Thursday, January 19, 2006

Newport skate park initiative is ON

My brother Eamon has sparked a move to get a new concrete skate park built on the site of some long-unused tennis courts in our home town. I've attached the story on their first meeting with the Newport City Council. Obviously, they still have a lot of work to do (this IS in the preliminary stages), but Eamon has gotten 400 people involved via a petition and gotten the, uh, wheels rolling (sorry -- I stopped short of saying "gotten 400 people on board", but it just didn't make sense to say "gotten the ball rolling"). City approval remains in question, and fundraising plans (to cover building costs, lessen city liability, etc.) are not yet finalized.

Still, I think it's a good cause, and I'm not just saying that because I gave Eamon his first board for Christmas some 18 years ago. I can't skate to save my life these days (though I did put together a cruiser deck recently...) but Eamon and many others have stuck with it, which is a testament to the fact that skateboarding isn't just "for the kids" anymore -- you don't need to see Lords of Dogtown to understand this. The kids, though, will benefit most if this project comes to pass. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have this level of support for skateboarding when I was 12; I got my first ration of shit for skating on the street from a cop within the first week of getting my first board (it was a mini-Caballero with Trackers and Powell IIs for those taking notes). The resistance to the sport still sadly exists, so continued support for outlets like skate parks remains crucial.

If you or anybody you know would like to help with this initiative, feel free to pass this blurb along.

Here's the story on the first Newport City Council meeting from today's Newport Daily News. I will post info on upcoming meetings as it becomes available. Read on:

Skateboarders try to get officials on board for park

By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff

NEWPORT - Newport skateboarders envision a modern skate park behind the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, a park with an enclosed bowl set in the ground and a street course with curbs, pipes, a pyramid and other obstacles.
Sam Batterson, owner of Breaking Ground of Providence, which specializes in the construction of poured-concrete skate parks, developed the conceptual design and presented it Wednesday night to six of seven members of the City Council. Only Mayor John J. Trifero was absent.

Councilman Charles Y. Duncan requested the workshop after Eamon Kelly, a city resident with 18 years of skating experience, collected more than 400 signatures on a petition asking for the park.
In the audience were almost 40 skateboarders who crave an easily accessible area to skate in near the downtown area. The MLK Center is on Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard, and the skatepark would be built on a paved area that extends from Edward Street to Tilden Avenue.
The city opened a skate park at Easton's Beach in 1999 that cost $66,500 to build, but it never really caught on with the skateboarders, Kelly said.
"It's on a beach and anytime the wind is blowing, it fills with sand," he said. "The seams and cracks in the concrete are terrible."
The sand and relatively small size, 4,800 square feet, makes it difficult to skate on, he said. The seams between the concrete sections are filled with rubber, but that pulls out and wheels can get caught, he added.
"The people in the company that built it were not skateboarders," Kelly said. "They didn't know what skateboarders want."
The Easton's Beach skatepark also is difficult to get to from Newport neighborhoods, because kids have to skate down the hill of busy Memorial Boulevard to get there, or have parents drive them.
More than one skateboarder said when he skates in the street, police tell him that is not allowed. But when he skates on the sidewalk, police tell him that's not allowed either.
The city youth told council members that the Easton's Beach skate park probably attracts more kids from Middletown that it does from Newport.
The new proposal seeks to improve on the existing skate park. The paved vacant area behind the MLK Center is about 6,600 square feet, and the grassy area right next to it of the same width would add an additional 2,350 square feet. That would bring the total close to 9,000 square feet.
Batterson has credibility with skateboarders for his skate park designs. He built skate parks in Jamestown and Providence that are popular.
"The comments are that the parks are pretty good, for 4-foot parks," Batterson said. That is the maximum height of the walls and ramps in those parks.
"Newport with its surfing and skateboarding history, wants to have a good park," he said. "For the kids to be happy, it should be at least six feet."
The area would be excavated, so the walls would be largely below ground level.
The problems
Batterson said his proposed park for Newport would cost about $200,000. That price could go up if drainage was a problem.
That price tag was a problem for council members.
Councilwoman Colleen A. McGrath noted that the city is facing costly water, sewer and road infrastructure upgrades and repairs in the coming years.
Susan Cooper, director of the city's Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said for the park at Easton's Beach, Pepsi-Cola Co. donated $25,000 and the parents and skateboarders raised another $5,000, leaving the city with a balance of $36,000.
Mike Richardson, a co-owner of Anchor Bend Glassworks, said he would be willing to donate labor and "hit the streets" to do fundraising for the new project.
"It would be nice to have a spot everyone could go to," he said. "I've been skateboarding since I was young. Whenever I'm not working, I'm trying to relive my youth."
Money, however, isn't the only potential problem the council sees.
"It's a densely populated neighborhood and skate parks can get loud," said Council Vice chairwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.
"I can't imagine the calls for service we would get from that area," Patrolman Kevin Parsonage told the council. "I don't think many people would like ramps 20 to 30 feet from their homes."
But the skateboarders argued they already skateboard on the pavement at that location, and neighbors have not objected.
Skateboarders also argued that it's an activity that ends at sunset.
"You can't skateboard in the dark," said one young man.
They noted that basketball games take place on the adjacent court and that the MLK Center is already the site of many other activities.
"The skate park should be central to Newport somehow," Patrick Doyle said. "That's key to us. We know land is scarce, but the MLK Center presents itself."
The lot behind the center is city-owned parkland.
City officials also are concerned about liability and insurance costs.
Napolitano said the city had to pay a higher premium to extend its insurance coverage to the skate park at Easton's Beach.
Cooper said insurance companies in the past have required walls at skate parks to be no higher than 4 feet.
"There might be less injuries at a four-foot park because it attracts less people," Batterson said. "People here want a park that is going to put Newport on the map."
Councilman Duncan said another meeting would be scheduled, with representatives of the MLK Center and residents of the neighborhood to be invited.

Copyright 2004 - 2001. The Newport Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

two new posts

Not counting this one, that is.
Passing a bit of time so I figured I would put up the two latest things that I have written for the Mercury. They follow below.
I'll put some of the accompanying art up once I figure out this blasted photo editing feature. Jaqueline Marque shoots good work.
I'm considering posting these in their entirety on my myspace page. I am tempted to just put the links here to generate a little traffic this way.
Read on and tell me what you think. Feedback is a good thing.

Sasquatch & The Sick-A-Billys - from 1/18/06 Mercury


With Demon Truckers
Sat., 1-21, 10 p.m. Doors open at 9.
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport
$8 cover


Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys are a band on a mission.

That mission, according to 32-year-old singer/guitarist Dave "Sasquatch" Caetano, "is to save f***in' rock 'n' roll."

The way to salvation for this Providence band slated to make its third Newport appearance at Area Venue Saturday night is a countrified blend of full-throttle, balls-out rock 'n' roll. Caetano's outrageous onstage antics- he's been known to set his pubic hair on fire and vomit on stage - tops off the Sick-A-Billys' energized, unmistakably rockabilly-infused sonic stew.

"It's gotta be done that way," Caetano said. "That's what rock 'n' roll should be about. I tell people it's OK to say 'F*** you' to your boss, it's OK to say 'F*** you' to people. Somebody's gotta be the asshole that says it. I'm just trying to take that fascist stress off of people's shoulders."

The Sick-A-Billys sound, which they've been fine-tuning for more than three years now, has earned them stripes among the psychobilly (read: fusion of punk and rockabilly) camp - not to mention opening slots with the likes of Reverend Horton Heat - but none of the band's members is comfortable with the concept of playing to the constraints of a single sub-genre.

"It's definitely a bastardized version of rockabilly," said Natalie Courville, a.k.a. "Miss Natalie," the band's 26-year-old drummer. Courville, a tattooed "hardcore kid" (as she put it) and Slayer enthusiast, grew up in Connecticut and played in punk and metal bands before becoming a Sick-A-Billy just about two years ago.

Upright bass player Johnny "Custom" Viveiros, 27, a Cranston resident who grew up in Warwick, never heard of the term psychobilly until he joined the band, though he'd taken to the rockabilly image - the "shirts with dice on them, the creepers."

"Most psychobilly bands, to me, just sound like punk bands with upright bass," Viveiros said. "I think we have different influences. I bring a little more punk (to the sound), Natalie brings the hardcore, and Dave brings the Frank Zappa-psychedelic-metal-bluesy mishmash or whatever you want to call it to the table. A lot of Dave's riffs are metal riffs with a twang."

Caetano, originally from Pawtucket, was a dreadlocked metalhead with a fairly omnivorous musical appetite before moving to Texas for two stints during the 1990s, but he credits a live Wayne "The Train" Hancock performance for turning him on to twangy sounds. "I just fell in love with it," he said, referring to the guitarist's trademark "hillbilly swing."

With a self-released CD, "Burning Miles of Sin," a win last spring in WBRU's Rock Hunt, and some increasingly aggressive and extensive touring under their belt, Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys are on the brink of another monthlong, Tasmanian devilesque spin around American clubland with dates booked everywhere from Pennsylvania to Texas. Perhaps an elaborate ruse to escape as much of New England winter as possible, Caetano has named it the "Cold as a Bastard Tour."

They also happen to be in distribution negotiations with the roots rock-purveying label Yep Roc, who could very well be getting both their first disc and the yet-to-be-released, 17-track follow-up - which is on the brink of its final mastering stages - out to record stores and radio stations everywhere in the coming year.

The Yep Roc roster includes the likes of Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers and Reverend Horton Heat. Both bands - and Reverend bass impressario "Jimbo" in particular - helped encourage Yep Roc to take note. "Those guys pushed for them to take a look at us," Viveiros said.

While lineup changes were frequent in the early days of the Sick-A-Billys and the band seemed more like Caetano and a revolving cast of characters fleshing out his singular vision, Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys have developed into a group effort. Viveiros said that Caetano handles most of the lyrics and comes up with the basic guitar parts, but the rest of the band has a say in the finished product.

"We've definitely sped up a lot of stuff," Viveiros said, referring to some of the band's older material. As for new songs, Caetano welcomes their input. "When it comes to the music and arrangement, it's all of us," Viveiros said. "Do 200 shows a year and you're going to get tighter," he added.

"The three-way relationship, musicwise, is like nothing else. We feed off each other like nobody's business. It's awesome. I've never had that in a band before," Courville said. "All three of us have a pretty strong work ethic when it comes down to it."

While they all have busy lives outside the band, Courville said, they're all dedicated to dropping everything to go on the road, rehearse, or put in studio time. "It's part of our lives and we love it. It wasn't always easy at times, but since then it's become a part of us."

Caetano's in-your-face stage presence has earned him some apt comparisons to Jello Biafra, the similarly-left-of-center former singer of politicized punk legends the Dead Kennedys. But he says the vomiting and self-immolation are subliminal things that happen maybe once a year. There are a number of factors - including how much he's been drinking.

"It gets people's attention. It's an expression of how sick to f***ing death I am of the world. (But) I'm not a novelty act. I've got these songs, so maybe that's what I need to focus on."

One thing the audience at the band's Newport show this weekend can expect is an energized set. "We always play like it's the end of the world," Courville said.

Pat Downes Q&A - from 1/11/06 Mercury

What he got


Sometimes the best way to make your own music is to join a band devoted to someone else's songs. That's the case for Newport native Pat Downes, who quit his day job last fall to hit the road with Sublime tribute band Badfish, formed in 2000 by a trio of University of Rhode Island students. Downes' involvement in music started when he picked up a saxophone at age 9. He played in school bands from grade school into college and was a longtime member of Jiya.

When did you join Badfish?

Actually, it was the end of October, I was in another band out of Boston, Suspect, and we ended up opening for Badfish, and then they asked me if I wanted to come up and play a song. Then after that, they said "Hey, if you learn how to play some keyboards, too, we'll give you a job."

Oh, that's right, because you're a sax player.

Yeah, so, I didn't even know how to play the keyboards, but they said if I learned the parts for their songs, then they could give me some work.

Was Suspect another cover band?

No, it was original music.

What's it like to go from an original band to a cover band?

You find a way to put your own spin on it so you can still keep it creative and fun. Definitely the benefit is you can go to the show and everybody knows the words to the songs. It's weird. It's like you're just basically leading a big sing-a-long. Everybody's already into it and knows what's going on. So that makes it fun. But I'm still writing original stuff on the side, because that's part of the art, you know? I couldn't support myself on my original music when I was doing just that. This is my only job now.

So you don't have a day job anymore?

No. That's why I'm home right now. When we're on the road, that's all I do. And then when I come home I play three shows a week and then have the rest of the week off. I'm doing the whole singer-songwriter thing, so I play guitar and sing. I have my own stuff that I work on. I played drums for a while in a band, and I play bass.

What is the original material that you guys have been working on like?

It's pretty much under the same blanket as the Sublime style music. Just like a rock-reggae thing. We're trying to write towards what our audience would like.

Would you do it under the Badfish name, or would you do it under a different name?

That's still under debate. It's still early. It's definitely being thrown around a lot.

Were you a big Sublime fan before you joined Badfish?

Yeah, I knew all the stuff. I definitely wasn't listening to it as much as I do now, but I was definitely a fan.

I really doubt you saw them back in the proverbial day...

No I did not (laughs).

Can you describe your main audience? And what's your average draw?

For age, we don't play at colleges, but just college towns, it depends on the place. We play clubs that hold usually on average 500 or 600. They usually sell out. They do really well. The biggest show we played ... House of Blues in Atlantic City a few weeks ago, and that sold out. That was 3,000 people in New Jersey. We actually sold it out twice, once over the summer and once a few weeks ago, so that's our big show. It depends on the market, too.

Does it tend to be mostly college kids who are going to your gigs, though?

Yeah, for the most part. When it's an all ages show, we get a lot of really young kids, maybe as young as 14. Which is really cool, because they weren't around when the whole Sublime thing was going on. If we're playing somewhere like Lupos where the crowd's all ages, it'll be 14 to like almost 40. The 21 plus shows are a little more mellow. Not too many mosh pits, because that's all the young college and high school kids.

When you're not making music or playing out, what kind of music do you listen to?

It's everything. I'll go through listening to some real heavy stuff. I'm kind of into that band Avenged Sevenfold, like melodic metal, and anything like that to Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, that type of music. Just the whole spectrum.

Do your bandmates look the part and everything? I wouldn't imagine the singer would get SUBLIME tattooed across his back.

No. Actually, people that come to the shows do, though. It's crazy. People try to come up on stage and show off their (Sublime) tattoos. It's nuts. But I think that's another reason why people come to see us. We're not trying to imitate anybody. It's just us up on stage. The whole image thing, that was (Sublime's) thing. There are lots of cover bands that do that, try to look the part.

Like an AC/DC cover band that has the guitar player in the schoolboy outfit.

Exactly. (But) if you sound like it, you don't really need to do it.

Do you have any advice for younger people interested in getting into music? I think it's pretty remarkable that at age 23, you're able to make a living just playing music.

I was very fortunate, even in the bands that I go around in. The kids who are opening up for us, the local bands, are still very young, but most of the touring bands, I haven't really ran into anybody my age too often. A piece of advice? Just keep selling yourself, put yourself out there. Play where you can when you can, because that's the only way people are going to see you, the only way you're gonna get noticed.