were afraid to cross that line."
These days, she's more apt to appear solo performing her own compositions (most recently at the sober open mic at Everyday Miracles in Worcester) or singing her heart out to the music of a newly discovered favorite at a karaoke night at Café Neo on Worcester's Millbury Street.
"It (the fear of getting onstage) is worse when you're performing alone as opposed to in a group, because all the pressure is on you and there's no one to cover your mistakes," O'Neill says. "On the other hand, I think emotionally you can relate to people on a more personal level when it's a solo performance, and even more so if it's a smaller, more intimate crowd."
O'Neill found a disconnect with audiences that she wasn't expecting. "Once you're onstage behind that microphone or with that instrument in your hands, you're in your own little world, and you're inviting everyone else in," she says. "The crowd becomes this thing, this entity, a mass of faces and eyes in the dark. If you look out and make eye contact with one person, that can be a little scary. If you start overthinking things like 'oh, they look bored' or something, it can get inside your head and make you self-conscious about your performance."
She solved that problem by adopting a technique she remembered from her high school speech class: scanning the crowd, seeing who was attentive, then focusing on the wall behind their heads. "If people are interested and if you have their attention, that can create a really positive energy that you can feed off of and use to fuel your performance," O'Neill says. "That definitely kills the nervous feeling."
It helps to be comfortable not just at a nightclub, but in the workplace. Doug Brandt joined the Central Toastmasters in between jobs. The group meets every Wednesday night at the Webster House to help members improve their public speaking and presentation skills through prepared exercises.
"I found getting up for table topics and speaking activity was very helpful when I went to interview for a new position," Brandt says. "It's one thing when you've worked with the same people for 25 years. But when you meet people you've never met before, you need to be on your game." Just like being on stage.
Nicholas Davis, co-host of the Dirty Gerund Poetry Show held at Ralph's every Monday night, was introduced to live poetry when his uncle took him to the Java Hut in Webster Square when he was in the sixth grade. "I was a troubled youth and he thought it might give me some direction," says Davis, who soon returned to read aloud himself. "It was a really good feeling being able to do it," he admits. "It was the place I was looking to find. If you want to perform, you know it."
His Dirty Gerund co-host, Alex Charalambides, made his stage debut at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral. "I was going to Greek school and we had a Greek Independence Day pageant and had to memorize poems," he recalls. "I remember being very uncomfortable because I had to wear this Greek-kind of kilt, a Fustanella. Being a young boy, I wanted to be playing Little League baseball and instead here I was wearing what I felt was a kilt."
It would be another decade and a half until he made his local reading debut, in 2000, at the Java Hut. Then in his mid- 20s, Charalambides had wanted to be a playwright or screenwriter; he had been working on some raps and poems but didn't know where to find collaborators to work on them with. Then he saw the film "Slam," and more specifically, Saul Williams, whose mix of poetry and alternative hip hop sent him looking for similar poetry slams and coffeehouse events in the city.
"I saw a listing in Worcester Magazine and took my writing to the Java Hut for a Sunday night Poets' Asylum reading," Charalambides says. "I ordered a small cup of coffee and waited for my name to be called. I read two of my poems and got a nice response. I don't remember what I expected but when I got home to consider what I had done, I realized I had made a major decision in my life and it became my thing."
Charalambides has paid back the warm of the crowd that night repeatedly. While his individual accomplishment of making it to the International World Poetry Slam Championship shows his personal level of accomplishment, it's his contribution to his craft in the form of working with those following in his shoes (and sneakers) that is especially noteworthy. He founded the Worcester Youth Poetry Slam, which sent area teams to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York and currently is a "teaching artist," in area classrooms to encourage the next generation to bare their souls.
"You already have your political consciousness at that age," Charalambides says. "The poems are not as much rebellious, as standing up for who you are as a person. It's a validation of voice, viewpoint and worldview - there are a lot of love poems. My first year of poetry I wrote about how much I love poetry. They're writing about their self-discovery of poetry and discovering something important to them. They're discovering this new instrument and it's their voice."
He's also working on the Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Slam that will take place in Boston in May. "Last year we had 100 teens who wrote poems. This year we expect 200, almost doubling in size in our second year. It's a dream come true."
PHOTO: Alex Charalambides reads during a Dirty Gerund open mic event at Ralph's Diner. Brian Goslow/Worcester Mag
Charalambides offers to talk with anyone considering making his or her stage debut, or just to help with his or her writing. "The only way to really jump in is to jump in," he says. "The only way to practice is practice out loud in front of a mirror or friends. Work on your editing. But the only way to truly to prepare for the first time with strangers watching you is to take that leap of faith."
It's a snowy Monday night outside Ralph's Diner, but inside Charalambides and Davis begin the ritual of preparing the downstairs' portion for the Dirty Gerund Poetry Show ("Purveyors of the Finest Ruckus").
Those taking the stage utilize iPods, iPads, notebooks, paper hurriedly gathered and yes, even memory itself in presenting their compositions. If they don't have anything of their own to share, there's plenty of inspirational starter material surrounding the stage: endless neon, a jukebox, stuffed boar heads, mounted fish, moose heads, crows and numerous other dead things.
A two-piece band composed of guitarist Mark Leighton and drummer Derek Meads provides space age psychedelic jazz-rock backing sounds. "The way I process my world is through my lyrics," announces Stu "Dr. Gonzo" Esty, before working through "Do Wop Diddy" and "The Queen of Punk" for inclusion in his RoadKill Orchestra's repertoire.
Charalambides reads Jack McCarthy's "Catholics and Car Keys" after describing how the recently-passed poet came to Worcester in 2000 and became a mentor to many in the city; Davis holds the mic like a jazz crooner while introducing "recently crowned iron poet Mr. Bobby Gibbs" before the night's headliner, Lucia Misch of Montreal, takes the stage.
PHOTO: Cowboy Matt Hopewell performs at an open mic at the Raven. Brian Goslow/Worcester Mag
Where many open mic events just have a single microphone and speaker, the Raven has a booming public address (PA) system. "Some people are a little skiddish," Navarre says. "It can be a bit unsettling to go from a coffeehouse to a club setting, on a raised stage, with lights shining into your eyes. It's less intimate (than a coffeehouse), but it can be stimulating."
Navarre began playing music "at 10 or 11," growing up in a musical family. "The very first time on stage was at a junior high talent show," he says. "I got up and lip-synched; I was into heavy metal at the time. I remember I felt really confidant and when I got on stage, and there was this adrenaline rush. I discovered I was a huge ham and felt the stage was where I belonged."
He played for real for the first time at a blues jam at the Chicken Bone Saloon in Framingham. "I was able to be there with my family because they served food," Navarre says. He went on to try to work with other musicians, but found the band setting unsatisfactory. "I worked with people who weren't prepared and realized I didn't want to be in that position." He set out on his own and now has 80 original songs to choose from.
Playing his own material is a big step up from playing songs made popular by someone else. "It feels like you're really exposing yourself to people," Navarre says. "It takes a lot to talk about things that are personal - and I tend to write about personal things, mainly about love; I also get material from books, movies, the media."
At the Raven, he tries to create a welcoming atmosphere for newcomers so they feel at ease when they take the stage. "It's about getting over your nerves; they can be a big hurdle," Navarre says. "It can feel like you've got horse blinders on. Your heart is pounding and a voice is coming out of this big speaker that doesn't sound like you think you sound. It can be disorienting. The key is getting back to the place you were when you wrote the songs."
Bill McCarthy has been hosting open mic nights locally since starting out at Tom Foolery's in Shrewsbury in April 1998 - "In the last century," McCarthy laughs. He grew up in a theatrical family; so being onstage came natural to him.
"Then I discovered the Beatles and was in bands all through high school," McCarthy says. "So I've been onstage in front of a microphone forever. I've also done thousands of radio commercials and a few TV ones. I'm a big ham."
By: Victor D. Infante
SuperSka really is a sort of ska superband, composed as it is of people who perform in such regional reggae and ska heavyweights as Bim Skala Bim, Heavy Metal Horns, Skaâd For Life, Steady Earnest and the Duppy Conquerors. And the soundâs super, too âŚ a giant, sun-drenched horn section, bristling with energy and heat, all married to an infectious, upbeat groove. Itâs all terribly, terribly fun, harkening back to the days of such classic 2 Tone-era acts as The English Beat and the Selector, as well as the late â60s Jamaican ska sound that eventually gave way to reggae. Whatever its influences, though, this band is thoroughly irresistible. SuperSka performs with The Copacetics and OJR at 8 p.m. Aug. 17 at The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. $7.
By: Bill Copeland
SuperSka brings you the best in old-school ska, rock-steady and reggae, featuring veteran players from the Boston ska & reggae scene." (Ska, Reggae Rocksteady) "Based out of Providence RI, The Copacetics have just started tearing up the scene with their high energy live shows and catchy dance tunes." (Ska & Reggae) "Original Jelly Roll Soul has a sound that is very unique. The group presents their sound within the many sub-genres of jazz music." (Mento & Calypso/Roots & off Chutes of Reggae)
DIY Wormtown Ska Promotions Presents: Superska, The Copacetics, & OJRS! (All Ages!)?
Date & Time: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 8:00 PM-1:00 AM
Suggested Audiences: Adult, College, High School
Location: The Raven 258 Pleasant Street Worcester, MA 01609 Door Cover $7.00
Description: DIY Wormtown Ska Promotions brings you Superska, The Copacetics & Original Jelly Roll Soul! Friday August 17th 8pm The Raven! This is an all ages show, and WSP, will do more all ages shows again!
Do It Yourself Wormtown Ska Promotions, a not-for-profit project. - "For the artists, & for the music."
More Information: Event Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/148459131957581/ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Entered by: Matt Caranci of DIY Wormtown Ska Promotions @ https://www.facebook.com/WormtownSkaPromotions
By: Craig S. Semon
What made you want to open a bar?
âFor a while, I was managing a multiplatinum-selling band (Tantric). When I stopped doing that, I had an opportunity to do this. The Raven is like my A&R room. I'm looking for a really good band and, who knows, maybe I'll start managing again.â
Why did you want to open your bar in Worcester?
âI love Worcester. I grew up in Worcester, the Main-South area near Crystal Park. I lived in this city for probably 25 years.â
What does being the owner of The Raven entail?
âI do it all from ordering booze to booking bands to bartending. Anything that can be done in this business I pretty much do. And there are a few other people who we have here that bartend. They all have their own thing that they bring to the table.â
Do you have any family members working here?
âMy mother. It's a good excuse to spend time with her. It can get like the Ozzy Osbourne show every now and then. For the most part, it's cool. And she volunteered on her own. She always wanted to open up a bar when she was younger too, so it kind of worked out.â
Do you come from a rock 'n' roll family?
âMy uncle (Nuno Bettencourt) was in Extreme (of âMore Than Wordsâ fame). He's actually on tour playing with Rihanna. I have another uncle (Luis Bettencourt) who is an amazing guitarist who has released albums in Portugal and a third uncle (Paul Bettencourt) who sang for a band Flesh.â
Are you a musician?
âI tried, but I'm more into the business end of stuff. I did backup for some of my uncle's (Nuno Bettencourt's) songs.â
What are some of your favorite bands?
âLed Zeppelin, the Beatles, Stone Temple Pilots, Incubus and anything my family's been involved in.â
How is the Pleasant Street neighborhood?
âIt's a neighborhood that's on the move. You have two neighborhood associations, the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center and the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, which focuses on quality of life issues. There's the Chandler Street Business Association that does many great things for businesses. Paul Collyer, the president of the Chandler Business Association, puts on an amazing Blues and Jazz festival. You have people in this neighborhood that actually care about it.â
Have you had any problems with the neighbors?
âI had a (sound) issue with some neighbors but we worked it out. I have always done due diligence nightly to assure I am complying with all Worcester sound ordinances. Now, it's time to rock 'n' roll.â
What is the biggest problem you have at The Raven?
âIt's getting people to put their foot in the door. Because once they're in here, they love the place. They love the room, the setup. Then, they are more comfortable with it and end up coming to more and more shows. It looks like a VFW Hall from the outside until you walk in. It looks like you're going to walk in and people are going to be playing bingo and smoking cigarettes.â
How is business?
âIt's good. It's like any other business in this economy. It has its good days and bad days. It's growing. Getting some of the good local talent in helps that.â
What kinds of patrons frequent The Raven?
âAll walks of life. People who love live music, to folks who like to play pool, to the Keno players and to those who just want to unwind after work.â
What is your most popular drink?
âAs far as a drink, it's either Jack (Daniel's) and Coke or a JĂ¤gerbomb, while the most popular beer is Sierra Nevada right now.â
How often is The Raven open?
âFive days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, but that might all change when the kitchen opens.â
Why not have a disc-jockey rather than live music?
âNothing beats seeing live entertainment. Nothing beats having that connection with the band. You get to actually see the artist who has created their own music onstage versus something you hear over and over and over on the radio.â
Do all patrons pick up on the Edgar Allan Poe reference in your bar's name?
âWhen we first opened, people thought we were just a metal club (because of the name)âŚ I asked them, 'Have you ever read any Edgar Allen Poe?' Some people don't notice but the whole poem (âThe Ravenâ) is written along the wall. I do have metals bands that play so I can see how people could mistake that. But we tend to do more folk-rock stuff here.â
The Soul of a Man band won the third and final preliminary round at The Raven "Battle of the Blues Bands" on March 25th in Worcester.
It was a wild night of blues performed by three great bands - Kevin Williams & The Invisible Orphans, The Tokyo Tramps and The Soul of a Man!
The Judges on March 25th - Blues Legend Shor'ty Billups, Dr. Gonzo and WCUW DJ Marty Ayotte jumped up on stage after the competition and jammed with portions of each band.
Sad you missed it? Then make plans to attend the the Championship Round is on April 15th @ 5PM. This will include: The Mike Crandall Band, Shirley Lewis & The Soul of a Man. The Bands will be competing for 1st Place - $1,000.00 and a paid set at Paulie's New Orleans Jazz n' Blues Festival, 2nd Place - $500.00 and 3rd Place - $400.00
Please see baevents.com/battleofthebands for more information.
By: Charles 'Ned' Gasdaska
Today's spotlight is on The Raven, a bar on Pleasant Street not far from downtown in which the genres of music and live entertainment that can be experienced are as numerous as they are excellent. This week, we have a two-pronged post. Of course, as usual I will be covering The Raven from the perspective of a patron looking for a good time and good music. But as a musician, I've always wondered why there are no publications detailing these venues from the angle of a prospective musician looking for a place to play?
To answer my own question, when covering the venues that host open mic nights, in addition to seeing a Friday or Saturday night showcase, I will be playing the open mics as well (along with my guitarist and any drummers who don't flake out) and relating the experience to you on Charles' Choices. My hope is that fellow musicians will get a good sense of which places in Worcester are the best for them and their band to play, so we can begin to examine these venues from a fresh perspective: that of the prospective musician looking for a spot to play.
One aspect of The Raven's open mic nights (every Wednesday) that makes a great impression is the variety of acts that one will see. Many of the acts are lone musicians, playing acoustic guitar and singing. But on any given night there could be poetry, heavier rock, hip-hop, even comedy, something I consider especially impressive, as stand-up comedy is probably the hardest thing to do out of any of those aforementioned performances. Whether the comedian is actually good or not is irrelevant; simply having the guts to go onstage and attempt it is commendable. And it just so happens that all the comedians I've seen there (though only a few) have been good for some laughs.
But I digress. On my particular excursion for this post, the open mic was very hip-hop heavy. Rappers can put their beats on a disc and play them through the house PA system, which is excellent. It's loud and powerful; the sound people at The Raven know what they're doing. Some people might be skeptical about seeing rappers at an open mic at a dive-ish bar on a Wednesday night, but the talent level is surprisingly impressive. As is the case for most open mics, microphones are provided by the house, which is necessary, as a PA and microphones are usually the last pieces of equipment that budding bands are able or willing to obtain. Generally speaking, bands get their instrumentals down pat before focusing on the vocal aspect, although this is partly just because vocalists- good vocalists, at least- are usually the hardest band members to find. However, I feel I should clarify: contrary to what some might think, open mics are not just a last resort for mediocre or beginning musicians simply looking for somewhere- anywhere- to play. Many of the musicians who frequent open mics are skilled and have experience playing regular shows, but due to various circumstances do not have a full band, leaving them unable to play full-fledged shows.
Right now you may be thinking, "Here's this failed musician who now has to vicariously live his shattered dream by writing about these places and is reduced to playing open mics and is trying to defend them." To which I respond: Ever actually seen any of these shows?
Anyway, the entire place is laid out according to the stage. The bar is right next to the floor, which is obviously right by the stage, and the two pool tables are right behind the dance floor, all in a straight line. This makes the entire bar visible from the stage, and the stage visible from the entire bar: a mutual harmony of musical entertainment. As you can probably guess from the description, however, the entire place is very small. It's not the place to go if you're not looking to experience and appreciate live music. But for those looking for a good live show, it's one of the better spots in Worcester.
This interior layout is great for a musician, as the bar is also located right near the stage, so patrons glued to their barstools are usually engaged in and paying attention to the music, which is nice; everybody likes to be heard. And while the majority of the patrons are other performers who have already played or are waiting to hit the stage (as is often the case with open mic nights), there are usually a handful of folks who come simply to enjoy the underground sound that only an open mic can provide. And the crowds there are supportive and engaged in the acts. Bands or performers that kill their sets are given love and the audience is usually attentive. And even if a performer goes on and stumbles through a set, the folks are more encouraging and supportive than disparaging. There have been nights where my friend(s) and I have gone on stage and delivered messy, yet the audience still gave us love, and we were encouraged to come back. Which brings me to another positive attribute of The Raven's open mics; the people in charge of putting on the show are friendly and they pay attention to detail. If you keep coming back, they will recognize your face and your band name and they will pump you up when introducing you at the start of your set. Also, the bartender is always on point; show up enough times and he'll get your drink of choice ready for you as soon as he sees you walk in the door. Just make sure you tip him well!
So as you can see, The Raven is a great spot for musicians or other artists looking to deliver their sets in a receptive, positive environment. Now to describe the Friday night show. As I mentioned previously, the interior layout is great for both bands and their audience. The close proximity of the bar to the stage is advantageous; in some venues you have to leave the floor or the room where the music is playing when you want to get a drink. Not so at The Raven. The bar is only a few feet from the stage and the dance floor (and how could you not love the disco ball they have hanging above the floor?). Even the pool tables are directly aligned with the stage, so those who want to rack 'em up can do so and still enjoy the show. And of course, the small size of the bar brings all these elements together marvelously.
The weekend showcases usually offer as wide a variety of acts as the open mics. On some nights there are metal bands, from melodic chord-crushers to ear-bleeding thrash rockers, and even some hip-hop showcases. On my excursion to The Raven for this post, there was a punk rock band and a 3-piece rock band that reminded myself and others of Radiohead. This is a tricky sound for a band to pull off and still sound good. They were melancholy without being weak or "emo-y."
Nothing against fans or performers of emo music, but coming into a place like The Raven and playing that style probably wouldn't go over too well. This is a rock bar, through and through. Even the hip-hop artists have to bring that rock-style energy to be received well, which most of them do. If the music doesn't convince you, the iconic rock album covers and Marilyn Monroe shots adorning the walls should do the trick. And of course, I couldn't mention the Raven without pointing out their delightfully tacky rendition of Marilyn's iconic photo on the wall-the one where her dress is flying up all over the place-in which the outline of her dress is a pink neon light.
But before female readers might want to roll their eyes at this, fear not; the bar caters to both sexes. As one of my female colleagues who attended this show with me pointed out, there is a large mirror on the wall directly outside the ladies room, presumably so they can check themselves out after using the facilities. It might not seem like much, but it illustrates that the type of careful thought and planning necessary to make a bar comfortable and entertaining for all patrons was clearly applied at The Raven.
Rounding out this plethora of positivity is that The Raven is one of the very few bars in Worcester that has this variety and quality of music but is still 18-plus, which is great for anyone who maintains friends or has significant others who are not yet 21. Not exactly "fun for the whole family," but still a nice touch. And of course, we don't want our rock bars to be a place for the whole family. We want a great environment, dive-ish without being grimy, with good drinks, better music, and greater times. The Raven, whether you're a musician or a patron, delivers on all accounts.
Thanks for reading Charles' Choices.As always, stay safe and keep rocking. I'm out.
By: Karen Nugent
The ongoing blues band battle at The Raven on Pleasant Street in Worcester is getting some buzz.
Not only did Sunday's third semifinal round draw a much bigger crowd, there was an actual battle!
In what turned out to be a wonderful night of music, three bands competed, with Boston's Soul of a Man squeaking by the Tokyo Tramps for the top spot.
Not that the opening band, Kevin McWilliams and the Invisible Orphans, out of Providence, weren't good. They just weren't exactly a blues band. I'd call it rock, with some cool original tunes, and amazing guitar work by McWilliams.
Soul of a Man, an eight-piece band with a big booming horn section, brought the house to its feet. The dance floor was jammed, especially when the talented singer belted out a couple of authentic N'awlins tunes, and a bit of funk.
The three-piece Tokyo Tramps, led by Satoru Nakagawa on vocals and slide guitar, was the only true blues band of the night, even with an all-original set. They do some deep blues.
But the night did not end after the winner was announced. That was jam time - when Boston's funkmeister Shor'ty Billups (one of the judges) got on the bandstand, joined by fellow judges Worcester DJ Marty Ayotte, a damn good harp player; and the always entertaining J. Stuart Esty, aka Dr. Gonzo, who belted out some classic Chicago blues.
Members of each competing band provided back-ups and everyone had a jolly good time.
The finals, which should be even better, will take place April 15 at The Raven.
By: Richard Duckett
Buddha Monk is celebrating his birthday in Worcester, which might come as a surprise to people who know him as a celebrated rap artist from Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of the famed New York Wu-Tang Clan rap family/dynasty.
In fact, while he maintains apartments in Brooklyn as well as in Switzerland, Buddha Monk has been living here for the past year. "I see people that say, 'What are you doing here in Worcester?' " he observed. His response is, "I met a very lovely lady." Atlantis Price is his girlfriend, a daughter of the late Worcester activist and School Committee member Elizabeth L. "Betty" Price.
Atlantis Price is a co-host of the independent music show "Indie Corna" on WNRC-LP (97.5 FM), which broadcasts out of Nichols College. Since moving here, meanwhile, Buddha Monk (born Ellery Chambers) has been actively exploring the area music scene and endeavoring to nurture it. "My birthday's coming up, I thought - let's have a birthday extravaganza. Instead of me performing, why don't the kids perform for my birthday?"
So the "Buddha Monk Birthday Extravaganza" will feature 11 local performers (genres including reggaeton, hip-hop, R&B, reggae and dubstep) beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday at to The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. Buddha Monk will also perform, however, as well as shoot footage for a "Buddha Black Music" video.
In fact, his birthday is March 9, Friday, but the show is close enough to his turning 43 years old. Besides, March 9 has become an infamous date in rap circles, being the day that Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G., was shot to death in 1997.
"I didn't feel like celebrating (my birthday) that year," Buddha Monk recalled during an interview earlier this week. At every show he performs, "his (Biggie Smalls, as Buddha Monk refers to him) songs are the last I perform to help people know he's still alive."
Another premature death in the rap world was that of Ol' Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones), a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, at the age of 35 in 2004, apparently of a drug overdose, although Buddha Monk said the circumstances were complex.
The two were longtime friends, and it was ODB (as he is often called) who gave Buddha Monk his Buddha name. He even stopped in the middle of shooting a video to tell him that his name was going to be Buddha Monk from now on. Then he asked him to think about what that name meant and report back.
Among other things, it means acquiring wisdom before speaking, Buddha Monk said.
In a way, the name may have changed his life, although Buddha Monk comes across as someone who has always had a straight head on his shoulders. "It actually has. It really made me change," he said.
He's straightforward, amiable and well-spoken. From a poor beginning in Brooklyn, he's seen the world. He is the father of eight children who don't live here, but he said he's in constant touch with them. Meanwhile, he navigated a successful career as a singer, rapper, producer, writer and recorder who has worked with the likes of Busta Rhymes. He also has had a popular following in Europe.
After coming to Worcester, he began to navigate his way around the city to see local performers.
"I started scouting ... going to some of the shows," he said. He has been impressed with what he has seen. "There's a lot of potential."
On the other hand, "What needs to be done is develop a better situation with the kids. The kids out here don't have the means of making it happen."
He is involved with The Committee and Viral Library Inc. to help local and international artists sharpen skills in areas ranging from just how to perform on stage to doing publicity shots properly.
"My energy comes from realizing there's a world out there that needs us," he said. "Let's start grabbing the kids by the tail before they start doing some crazy stuff." Some more of Buddha Monk's wisdom: "First, doing music doesn't mean you don't have a job. If you're in school, stay in school. Before you start doing music you've got to learn the first basic, which is respect."
He likes Worcester. "I love it. The police are very respectful. People are very respectful ... I'm trying to show them if we can come together we can make it work."
As he has established relationships with local artists, he has set up his own studios in the area, and is currently also preparing an R&B recording titled "I Am Mr. Ellery Chambers" - which indeed he is.
He said he was born and raised a Muslim in Brooklyn, and has been working since he was 13. His older brother was a DJ, but would never allow him to touch his electronic equipment. That didn't stop him, however, as the older brother realized when Buddha Monk took over DJ'ing for a few minutes at a party when the brother was temporarily indisposed. By the time the brother returned, people at the party were going wild, Buddha Monk recalled. "He said, 'You've been touching my equipment.' " But he allowed him to DJ with him at subsequent gigs. Later he started DJ'ing for ODB while ODB rapped. One day Buddha Monk took the mic and rapped. "He (ODB) was shocked." But ODB took Buddha Monk with him to a recording studio and a rendezvous with Wu-Tang Clan.
Buddha Monk's first album (which featured ODB prominently), "The Prophecy," would prove prophetic. A single from the album, "Got's Like Come On Thru," was a hit and also was prominently on the soundtrack of the 1998 movie "The Big Hit," starring Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips and Christina Applegate.
Buddha Monk said that he is not Buddhist but "I know there's a higher power."
He knows that there should be time to pause and reflect. In his apartment he said he sometimes lies in bed looking out the window and staring at the clouds. Then different thoughts about his music activities will occur to him and he'll make phone calls. For example, " 'Oh the kids.' I'll call everyone."
Then he'll look out the window again, before making another round of calls.
He smiled at the thought and image.
"People say, 'We know Buddha's flying right now.' "
By: Bill Copeland
The Raven @ 258 Pleasant Street in Worcester, MA is hosting its 1st annual "The Raven" Battle of the Bands beginning on February 5, 2012. All lovers of Blues music are encouraged to attend and all are welcome. There will be a $5.00 cover charge to cover the cost of sound, promotion and cash prizes to the bands.
The Raven is a very affordable full service bar that has been promoting all genres of musico for years - formerly The Cardinal.
Each night of competition will begin promptly at 5:00 pm
The 2012 preliminary competition dates are the following: Sunday, February 12th, Sunday, March 4th, Sunday, March 25th & Sunday, April 8th.
The 2012 final competition date is Sunday, April 22, 2012.
The contest is open to blues bands/solo acts from Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island & Maine.
A hat will be passed around after each act for each band to share.
Rules & Regulations
Each band has 10 minutes to set up including sound check.
No Backline Available
If the band takes longer to set up, this will cut into their actual playing time.
If the band takes less time they can add the remainder to their set.
Each band has 40 minutes to play their set.
If the band goes over their 40 minutes, lights and sound will be shut off.
Each band has 10 minutes to tear down off stage.
No more than 4 bands will be competing in the Battle of Bands each (4) preliminary competition dates and during the (1) final championship date - see dates above.
After each night of perfomances, the bands will be given their score sheets and the winner of the nights performances announced.
The winning band/solo act each night they are scheduled to perform in the preliminary round will perform in the final round on April 22nd against the three other winners.
No person can play with more than one band/solo act.
The bands will not know what time they will be performing at until the night of their performance to discourage having their fans only show up for their playing time.
Each band will be expected to advertise "The Raven" Battle of the Bands on their website, facebook & myspace pages to encourage their fans to support the competition.
Each band is allowed to sell merchandise and music during the competition date that they are performing at - they must have their own staff doing so.
"The Raven" BATTLE OF THE BANDS will be scored by three judges with a profession in music, a musical background, or are knowledgeable and appreciative of all types of music, and will not favor their own personal preference or style.
The prize money will be awarded on April 22, 2012, after all four performances and order of finish is announced.
Selected Bands/solo acts will be informed of any changes made to these rules via email.
How To Submit Your Band/Solo Act
To submit your band/solo act you must send an email to email@example.com with the answers to the following questions:
Please put in the subject of the email: Blues Band Entry-"The Raven" Battle of the Bands
The deadline for submitting your band/solo act is December 31, 2011 or sooner if the allowable band/solo act participant number is picked from the submitted bands/solo acts - 16 bands/solo acts are being picked.
1. 2-3 sample tunes performed by the band/solo act on youtube or other vid format (if you only have one a-okay)
2. official band/solo act name
3. a short band/solo act bio - 200 words or less - include band home base and where you have performed
4. a digital color or B&W photo of band/solo act for competition promotion
5. band/solo act website, facebook & myspace page addresses for competition promotion
6. band/solo act contact email & telephone number
7. band/solo act artwork for competition promotion
8. What preliminary competition dates are you available to perform - being available for any date is the most attractive
Sunday, February 12th, Sunday, March 4th, Sunday, March 25th & Sunday, April 8th.
All preliminary date winners must be available for the final round on Sunday, April 22, 2012
You will be notified by email if your band/solo act has been selected to participate in "The Raven" Battle of the Bands competition
By: John Mahon III
"Band mom is the new soccer mom," said 26-year-old Gregory McKillop with a laugh. "There's always a bunch of moms rocking out to their kids' death metal, or whatever." McKillop explained how in Worcester, a distinctive subculture has developed around the concept of all-ages rock shows.
Because venues such as Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner and the Lucky Dog Music Hall enforce 21-and-up age restrictions, there are significant limitations placed on where young bands can play gigs. However, McKillop and some like-minded individuals have created their own community that is supportive and reinforcing for the rock 'n' roll youth.
McKillop has been booking shows since he was 16, and was involved in the music scene years before then. He now hosts weekly open mics at The Raven Music Hall and other venues, and created Pay What You Can Fest, an annual music festival previously known as No Fights Fest, designed to promote bands with young musicians in a supportive environment.
Although McKillop discourages violence - a problem he occasionally sees at Worcester shows - he is opposed to taming the scene into something equivalent to watching PBS or attending church. "It's family-friendly in the new family model," said McKillop, who joked that many modern parents are hippies.
"Rock 'n' roll wasn't meant to be tame," said 20-year-old Otis Haskin, vocalist and bassist for the Hudson- and Marlboro-based blues-rock band the Bohemian Groove. Like most of his peers, he values a scene that welcomes a young crowd without losing its edge.
Haskin sees the issue of venues barring young adults and teenagers from entry as being a dilemma that is certainly not unique to Worcester. "I feel (Worcester is) more inviting than 90 percent of places," said Haskin, who described his worst age-related confrontation as occurring at a restaurant in Framingham. Haskin said the Bohemian Groove was invited to play, but the management dismissed the band after just one song after learning the ages of the group members.
"The main problem is the venues," said 20-year-old folk-rocker Behzad Massah from Thistle & Twine, who also books all-ages shows. "Most venues are 21-plus these days." Massah praised the exceptions: various Knights of Columbus and VFW halls around Worcester and Millbury. He also cited Chatters Bar & Grill in Millbury as a restaurant open to rockers under age 21.
Massah not only wishes there were more all-ages venues; he also believes they could be very successful.
"Most of the kids who come to see shows, they're young kids, still in high school," he explained. "They're the No. 1 fans. They're loyal. They'll come far and wide to see you play."
Massah feels that the live music market is most attractive to people ages 14 to 25, and can extend to children as young as 10. "A lot of bars, a lot of venues, are definitely opening up to the idea of having an all-ages night," Massah said.
Twenty-year-old Dylan Sneade, vocalist and guitarist from Worcester's easy-core band It's An Attack!, admitted that he often snuck into bars out of necessity. "There are a lot of over-21 places," he explained. Dylan finds sneaking into bars less necessary since he became involved with the all-ages scene, which he also contributes to by booking shows for under-aged artists.
There are obvious legal and safety issues that arise from teenagers sneaking into bars, which is one reason the subject of all-ages rock shows is relevant to the Worcester community in a serious way. McKillop also noted that musicians who start young are more likely to become talented musicians in the future, so in the long run the all-ages scene will impact future performances at all Worcester venues.
Since the Palladium is a large and prominent all-ages music hall in Worcester, a lot of the public might be led to believe that there is indeed an all-ages venue that can satisfy the needs of the young rock community. McKillop explained that this is not the case, because the Palladium caters to well-known and established bands. "I don't think the Palladium is a great place to foster local music," said McKillop. A young band performing for a few dozen people in a hall that can fit more than 1,000 people is "lame and awkward," he said. He did, however, express interest in the Palladium's new Breakthru Music shows that are designed to expose local artists to a larger crowd.
Although the consensus was that more venues are needed, many young musicians see the Worcester all-ages scene as being healthy and growing stronger.
"It's pretty good right now," said McKillop. "It's not terrible. It's better than it was like four years ago."
McKillop encouraged young musicians to tackle age-related obstacles and move forward: "The biggest thing for younger bands, or any band, is don't let any band or promoter fool you into thinking they're cooler than you are."
By: DJ MĂ¤tthew Griffin
For The Worse is the heaviest hardcore punk band in New England. Their shows are always legendary, with members Mike McCarthy (vocals), Brian (drums), Dominic Dibenedetto (lead guitar), Joe Sex (bass), and Seager (guitar), they remind us what being hard to the core is all about. If you havenât witnessed one of their show, I trust you that sooner or later, you will find yourself in their clutches.
Noise: Tell me about your new record.
Mike McCarthy: Its tentative title is For the Good, For the Bad, For the Worse. We have been writing new material on and off for about a year. So hopefully we will hit Galaxy Park studio soon. Itâs looking like ten to twelve new songs and a couple rerecorded tunes from a few of the splits we put out over the last few years. Not sure what label we will be working with this time around but itâs looking like it will be our most aggressive record yet. Weâve also been throwing around the idea of doing a live record. I think that would really capture the band at its best.
Noise: How many records do you have?
Mike: Rodent Popsicle records put out our first CD, Couldnât Give Two Shits About the Kids  and Bridge 9 put out our last two full lengths The Chaos Continues and Blood Guts, Going Nuts . Weâve also put out split 7-inches with Out Cold, Kids of Carnage, Enemies For Life, and Canada;s Wednesday Night Heroes.
Noise: Writing dynamic in the band?
Mike: I donât think there is one set formula for writing. Itâs not like were writing six-minute rock operas or anything. Itâs hardcore weâre talking about here. Fast drums, loud riffs, yell words then repeat. In the past I would say I wrote about 80 percent of the music. But now itâs more me and Dominic writing shit together. Also youâve got to realize Brian, our drummer, and I have been playing together in bands since the mid â90s. So we really know what we want out of each other as far as playing and creating music together goes.
Noise: A poor excuse, right?
Mike: You are right, my friend. The discography Shane Has a Moustache has been sitting around for a few years now just waiting for someone to get around to putting it out. It has everything we released plus a few unreleased tracks and a few live sets.
Noise: Best show For the Worse ever played?
Mike: I wouldnât even know where to start with that one, man. You know over the past eight years weâve been pretty lucky to have played with a ton of awesome bands at lot of cool venues. Weightier its with Nothing But the Enemies or COA or any band were intoâ"itâs always a good time. And some of the people who come and see us are off there fucking rockers we seem to attract the dregs of this beautiful subculture of ours.
Noise: Scariest incident ever to happen at a For the Worse show?
Mike: I would have to say Athens, Ohio, in 2005 with Concrete Facelift. We had been on a three or four day bender so I was feeling pretty mean and cutting awesome heel promos on the crowd all night. We do the knock-knock joke I end up hitting some jabroni in the head with the microphone and kicking him in the nuts. Next thing I know the crowd fucking turns on us and fights break out all over the place. Eli, our roadie at the time, was hitting everyone including me in the head with a steel chair. Brian was chasing some dude around with his cymbal standâ"it was chaos instantly. We all made it out of there basically unscathed but that was the only time I can remember being afraid at one of our shows. Iâm sure if you ask some of the people who come see us play all the time they would probably say me running around with staple guns or a tazer or bleeding buckets.
Noise: Speaking of steel chairs, I hear you do professional wrestling.
Mike: For the most part, Iâm done. Iâve had my right thumb fused, my left knee totally reconstructed, and my knees are fucked up, man. I just canât put my body through that for no kind of money at all. Iâve got kids and a job and if I canât make it to work Monday because some idiot dropped me on my head then Iâm fucked. Plus wrestling promoters make music promoters look like honest menâ"what a bunch of cheap bastards. Not to mention too much politicking and backstabbing for me. Iâm not about to kiss anyoneâs ass to get ahead. I donât want to sound so negative because I really did enjoy most of my time involved with wrestling. I had a blast and a lot of great matches and memories. I mean how many chances do you get to smoke a ton of pot with Jimmy âSuperflyâ Snuka.
Noise: For the Worse is co-headlining a show with D.C. hardcore legends Iron Cross, in Worcester. Are you guys excited?
Mike: Weâre always excited to play shows with bands we grew up listening to. Iron Cross wrote a lot of good songs. They are one of those bands that are living proof that skinhead is hardcore. Matt, Iâm now in my mid-30s, I get more excited now seeing bands and playing shows then I did in my teens or twenties. I donât know how some people who seem so passionate about this music and culture can hang up their boots and just walk away from it. It means so much more to meâ"it kind of teeters on obsession.
Noise: Closing words?
Mike: Stay hard to the core and punk as fuck. Skinheads forâŚ life BHC!
For the Worse are co-headlining the Noiseâs 30th anniversary party on 10/9/10 with Iron Cross (D.C. hardcore), Antibodies, the Clozapines, Revilers, Youâre Under Arrest, Institutionalized, and Antietam at the Raven (258 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA) at 3:00pm. Itâs an 18-plus show.
By: DJ Matthew Griffin
Soundman, producer, guitarist, and vocalist Pete Degraaf, started out playing music when he was 16. In his band Friends of Ed, they would pack shows at the WAG (Worcester Artist Group) from 1990 through 1992 on any given night. After a semester at UMASS Lowell, studying sound recording, Pete left school to play in Cast Iron Hike with Dave Green, Chris Pupecki (Doomriders), Mike Gallagher (Isis and Jake Brennan (ex-Jake Brennan & the Confidence Men/Bodega Girls). In 1998, Degraaf became the guitarist for mid-80's Worcester hardcore punk band Villian with Bob Beaumont (Guns of Navarone), Liam Sullivan (Bovachevo) and Mike Purcell (ex-Johnny Styles & the Underworld/Gein & the Graverobbers.) And in the 2000s, DeGraaf played in 9 Volt Superhero, the Black and is now the guitarist for Clear the Way. Currently, he is the sound man at the Raven in Worcester, and at Mill Street Brews in Southbridge, MA. This guy has put in his time working and playing with bands. Let's hear what he has to say.
Noise: When did you start doing sound?
Peter: I started dabbling in sound at the Space in Worcester in 1996 and I was working with a lot of out of town bands like June of 44, the Getup Kids, the Promise Ring, et cetera. There were a lot of touring bands at the time, but I focused more on the local bands. Then all of the sudden I started getting offers for house gigs and have probably worked every club in Worcester since.
Noise: Biggest bands worked with, when doing sound in a club?
Peter: Guns N' Roses' Dizzy Reed; Marky Ramone; Johny Winter, who I have a gig with again, coming up at Mill Street Brews in Southbridge, MA on February 13th. I have had offers to do sound for larger bands, but prefer working with locals. Once they get ďż˝largeďż˝ it loses its newness and it's just not as exciting. I mean, I think back to shows at the WAG and there was this crazy shit going on. People would just do it-to do it! It wasn't about the commerce. When something is fresh, people aren't looking at the money-making opportunity.
Noise: As a producer, who have you recorded?
Peter: Musclecah, Jason James, Demons Alley, Bovachevo, Bitch Brothers, Guns of Navarone-the list just goes on and on.
Noise: What kind of equipment do you work with at your studio in Webster Square?
Peter: I prefer to work with digital equipment as opposed to analog, where bands would have to pay hundreds of dollars a day. My studio is more for the working musician, as opposed to the musician who makes their money off of their music. I don't need to have state of the art equipment to make music come out like it should sound. It's the same thing as people trying to come out with a commercial product. I mean, Black Flag for example: do you think they came out with Damaged 'cause they wanted to make money? NO! They were just a just a bunch of pissed off guys, trying to make music. I mean, you don't have to be technically ďż˝awesome to come off and make some super sick sounds.
Noise: When you were 16 and playing in Friends of Ed [F.O.E.is a reference to Ed McNamara of Campaign For Real-Time] what was it like to play for a crowd of 200-300 kids on any given night?
Peter: The kids then would go then to check anything out! They would go see a band, dance their asses off, and buy the band's cassettes. Nowadays, people going out complain about paying a five-dollar cover that comes out of their beer money. They show up when their friend's band goes on and leave directly after they are done playing. I mean, the music scene has changed a lot in the past 15-20 years. When was the last time someone actually ordered away for a record?
Noise: Who was the worst band you ever worked with?
Peter: Anyone with a rider, [laughs]
Noise: Future plans?
Peter: Playing music. I am between projects that I want to do with friends. And I am not getting rich off of this. But, I mean, what else can I do? I don't have any other skills. I have no idea y I do this. Why do cats kill mice? They do.
Noise: You are currently doing sound at an up-and-coming venue in Worcester, the Raven.
Peter: Yes. They opened this year and stared having music in March, Chris Bettencourt, one of the owners, was looking for a soundman and I was looking for a job. The Raven has a killer sound system.
Noise: What advice would you like to give bands, when dealing with the soundman?
Peter: You have to work with a good sound guy, not just someone who has their own agenda. Sometimes, when doing sound, you have to be flexible enough to let things happen and be objective about the music. You get these bands together and you do whatever you can to make it work for everyone.
By: Craig S. Semon
If you like Shadows Fall, Fates Warning, All That Remains and Dark Day Sunday, chances are you will love Kobra Kai. A heavy metal supergroup made up of current and former members of the aforementioned hard rock bands, Kobra Kai has one mission: to deliver hard-rocking '80s metal the way it was meant to be delivered. And not only do they cover your favorite hair metal, they even have a moniker with a built-in "Karate Kid" reference. You can't get more `80s than that. "The way we see it, our time would usually consist of heading out to a bar, checking out a band and having many, many, many drinks," Kobra Kai collectively said in a statement. "So why not get on stage and have a good time as well." Kobra Kai plays Friday at The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. $10, 18 and older only.
By: Victor D. Infante
Mixing a hard-rock vibe with the gritty, dirty guitar sound of Southern rock, Lone Wolf James is a band that knows how to just cut loose and groove. Even better, the band maintains a sense of melody through its belters, with songs such as âChicago Bluesâ and âMonsterâ retaining their listenability without losing any of their edge. This is flat-out rock, from beginning to end. Lone Wolf James performs at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester.
By: Craig S. Semon
The Wormtown Hoedown and Review
When: 9 p.m. Friday Where: The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester How much: $5; must be 21.
Back in April, James Keyes' future in retail came crashing down after the forklift truck he was driving at Lowe's slammed into a stack of steel upright beams. But for the longtime musician, the day he was fired turned out to be âone of the greatest days ever.â
âIt's a completely random rotation over there,â Keyes said. âYou can work five in the morning one day or you can close at midnight the next day, so I could never book shows more than a couple weeks in advance. Then I got fired. I called up every club in New England and booked myself through September.â
While Keyes can drive a forklift truck (albeit poorly), his lifelong passion is playing music. Now he can spend more time as an ax-slinging member of the hardcore punk outfit the Numbskulls or as a soloist delivering his piping hot slice of rootsy Americana. Keyes (with percussionist Al Polese) will be playing as part of the âWormtown Hoedown and Reviewâ Friday at The Raven Music Hall, Worcester. Also on the bill are the New Highway Hymnal, Bob Jordan and Loose Salute. Keyes is also slated to play June 15 and 29 at Nick's Bar & Restaurant, Worcester; June 26 at 420 Main Steakhouse & Martini Bar, Sturbridge; and July 16 at The Dive Bar, Worcester.
Keyes grew up in Quincy and lived all along the South Shore before settling in Worcester nearly five years ago. Two things brought him here: the Numbskulls and the love of a good woman (a Worcester resident).
He fondly recalls the day he found his father's âsort of weirdo, Japanese, extra-long surf guitar with knobs and switches on itâ and started strumming away. His parents were horrified, not because of the racket, but because they just learned that their son was left-handed. Today, Keyes takes symmetrical ârightieâ guitars and rebuilds them for a âleftie.â
Keyes, who cites Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins as musicians he admires, credits Rollins' book âGet on the Vanâ as setting him straight on what he needed to do if he wanted to get his music out.
âThat book made me say, âI can do this. I got to tour. I got to do my own thing.' â When he was 19, Keyes formed his first âseriousâ band, Paid to Fake It, and quickly became a regular in the Boston club circuit.
âThey were paying us in ginger ale and french fries before we could actually get beer,â he said.
At this time, Keyes was also doing music reviews for âThe Noise Boston.â One release that came his way was a poor-quality demo from the Worcester-based punk outfit Musclecah.
âIt was crap, and I wrote that, because I didn't know them from a hole in the wall,â Keyes said.
Musclecah's frontman Chris Cah challenged Keyes to bring his own band to the Worcester area, and Keyes agreed. It was at this gig where Keyes first met his future band-mates, Alex and Lysie Nagorski of the Numbskulls.
âI thought I was going to get lynched by all these Musclecah fans,â Keyes recalled. âSo we're playing, and Lysie and Alex are standing there dead center in the middle of the room. Alex is like 6'4â with a giant blue Mohawk and Lysie is completely painted in white and has this long laced trench coat thing on.â
Toward the end of the evening, Keyes offered Nagorski a copy of his band's CD, as a peace offering and icebreaker. She briefly looked at it before using it as a beer coaster. Eventually, they found out that they had one thing in common other than their shared love for music. They were all motivated.
âThe Numbskulls were like, âWe want to do this, and we want to go on tour, and we want to make this record, and we have this going on,' â Keyes said. âThey were the kind of motivated people I was looking for.â
Eventually, Keyes was asked to join the then year-old band, and he has been a Numbskull ever since. The band will celebrate its 10-year anniversary show on Sept. 25 at the Hotel Vernon.
A dramatic about-face from the Numbskulls music is Keyes' solo music, but he insists they are just two sides of the same coin.
âA little acoustic song with a bit of harmonica in it is not going to make it in the Numbskulls,â Keyes explained. âI wanted to go out there and do things that are quiet and little and have nothing to do with bombastic rock 'n' roll.â
On his solo work, Keyes has a familiar, gritty croon that falls somewhere between Mike Ness and John Mellencamp with a little Johnny Cash, Nick Cave and Tom Waits thrown in for good measure. Despite only being 30, Keyes sounds like a seasoned folk singer and veteran vagabond storyteller, and his rootsy musical collection of world-weary wisdom and hard-luck life lessons (aptly titled âRuminationâ) unfolds like some newly unearthed recording made during the Great Depression.
âRock stars have died and changed the world by the time they reached 27, so I think 30 is over the hill,â Keyes said.
While he lives in Worcester, Keyes in not merely a Worcester singer-songwriter-guitarist. He has gotten offers to play in Austin, Texas, and has done call-ins to radio stations as far as in Grand Rapids, Mich. His solo disc, âRuminationsâ is available at http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ruminations/id352887498, www.amazon.com and on his website, www.jameskeyes.com.
By: Craig S. Semon
What: performance with Masque, Mellow Letter 7, Endstage and Fuel of War When: 4 p.m. Saturday Where: The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester How much: $7, all ages
What: acoustic performance When: 7 p.m. Friday Where: Union Music, 142 Southbridge St., Worcester How much: free
: performance with Masque, Mellow Letter 7, Endstage and Fuel of War When: 4 p.m. Saturday Where: The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester How much: $7, all ages : acoustic performance When: 7 p.m. Friday Where: Union Music, 142 Southbridge St., Worcester How much: free
At first glance, a New York-based hard-rocking outfit considering Massachusetts as their second home is like saying Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan.
Then again, this isnât Martha Coakley making the claim, but Don Chaffin, lead singer for Voices of eXtreme (or V.O.X.), a band that has been lovingly embraced by Bay State head-bangers.
âWeâre a New York-based band. Before you know it, all of a sudden, weâve become a Massachusetts band as well, just as much so,â Chaffin said. âThe funny thing is when people hear youâre from New York, itâs like, âOh, you must be tough. You must be from the streets.â And, meanwhile, Iâm from Long Island, which, yes, itâs New York, but itâs like a whole different world.â
V.O.X. will be bringing the best of both worlds with an autograph signing and in-store acoustic and/or low-key electric performance from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Hot Topic, Natick Collection, Natick, and from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday at Union Music, 142 Southbridge St., Worcester. They will also be doing a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-medal, hard rock set Saturday at The Raven, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester (all ages; $7). At Union Music and The Raven, all purchases give you a raffle ticket for a chance to win an ESP âFlying Vâ guitar.
âWorcester can expect a tremendous amount of energy in regards to the music, a real power sound and some really good songs played by a bunch of local good guys that are really excited to hang out with them,â Chaffin said. âWe appreciate them being out there as much as they appreciate us being up there. Thereâs no separation of the classes. Itâs just like one big party and weâre proud to be a part of it. We just happen to be supplying the music that evening.â
A guitar player long before becoming a singer, Chaffin started because he wanted to be KISS guitarist Ace Frehley (and actually got a chance to play with his rock idol on Frehleyâs âRock Soldiersâ). With a voice (or V.O.X. box) that is a cross between Robert Plant and Chris Cornell (with a little bit of Axl Rose and Layne Staley thrown in for good measure), Chaffin cites his biggest singing influence to be Bay State rocker Billy Squier.
Chaffin has known V.O.X. bassist Bob Brennan since they were kids and he credits his lifelong friend for having an uncanny knack for making friends with big rockers, including Nicko McBrain, drummer of the legendary heavy metal band Iron Maiden and one of V.O.X.âs managers.
âBobby is one of the best bass players in the world,â Chaffin said. âHeâs aggressive as you can be on the bass.â
Chaffin also has high praise for V.O.X. drummer John Macaluso.
âWhen that guy is behind the drums, I know everything is taken care of back there,â Chaffin said.
Not only will the band be rocking out the first time with an album of all-new material since its 2006 debut, âHypocrite,â V.O.X. has two new members and two âabsolutely phenomenal players,â guitarist Rob Katrikh and keyboardist-guitarist Mike Khalilov, both of which will be making their live rocking V.O.X. debut in Worcester.
âTheyâre two young guys and they kick butt! Weâre excited about that, actually, because that brings another element to the band live,â Chaffin said. âWeâre coming back home (to Massachusetts) to actually start our new lineup with a new record weâre getting the day before weâre in the store up there.â
Literally hot off the presses, âBreak the Silenceâ is true to V.O.X.âs hard rocking edge while expanding their horizons in regards to the overall sound of the band.
âWeâve always been a heavy band but weâve crossed over a little here in regards of being a little more commercial,â Chaffin said. âWhen you hear the album, youâre gonna be like, well this is not actually a mellow commercial band. No, by no means. We maintain the heavy sound but we switched over to a little more commercial, mainstream and thatâs what weâre really proud of.â
Certainly, âBlown Away,â âHollowâ and âTell Me What It Takesâ all have what it takes to become big hits and rock radio staples, and two of these tracks have already been proven to be crowd favorites.
âInteresting enough, we played out a few songs (including âBlown Awayâ and âHollowâ) live there a few years ago that were not on our first album and they were the crowd favorites,â Chaffin said. âWeâve actually taken those songs and incorporated them on this album.â
While there are more heavy metal bands out there that you can bang your head to, Chaffin said what makes them different from other bands is the juxtaposition of hard rock instrumentation with impeccable vocal melodies. For Chaffin, a great melody stays with you no matter what kind of music it is. And Chaffin is comfortable enough with his masculinity to cite the Carpenters alongside the Scorpions as personal favorites, without a hint of cynicism or irony whatsoever.
âIt goes back to my love for the song, starting with the â50s, the Beatles, ABBA, Bee Gees, whatever. So those melodies are somewhere in our heads right now. As a songwriter, it doesnât matter how heavy we write these songs, in regards to a band, those melodies are coming out and theyâre mixing up with this heavy metal music,â Chaffin said. âAnd thatâs the difference, in my opinion, to what we are, as opposed to a lot of hard rocking bands where their vocals, their melodies are as angry or angst as their music, Where our music is pretty angry and angst, the vocal melodies are pretty nifty and pretty melodic if you will.â
By: Craig S. Semon
One does not have to decipher the Rosetta Stone or read the hieroglyphics off a pyramid to know minions of astute, head-banging, pagan-worshippers will be basking under the "Black Sun" when Ra brings its uncompromising blend of alt-metal tomorrow to The Raven Music Hall, 258 Pleasant St., Worcester. And one doesn't have to be a golden idol-worshipper or even an Egyptian to appreciate the band's pageantry of dedicated musicianship performed by intense singer Sahaj Ticotin, power-chords guitarist Ben Carroll, frenetic bassist P. J. Farley and powder-keg drummer Andy Ryan, as evident in killer tracks such as "Do You Call My Name" and "Broken Hearted Soul." Despite having a moniker taken from the sun god of Egyptian mythology, Ra (the band) has strong roots in the Bay State (playing repeatedly at The Palladium and once being a WAAF-FM 107.3 staple). Also on the bill are Downstait, Leaving Eden and Prevalence. Cost is $10 in advance, $12 at the door, which opens at 6:30 p.m.
By: Len Sousa
In a family of ten siblings with twenty-two children, one might expect a variety of talents and interests. However, for the Bettencourt clan, which has strong roots in both Worcester and Hudson, things are a bit narrower.
"Music comes naturally in our family," says Chris Bettencourt, one of the twenty-two and nephew of Nuno Bettencourt, guitarist for the rock band Extreme, whose hit "More Than Words" transcended hard and soft rock boundaries and continues to receive airplay on stations across the country.
Chris, who admits to being the only one in his enormous extended family not to play an instrument (although he occasionally provides back-up vocals on relatives' albums ~ as he has for Uncle Nuno and sister-in-law Lucia Moniz), grew up in the Main South area of Worcester along with his brother Donovan (known as Donny). Last August, when friend and Tantric lead singer Hugo Ferreira (who's been known to make surprise appearances at the Compound in Fitchburg) approached him about managing his new band project, Chris knew he could put his band management experience to good use. Brother Donny was recruited on bass, former Fuel member Kevin Miller joined on drums, and Northboro native Joe Pessia was asked to play guitar. An unconventional addition, violinist Marcus Ratzenboeck was asked to flare up a few tracks, giving the songs an effervescent touch. Nuno Bettencourt (now part of Dramagods) lent his guitar talents on a few tracks and his brother Paulo Bettencourt (of 80s band Flesh) kicked in some background vocals, too.
Finally, singer Hugo came up with a moniker to tie them all together: State Of The Art. "He thought it fit with the new music he was making," Chris says. New music that sounds a lot like what one might anticipate from a Tantric/Fuel combo ~ namely, winning vocals and instrumentation and just a splash of early Aerosmith swagger.
"State Of The Art just happened," Chris explains. "It wasn't really put together for the purpose of being a supergroup of some sort-It's really about a bunch of friends putting together music that rocks. There are similarities to these other groups but there are really no comparisons."
Chris Bettencourt is clearly able to promote his brother's band on the national and international levels, but there will always be a place in his heart for his hometown. "I think there is a lot of great music coming out of the [Worcester] area as there always has been for years. There are a lot of artists that have become very successful and have gone on to sign major label deals. There are some great venues in the area as well."
So now that most of the Bettencourts have grown up and gone their separate ways, just when will the clan get together for one big family reunion show? "[It's] already happened twice," Chris reveals. "It's starting to become an annual thing that happens at The Portuguese Club in Hudson during the holidays." In fact, the gathering has even earned its own title, "Bettenfest."
"You'd rarely find any Portuguese family that isn't proud of their culture," Chris says. "I think with most Western European cultures everything is primarily family-oriented. With family comes togetherness. Since we have such a large Portuguese family, we are influenced by what each other plays and listens to. [And] since there is almost a twenty-year age range between the oldest and youngest Bettencourt, there is a lot of music to cover there." So despite their numbers, the Bettencourts seem close, proud of their Portuguese heritage which traces back to the island of Terceira in the Azores.
As for traditional family reunions, Chris explains them with one word: Madness. "So many people. So many cars. The neighbors must hate us." With their first album in the works and a tour in their sites, we're guessing that "So many people, so many cars" will be the case at State of the Art shows across the country soon, too.
Visit www.myspace.com/sotalive to reserve a copy of the CD, meets some of the guys, and get updates about all things State of the Art.
I am sure this will bring a level of local pride, excitement, tourism, revitalization, and charm to an otherwise current gray lifeless eyesore in our community enclosed with the overgrowth of weeds, enormous rubble, and incredible amounts of trash removed yearly.
'The idea is this will be an opportunity to continue to support the arts and make sure there are stars in Worcester for years to come.
WHY CONGRESS ALLEY?
There really is a place called Congress Alley. Congress Alley can be walked in a minute. From the Crown Street end it changes quickly from crushed rock to dirt to a mere footpath flanked by weeds and trash, before dipping steeply into Newbury Street behind a bar. It's so out of the way a person could live a lifetime in the neighborhood and never set foot there.
But about forty years ago, it was the place to be. It was Worcester's answer to Haight-Ashbury, just a little out-of-the-way alleyway lined with three-deckers, a neighborhood which settled much of Worcester's hippie creative community comprising musicians, artists, poets, writers. It was a sort of communal back yard for the young artists. It achieved notoriety because of The band Orpheus, whose "Can't Find the Time to Tell You" is the only national hit song to come out of Worcester, bloomed on Congress Alley. In addition the song, "Congress Alley", also appeared on the Orpheus' debut album. Guys from the J. Geils Band lived on nearby West Street. Political activist Abbie Hoffman would drop by. Nationally known folk musicians playing at the Y-Not Coffee House were regular visitors.
Stephen Martin, singer with Orpheus, was the creative force behind Congress Alley. In 1967, Martin spent the Summer of Love in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. Returning home in the fall of 1967, he was determined to create a little Haight-Ashbury in Worcester, when he found a cheap apartment on pretty Congress Street, he persuaded his musician and artist friends to join him. Martin's dream was to bring together artists who could enjoy "absolute freedom of expression." They wrote up many of their artistic and political ideas in the Worcester Punch, an underground newspaper. Soon, "Congress Alley" meant not just a back street but a group of artists and musicians and their lifestyle and philosophy.
"My warmest memories are of afternoons sitting at my desk overlooking the alley and writing," Martin said. "It was during the beginning of the alley, and feeling good about what we were doing. We had a lot of hope and idealism." Martin said.
"It began to take on a character of its own," "All we were trying to do was live in close proximity with people who loved the same things. We never thought of ourselves as part of anything, but then we began to see similarities with what was happening around the country." said Norman Schell from the folk-rock band Clean Living who moved to Congress Alley in 1968.
"I got a bunch of local hippies, musicians, artists and poets to move into a Crown Hill neighborhood surrounding Congress Alley. By the summer of 1968, over 350 people were involved," Martin said.
The Congress Alley "district" encompassed roughly 0.6 square miles, bounded loosely by Highland Street on the North, Chandler Street on the South, Park Ave on the West and Main Street on the East.
The former bohemians of Congress Alley now include executives, musicians, producers, businessmen, a market research director and a college security chief. Nader organized a reunion of some of the residents of Congress Alley a couple of weeks back, and about a dozen showed up.
Worcester writer David Nader remembers visiting Congress Alley as a 15-year-old. The place has always fascibated him, and he has written a spoken word piece called "Congress Alley" that is published in Bat City Press.
"It was a low-income, working-class neighborhood that was a cheap place to live," Nader said. "The majority of people who settled Congress Alley were folkies. They wanted a place where they could live, play and work together. It's the same as what people are speaking about now, an area for the arts. People said, 'Here's a gray, dull city. Let's liven it up and inject it with culture and the arts.'-David Nader
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE ANYWAY?
ďż˝ 1999 David Nader
Ken Jordan, recently passed away in 1998, was the second person to move into Congress Street. He like many who established the community were veterans of The Y-Not Coffeehouse. After the Alley's demise, he visited a number of alternative scenes including ones in Boston, Greenwich Village, the West Coast and Mexico. Ken settled down by the end of the Seventies, got married to long time friend Kathy, raised a family and continued to support folk music in Worcester. He was most notably associated with John Henry's Hammer Coffeehouse, WCUW Community Radio and recently Worcester County Traditions (a local folk music society sponsoring house concerts at John and Linda Henry's home on Vernon Street). He supported his family by working for Millbrook Distributors where he was head of the plant's Teamsters Union. Ken's untimely death, due to natural causes accounts for him being a missed fixture in Traditional American Folk Music.
According to Ken, Steve Martin was the first folkie to move into that little slice of hip Worcester. Do not confuse him with the comic/movie personality of the same name. Steve is the writer who penned the tune Congress Alley for the group ORPHEUS (MGM) who recorded it on their first album. He was an on and off again performer and member of that group which recorded thirteen other compositions of his. His musical bio includes his pieces being recorded by CLEAN LIVING (VANGUARD), JAIME BROCKETT (CAPITOL), and a soul-R&B group CONGRESS ALLEY (AVCO) that named itself after the song.
After leaving Worcester in 1973 he moved to San Francisco where he remained for fourteen years. During that time he wrote and performed with cult rockers CHARLES BISCUIT BAND and RESCUE along with country singer Rebecca West. 1983 marked a time when he became politically active with counter-culture icon Wavy Gravy. He was arrested with Wavy, Jackson Browne and hundreds of other protesters blocking the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
Martin migrated back to New England in 87 where he has been pursuing a career in market research. His artistic forays continued with a country-blues-folk recording, RECIPE, in 91 with Norman Shell and Bruce Mackay. In 95 there was an independent effort titled BALLPEEN PLATTER (NOISY REVOLUTION RECORDS) issued on green vinyl. He has since been involved in community access television around the South Shore. Steve is credited with helping conceive and nurture the Congress Alley community. Now in his early 50s, he divides his time between work, family and the arts.
Bruce Arnold, leader of Orpheus and Alley occupant is remembered by Walter Crockett as the person he doubled with when he went on his first date with a girl. Some recollect Arnold was a competent, intelligent person whose slickness could be likened to that of a stereotypical Southern Baptist Minister. His music is not thought of in the same context as those with folk music sensibilities. Arnold's ORPHEUS grabbed feature spots on television specials, The Museum of Modern Art in NYC and was written up in a New York magazine review. Arnold left Worcester for the Golden Coast where he set up his own church, The Church of the Open Door, then later became successful in retail businesses. He presently is reported to have little interest in recalling the Congress Alley era.
Folk performer Jaime Brockett, originally from Westboro, stayed at the Alley when not touring. He had a Gold with the humorous ballad, Titanic. He alternates between touring producing and hiding out. An important sideman to Brockett was Tony Rubino who now has a recording studio in East Longmeadow and plays with C&W band WILD ROSE and the PECOS RIVER BAND.
Poet Kathy Woodbury, a part of the Y-Not and Congress Alley Scene, headed to Cape Cod and Boston after the community dissolved. For the last twenty years she has lived in Barre where she brought up four children. Her works have been published in various poetry journals. NAKED UNDER THE FLAG is her latest compilation of poetics. Politics characterize the focus of her material.
Walter and Marie Green have been together since the Congress Alley days. They've brought up four children and still live in Worcester. Walter worked twenty years in foundries with approximately eleven of them as president of his union. He is currently expecting to graduate this spring from Clark University with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy.
Manasha Bilsey, although not a denizen of the Alley, edited the news alternative PUNCH. Members of the community respect him for acting as a conduit for political and social information of interest to the local counter-culturalists. He has defined himself in recent interviews as "reconstructed". He previously ran Book People and still offers readers alternatives at his Webster Square establishment, Another Story Book Store.
Norman Shell managed the Y-Not, lived at the Alley from the beginning. He formed the still popular country rock band CLEAN LIVING. Twenty years after breaking up they are able to command audiences of Five to Seven Hundred people at reunions. Former Worcesterite Eliot Sherman, is usually featured on piano. Sherman now operates an antique business in Amherst. Norman lives in the Berkshires with his family where he works as a sales and marketing specialist. He is an active member of his church and will play music anytime he's asked.
Marcia (Sadowski) Chevian-Hooper lit up the Alley with Worcester's first all girl rock band, The Broad Explosion a.k.a. The Peppermint Conspiracy. She was a personal friend of Jimi Hendrix and Robert Wyatt, underground legend and Founding member of The Soft Machine. Marci followed Hendrix's advice and chased her Muse. She played and sat in with Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Chuck Berry, Taj Mahal, Luther Guitar Johnson, Bo Diddley, among others, garnering all she could to fine-tune her musical ability. Ms. Marci can be heard all over the New England area playing bass and singing lead vocals with her band, Ms. Marci and the Bar Chords.
Frank "Pasquale" Caricchio, an inner-city kid, didn't have far to go when he found himself at the Y-Not then at Congress Alley. Steve Martin described Pasquale as a Romantic Idealist which was evident in his writings at the time and is most evident today. Besides being a writer, he worked in human services from 63 to 91 and later as a metal worker. Today he is a self described "slave to the two wheel iron horse".
Howard Johnson, who hung around the Alley as a kid is now working in the hi-tech industry. He is nationally known in the art world as a visual artist. Initially shunned by local critics, his work commands high prices at galleries in Boston, New York and from European collectors. The DeCordova Museum and MFA display his works.
Francis 'Woody' Woodbridge Jr., heir to the Baker's Chocolate family business, graduated from Clark University where he was involved in radical politics and gravitated to the folk scene at The Y-Not Coffee House. Woody joined in with the Alley community where he became known for his poetry. Some of the poetry was put to music by songwriter Steve Martin. Woody has once again relocated to Worcester where he is a regular at spoken word venues. Woody's courage and determination in the face of personal hardships has made him a source of inspiration to this nationally recognized poetry community.
Al McGinnis came from the service to Congress Alley then back to the Navy in 72. As a special investigator with the military police he was personal bodyguard to Ethiopia's Hali Salasi. He later guarded George Bush and John Glenn. He currently is Chief of Security for Notre Dame College in Manchester, NH. He loves Congress Alley a nd its people.
Gitch, a.k.a. Michael Jackman, was the astrologer in residence for the Alley and PUNCH. His writings have appeared in WORCESTER MAGAZINE, gay publications in Boston and down South. He is best known as a polylinguist who has taught languages at the secondary school level. His current interest in Syrian Orthodox Christianity has led him to the sacred language, Aramaic. His lifestyle is one of simple elegance
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