The looming, oftentimes intangible threat of COVID-19 has led to a profound disconnection of physical interaction along with an uneasiness of being around others. For some, that lockdown solitude was a time of creation, and for others, an opportunity to reevaluate. Then, in the midst of all that, we were confronted with the murder of an unarmed Black man at the hands of the police. News of George Floyd (among so many others) plus time have made this a unique climate ripe for self-realization – to stop and think deeply about how to keep each other healthy, be equitable, move forward – and not return from where we came.
For Providence troubadour Harvey Garbage, this has been a time to step back. “Luckily, I’m this self-learnt little bookworm that’s been at it for like a decade,” he says. “Dumb, passionate, safe inside my own universe of words and art and truth. All this time off the circuit has been the time off I needed. But I do NOT stop creating.”
Nashville-based musician Josh Cournoyer, known as I&R, planned to sublet an apartment in Providence to write and record his next record. A look at the I&R Instagram shows an entire room transformed into a recording studio. “It’s provided me with a lot of time to explore sounds...for an entire afternoon,” Cournoyer says. “I think like a lot of people, I’m bouncing between inspiration and hope to see our society band together to take on systemic inequality and criminal justice reform, but I’m also horrified by the amount of pushback we’re seeing. There’s a lot of self-work that we need as a country.”
This kind of call to action was wholly embraced by the artists at RIOT RI (formerly Girls Rock). They have used their platform to offer a series of workshops called Un/Learning the State. “The pandemic pushed a lot of artists and musicians away from each other in physical and geographical ways, and then the last several weeks of demonstrations and demands for transformed approaches to healthy and sustainable communities have asked us to come together again in new and creative ways,” begins Katie Krafft, co-chair of the RIOT RI board. “So, we put together this series of weekly workshops so that we can get together with folks in our community to think about the past, the present, and potential futures.”