Twelve hours of Foo!

An annotated guide to AS220's freakadelic fest
By PHILIP EIL  |  August 8, 2013

ELECTRICITY ON EMPIRE A view from the Foo stage.

It is entirely fitting that August 10’s Foo Fest — the latest iteration of AS220’s annual, sensory-explosion extravaganza — will take place on Empire Street. In nearly 30 years of existence, AS220 has morphed from a sort of guerilla enterprise holding concerts and art experiments in rickety, odorous downtown buildings to the kind of grand, sprawling organization the name of that street implies: an empire.

Walk through their three-building campus in Providence on a given day and you’ll encounter a mind-blowing array of activity. Over there is a 3-D printing studio, which is not to be confused with the room with the laser cutter. Wanna pause for a minute in the restaurant? Who’s playing in the concert space tonight? When’s the next event in the Black Box theater? Have you seen the latest show in the gallery? No, not that gallery, the other one.

Take a wrong turn during one of these walk-throughs and you might find yourself in one of the high-ceilinged live/work spaces that AS220 leases to artists, or perhaps a hallway teeming with local teenagers chatting excitedly about their next painting or hip-hop album.

“Frankly, AS220 wants to be all things to all human beings on the planet,” AS220 co-founder and artistic director Bert Crenca told us recently. He was only slightly joking. “Because really we do,” he said. “To all communities, all income levels, all ethnicities and races, all disciplines, we want to be all things to all people.”

But how can something so vast and all encompassing maintain an alternative ethos? That’s exactly the point, Crenca says. Inclusivity is the alternative: “An alternative to art as some high-fuckin’-brow activity, [an] alternative to the exclusive celebration of Western European art, an alternative to elitism and classism. . . .”

You might say, then, that this Saturday’s Foo Fest is the ultimate expression of that everybody-on-board alternative spirit. The event spans 12 hours and countless spaces where visitors will encounter rappers and robot-makers, anarchists and artisans, booksellers and bass players.

Just like an AS220 tour, it can all get a little overwhelming. Thankfully, we’ve drawn up a 12-hour game plan. If you follow our instructions, you may not see everything Foo Fest has to offer (for that, check out beforehand) but we can promise that your limbs will be loosened, your ears will be ringing, your eyes will be dazzled, and your mind is likely to fizz and burst like a shaken-up soda can.

At AS220, these are the signs of a satisfied customer.


“Family friendly” might not be the first words that come to mind when you think of AS220, but recent Foo Fests have been trying to change that (during daylight hours, at least). Consider this year’s “Instrument Petting Zoo” organized and run by the empowerment-and-education-through-music gurus from Girls Rock! RI, who will bring drums, guitars, microphones, and effects pedals for adults and kids to try out.

Despite the organization’s name, Girls Rock! director Hilary Jones promises she doesn’t practice genre discrimination. Country, jazz, hip-hop, whatever. . . at the instrument petting zoo — and Girls Rock! events, in general — “rock” is a verb before it’s a noun.


Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth.

Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire.

In the Shadow of the Sabertooth: A Renegade Naturalist Considers Global Warming, the First Americans and the Terrible Beasts of the Pleistocene.

The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy.

These are just a few of the titles you’ll find at the AK Press table at this year’s Anarchist Book Fair. And that table represents only a fraction of the event, which features booths from local bookstores, youth groups, and political action organizations; plus plenty of zines and posters made by local artists.

Politically speaking, the event is, “left-leaning, or maybe even just totally left,” says veteran vendor Brent Legault, owner of Westminster Street’s Ada Books. He’ll be bringing hundreds of books that he’s plucked specially for the occasion, from Jane Austen novels to works by Providence comics star Mickey Zacchilli.

But don’t let the politics scare you off. The book fair is “too much fun to be preachy,” Legault says.


On the second floor of AS220’s building on Empire Street, there is a room with taped-up photos of Queen Latifah, DMX, Common, Redman, Kanye, and other rappers. Nearby is a poster titled “WORDZ OF AN M.C.” with various literary terms — “ALLITERATION,” “METAPHOR,” “PERSONIFICATION” — defined below. A boombox sits on a table. A few kids huddle around a computer, listening to a fresh beat that has just been composed.

This is headquarters for ZuKrewe, AS220 Youth’s official performance troupe. And if there is one set you need to hear at Foo Fest 2013, it’s theirs. They’ll be performing songs from their forthcoming album, Depth of Field.

The members of ZuKrewe range in age from mid-teens to early 20s and they rap about problems within their families, issues relating to race and violence in their neighborhoods, and other topics. They draw inspiration from people like Nas, J. Cole and, in the case of 15-year-old Jason Ruiz (“L-Nine”), from Providence, “my haters.”

When asked what the group means to him, the answer from 19-year-old Providence native Douglas Mulvey (“D-Rex”) was simple: “It means everything.”


Have you been to the Providence Flea, the new “upscale urban flea market” on Sundays by the banks of the Providence River? Well, according AS220 95 Empire program director, Ric Royer, the Foo Fest’s Black Box Super Flea will be its “exact opposite.”

This flea is unjuried, the tables are darned cheap to rent, and the whole thing takes place inside a sunless black box. It’s here where you’ll find VHS tapes curated by Arkham Film Society’s Josh Gravel, hand-sewn patches by Dirt Palace alum Sam Merritt, and various items — from music equipment to DVDs — that have accumulated at the Black Box over time. (The Black Box, itself, will have table of wares for sale.)

“I kind of imagine it as like a post-apocalyptic, Blade Runner-type marketplace,” Royer says.


It ain’t easy being a white rapper. Just as 20-year-old Providence native John Phelps, aka Lunchbagg, who’ll make his festival debut at Foo Fest.

First, there are the comparisons to Eminem and Asher Roth, Lunchbagg says. And then there’s the permanent underdog status.

“When I get up on stage, people. . . already have their predisposition against me, based on my appearance: maybe my skin color, but mostly like, ‘This kids got a fucking mohawk and a lip piercing and he doesn’t look like a rapper.’”

But Lunchbagg doesn’t let it bring him down. The skepticism not only fuels him, it sets up the post-show moment that he relishes.

“When I get off stage it’s a lot of like, ‘Wow, you’re really good for a white guy!’ ” he says. “I’m like, ‘Hell yeah I am!’ ”

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