The Loud, Beating Heart of the City


The Extraordinary Rendition Band at Sound Session 2012.

Erin X. Smithers,

Music pumped hard through the veins of downtown Providence last weekend at Sound Session, with bands Brass Attack, the Agents, Akwaaba and the Silks transforming the masses into engaged, rollicking fans.

Although the main acts were great — we particularly liked the Agents, which served up a big-band, danceable mix of ska and reggae — one group of musicians clad in red, white and gold rallied the crowd like no other, and they did it without a stage. The Extraordinary Rendition Band, which has been floating around Providence for roughly four years, hijacked clusters of people from both the Westminster and Matthewson Street stages, luring them in with high-energy performances of Beyonce and Daddy Yankee songs.

At worst, they're a mixed bag of nuts smashing and honking their instruments, keen on interrupting life with spontaneous blasts of music. At best, they're a mass of skilled, enthusiastic local artists who pour their hearts out onto the streets of Providence, with the sole intention of spreading joy and music to anyone within earshot. Quad drummer David Lee Black joins us to explain what the ERB is all about.

Rhode Island Monthly: How many musicians are involved in the ERB?

DLB: Right now we have about twenty to twenty-five musicians. No one gets paid, and it's a free community democracy with no one leader. Everyone shares the responsibility.

RIM: We've seen you out and about, randomly playing on Thayer Street or at scheduled events like the Summer Solstice Celebration and Sound Session. If nobody's getting paid, what keeps you motivated to attend these events around the city, invited or not?

DLB: Well, we're a group of activists that are trying to make the world a better place through music, because using the power of music is usually more effective than arguments. We value silliness, gratuitous antics and fun for fun’s sake.

RIM: Does it work?

DLB: People tend to follow us around and start dancing, epecially the kids and kids at heart. So I think so, yes.

RIM: What type of music do you play?

DLB: Anything from the theme to Star Wars to Balkan to pop tunes. We're also fortunate to have several people in the band who write their own music and arrange it.

RIM: Does the band travel a lot?

DLB: We've travelled to places like Austin and Seattle, but we mostly do a lot of regional stuff centralizing around Providence.

RIM: Where does the band get the best reception from crowds?

DLB: Each place is so individually fun, but I guess we love it here best because we’re Providence’s favorite sons and daughters.

RIM: This sounds like a lot of fun. Can we sign up?

DLB: Yes! We're always looking for new members. We're open to all levels of ability, but especially people who are open to free, guerrilla-style music that will uplift everyone in earshot. 

RIM: Where can we find you next?

DLB: We rehearse every Thursday at 7 p.m. underneath the bridge like trolls at India Point Park in Providence. And approximately two to three times of month, we do a spontaneous eruption of musical joy somewhere in the city.

Upcoming events (exact times TBA):

July 22: A five-song set and possibly a brief wandering music parade around the St. Mary's Feast and Cranston.

Aug. 7: A parade around the Olneyville neighborhood with Big Nazo puppets and other guests.

Sept. 8: Best Fest, Martha's Vineyard.

Sept. 29: Firstworks Festival on the Plaza.

Oct. 5–8: HONK!, a festival of activist street bands in Somerville and Cambridge, Mass, and PRONK!, Providence's own festival of activist street bands.

For more on the ERB, visit or watch the video below.

If you’re into this blog wait until you see what’s inside Rhode Island Monthly each month.
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