I would like to take the opportunity, this being my inaugural music column for Providence Monthly, to cover an event very near and dear to my heart. I realize that as a music writer there should be a certain amount of objectivity towards the things that I choose to cover – so I’ll just say right now that I am very fortunate not only to work with a few of the people in this piece, but to play music with them as well.
Later this month, Resources For Human Development (RHD) will be hosting another night of live music at The Met as a benefit for the organization, and as a chance to showcase some of the fantastic work coming out of the place. For those unaware, RHD Rhode Island is an arts-based day program for adults with disabilities, which acts as a sort of ad hoc art school to create crash courses in all disciplines including graphic arts, creative writing and video production. Also, rock bands. Lots of rock bands.
The amount of music coming out of the place has grown to such proportions that it now requires a dedicated night of its own. RHD has already hosted blockbuster nights at venues such as Firehouse 13 and The 201.
The desire to create and enjoy music is innate in all of us, and at RHD the program is tremendously ripe with musical ambition. Almost all of the bands formed there are a mix of staff and clients, the former usually using their combined experience to teach and guide the latter through a multi-faceted array of musical sounds and styles.
The staff start by teaching the basics: how to plug in a guitar, work an amplifier or wail on a drum kit. Over time, the lessons progress to include the finer points of crafting chords and improvising as a group. Generally, they stay busy creating musical mayhem that’s at times highly listenable and other times not. But, it’s always entertaining, enlightening and cathartic.
One of the breakout stars of RHD is the long running band Mrs. Six Eyes, fronted by the inimitable Amy Ethier. The band has played on practically every stage in the area since blossoming out of the RHD stable several years ago as a project between Ethier and Alec K. Redfearn, a prolific talent in his own right. Redfearn helped to sculpt Ethier’s chaotic, cryptic and often hilarious lyrics into lovely and demented children’s shanties – “The Breastmilk Restaurant” being a particular favorite of mine. Her strangely endearing lyrical obsessions with bodily emissions – along with the bottomless well of love she feels towards her friends and family – is more than enough to tickle the inner weirdo in all of us.
Half Man/Half Human, a project formed by RHD staffer Mark Stone and 24-year-old Jamaican immigrant Jahnoy Skerritt, will be playing, having also graced many a stage in the Providence area. Skerritt, a boundless source of energy and inspiration, writes about what truly interests him most: robots, space aliens and the weather. He tackles these subjects in songs including “Aliens from Jupiter,” a noble piece about a rewarding friendship overcoming vast distances, both literal and figurative. But it’s “Purple Skies” that remains his masterpiece; a monolithic mash of new wave infused New Order pulse and stark lyrics about, well, purple skies. Skerritt and company hope to steer their new music towards vintage Jamaican rocksteady and ska, his primary musical loves.
The Memory Lanes, led by the towering presence of Michael Eddy, are one of the newest bands in the RHD family and will be making their debut onstage at The Met. Eddy is a natural storyteller, capable of crafting long narratives across many different media: fiction writing, film and video production, and most recently singing and writing for the Memory Lanes.
Obviously, a place like RHD is going to attract some serious artistic types, and the amount of current and former employees who are also musicians is staggering. Veteran staffer Mark Stone is certainly no exception; his old band, the legendary Medicine Ball, will be reuniting for the almost 20-year anniversary of their debut album, Sandwich Full of Lies. Expect a lot of old weirdos to come out of the woodwork for this, as the band released four full-length albums over the course of their 10-year existence and played with nearly every alternative rock band to come through Providence back in the day.
“Eclectic Shock: an Evening of Confounding Music” takes place at The Met on January 21. More bands are being added, so check out the RHD Facebook for updates.