Hot summer nights

The pulsating spirit of Sound Session ’08
By CHRIS CONTI  |  June 26, 2008
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A YOUNG VIRTUOSO: Trombone Shorty.

Mayor Cicilline’s continuing quest to develop Downcity into a “cultural mecca” has struck gold thanks to the Providence Black Repertory Company and their annual Sound Session festival, a weeklong sonic soiree that is expected to draw upwards of 65,000 partygoers from July 6 through 12.

Now in its fifth year, “New England’s premier genre-defying music festival” boasts a lineup intended to bridge demographics and illuminate the arts community with a dizzying array of performances, all culminating in the street-filling Carnival Parade, with the New Orleans backline pulse of the Hot Tamale Brass Band and the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and the local 19-piece abstract brass ensemble What Cheer? Brigade leading the way.

“Participants of all ages and ethnicities join in, and when they get to Westminster Street, they’ll feel like they’re at a Brooklyn block party,” says Micah Salkind, the Black Rep’s director of public programs and Sound Session coordinator. “Every year there is this pulsating spirit of Providence-bred artistic innovation and neighborhood pride.”

The 24-year-old Salkind, along with PBRC founder and artistic director Donald King, collaborate with Cicilline’s Tourism Department up to eight months in advance to begin se-lecting acts and mapping out the citywide schedule of events. The Providence Black Rep’s Xxodus Café and the New Yawk-style Back Lot stage, Waterplace Park, and the Performing Arts Center remain the focal points for prominent performances. But with more than 20 cafés, bars, and clubs getting in on the action,  SS ’08 has developed into an unparalleled pub crawl for the ears.

This year’s PPAC headliner is modern-day R&B quartet 112. After Boyz II Men and before the Making the Band nonsense there was the ATL quartet. Puff Daddy’s dream team probably serenaded you while in the midst of some post-prom heavy petting back in the day. Six albums and nine million units later, 112 is still packing theaters with those vocal chops that’ll send the undergarments sailing toward the PPAC stage when they belt out classic cuts such as “Only You,” “Peaches and Cream,” and “Cupid.” Rumor has it 112 is working on a new album due out in ’09. After their performance, head  to the PBRC Back Lot stage to catch an impressive rap bill with Pawtucket-bred MC Chachi, Joe Beats and Blak, and Mista Cheeks of Lost Boyz (!) fame.

“I’ve played Sound Session for the past three years but never during the prime time weekend slot,” an enthused Beats said. “It’s gonna be hot.”

R&B veteran Eric Roberson has paid his dues. Roberson, aka “Erro,” dropped a single on Warner Bros. in 1994 and, after commonplace empty label promises, was dropped shortly thereafter. So he went the indie route and never looked back.

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AGE IS JUST A NUMBER: Jon Hendricks.
“I feel blessed to have survived in this industry, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” Roberson said via e-mail. “Gradual growth is fine with me.”

Roberson acknowledges his tussles with the fickle industry on “Music,” the silky-smooth opener on his recently released fifth album, Left: “Took a while gave you an appe-tizer/Thirteen years in the game call me a soul survivor/I hope you bought the CD and it’s not a burn now/And even if it is — I’m glad I got your ears.” Tracks such as “Evening” and “Right or Wrong” display the naturally confident Roberson crooning to the ladies without hamming it up. And his genuine flow hasn’t gone unnoticed, having tapped Phonte from the indie rap crew Little Brother on “Been In Love.” Roberson’s stage game shines with his trademark freestyling (that’s right, R&B freestyling) technique during the set.

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