PVD Live: Tunes and Charity at the Columbus

Providence's music pulse is beating louder by the day.



The Columbus Theatre Cooperative

A nun, a former Israeli army soldier, a rock star and some politicians walk into a theater....

Don’t cringe. The bad punch-line isn’t coming. The aforementioned, plus hundreds of loyalists from Providence’s music scene, turned out for Saturday night’s benefit for the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence at the newly reopened Columbus Theatre.

The 199 seats in the theater’s small upstairs venue sold out in just four days. It’s no wonder: John McCauley and Ian O’Neil, members of Providence’s own musical cyclone, Deer Tick, headlined the show, plus Rhode Island’s spine-tingling songbird, Caroline Hecht, with Route .44’s Eric Dziembowski on the upright bass.

After tickets were released, two more acts were tacked on to the bill: Smoota, a bearded man with more swag than the stage can handle, and internationally recognized pop singer/songwriter, Vanessa Carlton. My middle-school-self squealed when I saw that one — and wondered how she ended up in Providence for the night. Carlton sang onstage with Deer Tick in a performance back in December, and she and McCauley performed a song together Saturday night (see below for a video). Circle one: Friends or More than Friends?

The lineup filled the seats, but opening statements — delivered by Providence’s Mayor Angel Taveras, Congressman David Cicilline, Institute Director Teny Gross (the Israeli army vet) and nonviolence training coordinator Sal Monteiro — reminded us of why we were really there. The Providence institution, which teaches nonviolence practices in area schools and prisons, was forced to lay off one-third of its staff in December due to federal and state funding cuts. The cuts came at a time when violence felt rampant; in reality, the highest number of annual murders in Providence in recent memory dates back to 2000 — the year before the Institute was founded. Thirty lives were taken that year.

Though she didn’t stand up and speak, Sister Ann Keefe, cofounder of the Institute and a nun at St. Michael’s parish in South Providence, sat at stage left (interestingly adjacent to where the rock stars hung around) to watch the show. Click here for our January profile on Sister Ann, which provides some insight into why the Institute was founded.

I could go on and on about how sacred and intimate each set felt — most notably McCauley's screeching, pained performance of "Christ Jesus" off of The Black Dirt Sessions — but, nah. See for yourself: Rhode Island Monthly staffer Josh Aromin caught two memorable songs on video. The first is Caroline Hecht and Eric Dziembowski performing “Maggie,” off Hecht’s 2012 album, Avenue of the Giants.

Here’s Vanessa Carlton and John McCauley performing “Tall Tales for Spring,” off her 2011 release, Rabbits on the Run.


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