Rhode Island PBS at Its Best:

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 1, 2013

            Television viewers can expect to experience magical music moments when the past, present, and future converge, on Monday, March 4, 2013, starting at 7:30 p.m., when WSBE Rhode Island PBS kicks off a jam packed evening that showcases legendary and local stars orbiting the rock, rhythm & blues music scene. The night also officially announces the debut of a Pawtucket produced music series, “Meet Me at THE MET.”

A Gathering of Live Local Bands

            According to Lucie Raposo, public information manager at WSBE Rhode Island PBS, local musicians, performing live right in their studio that evening during program breaks, will most certainly bring amazing energy and edge to Rhode Island’s public television’s fundraising effort. During the four hours of evening programs, viewers can sit back and listen to their favorite local bands from around the Ocean State and southern Massachusetts: Kevin Williams and The Invisible Orphans; Providence’s The Jess Lewis Band; award-winning singer/songwriter Mark Cutler of Providence; alternative folk artist Allysen Callery of Bristol; and 10-year old guitar prodigy Nolan Leite of Pawtucket.

            Raposo notes that this evening opens with Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughnIn Session. In 1983, when legendary blues guitarist Albert King, age 60, was joined by his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan, age 29, on a Canadian soundstage for the live music TV series “In Session,” magic took place. Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Session is not simply a television program: it’s a summit of two master musicians. The only known recording of King and Vaughan performing together, this is the concert that blues fans in general, and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans in particular, have waited years for, she says.

The Legendary Rolling Stones

            Adds Raposo, then at 9 p.m., it’s musical mayhem in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The concert extravaganza marked the last performance of the original line-up of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones are joined by an all-star musical cast: Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, and the ad-hoc, one-time only supergroup “The Dirty Mac” featuring John Lennon (guitar/vocals), Keith Richards (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar), fresh from his break-up with Cream, and Mitch Mitchell (drums) of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

           The program was originally planned and staged by the Rolling Stones in December 1968 as a BBC TV special to promote the newly released Beggars Banquet, however, it never aired. Finally, in 1989, it was discovered in a trash bin at The Who’s vault in London. It has been restored to preserve this historic once-on-a-kind event and was first broadcast in 2007. The public television broadcast includes a 2004 interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend about the historical gathering.

Introducing…“Meet Me at THE MET”

            At Rhode Island PBS’s fundraiser, Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks) and Nate Flynn will introduce their new musical performance series, “Meet Me at THE MET,” which will air on WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Board Members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame will staff the phones during the Monday fundraiser.

            Opening up a music venue at Pawtucket’s Hope ArtisteVillage in 2010, owner Rich Lupo saw an opportunity to bring the old Met Café  back, once located underneath I-195 in the CapitolCity’s Jewelry District, before it fell to the wreaking ball. Luckily, the spirit of the music venue lived on. Lupo brought it back to life downtown in the ‘90s and early 2000s with a new incarnation appended to the middle era Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel.

            Flynn remembers the original Met Café  – “not much bigger than a McMansion’s living room – was a hangout where the beer was almost cold and the music was always hot.” According to Flynn, if you didn’t know where it was, you could follow any one of the cars downtown whose bumpers sported a sticker imploring one to “Meet Me at The Met.”  It was a great music scene and, soon after opening, national acts with Rhode Island pedigrees like Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds became regulars, he said.

            This latest re-incarnation of THE MET, in a 650,000 square-foot historic mill in Pawtucket, has prompted the production of a new Rhode Island PBS program, “Meet Me at THE MET,” to be filmed there, says Cheeks. With the airing of each of their hour-long  programs, Cheeks and Flynn hope to bring back what made the original Met café, Lupo’s or the Living Room so special to many Rhode Islanders: an intimate-sized performance space that would nurture local musicals and expose audiences to emerging superstars.

            The new WSBE Rhode Island PBS program is the brainchild of Pawtucket-born Cheeks and Flynn, a native of North Smithfield.  Cheeks, inducted into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame in 2007, needs no introduction as a member of legendary local bands the “Fabulous Motels,” “Young Adults,” and Jackiebeat Orchestra. His 40-year career also spanned occasional acting in films and serving as narrator in documentaries that appeared on national PBS, and teaching at local Universities. Over the years, he hosted radio talk shows on WALE, WPRO and WHJJ.  His cable television show, the Club Genius, won a Rhode Island State Film award.

            Cheeks is a highly regarded columnist, writing for alternative press in the Ocean State since 1979 for the Providence Eagle, The NewPaper and now the Providence Phoenix, writing the Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World with long-time side kick Chip Young for 33 years.  He even created a nightclub act called Comediac’s Bad Film Festival where the worst movies ever made were screened (appearing 4 or 5 years) before the nationally syndicated Mystery Theater.  In 1997, he the former Pawtucket resident served as Grand Marshal of Pawtucket’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Flynn is an internationally award-winning communications professional. While a student at BrownUniversity, he studied electronic music composition at the McColl Studio of Electronic Music. During his time on College Hill, he was a key member of the Brown Student Concert Agency, Billboard Magazine’s then top-rated college concert agency and stage crew, working stage crew for internationally-recognized bands, including Bob Marley, Blondie, U2, Dire Straits, the Kinks, Emmylou Harris, The Ramones, Dave Brubeck, Carley Simon, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Little Feat, among many others.

A Chance Encounter

            By chance, in 2011, Cheeks and Flynn became part of a group of individuals who banded together to found the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.  Having known each other for years, their work on the Hall triggered the idea for them to produce a live music show for WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Based out of Pawtucket’s THE MET, the program will document the great Rhode Island music scene of the last 35 years.  Like the club itself – this is the third MET – the Providence music scene has now moved to Pawtucket, just a stone’s throw from the Providence line. From the ‘70s bands like Roomful of Blues, the Young Adults, Rizz, Beaver Brown, and Wild Turkey, to ‘80s new wave outfits such as the Schemers, Rubber Rodeo, and the Mundanes, up to today’s nationally-recognized Americana groups like Deer Tick, Brown Bird, Joe Fletcher and the Low Anthem, the Providence and now the Pawtucket music scene becomes vibrant.  

            Flynn notes that advances in video technology have made it possible to take advantage of THE MET’s great sight-lines and line-ups  to capture live music in a powerful new way, getting closer to the music than ever before.  “Meet Me at THE MET” is the perfect vehicle to record Rhode Island’s finest groups and music where it’s at its best, in a club setting where musicians are no more than 40 or 50 feet from the audience, he says, noting that many of the older bands they hope to reunite on the show were never properly recorded in their heyday.  “Just as important as the venue, is the support of THE MET’s owners, Rich and Sarah Lupo, and the crew that works there. 

            All this comes together to create a very special opportunity to showcase some great music,” says Flynn, who recognized the efforts of Dave Marseglia, David W. Piccerelli and Jodi Mesolella, of WSBE Rhode Island PBS, for making the new musical programming happen.  

            Cheeks will host the show, do interviews, and provide context for the musical performances, relying on his decades of experience as a great musician, columnist, and bon vivant. Flynn will handle video production, edit the videos, and mix the audio. They’ve teamed up with IMAJ Associates, a Rhode Island-based, award-winning design firm, to help with the look of the show, and they have lined up an audio company to record the multi-track during the performances (that is to tape each performer’s instruments and microphones individually to get a proper mix of sound.)

            For more information about “Meet Me at THE MET “or to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rudy Cheeks at  rudycheeks@live.com.  Or call (401) 580-2265.

            Watch WSBE Rhode Island PBS over the air on digital 36.1, on Cox Cable 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, Comcast 819HD, DirecTV 36, and Dish 7776.  Be very generous in supporting WSBE Rhode Island PBS to keep quality local programming on Rhode Island’s only public television station.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Activist Richard J. Walton’s Great Adventure in Life and Death

Published January 4, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Throughout his 84 years, Richard J. Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Island’s voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made by making sound arguments. With his last breath, he even taught us how to face death.

Walton, age 84, died on December 27 at Rhode Island Hospital. He had been treated for leukemia for about six months, says daughter, Cathy Walton Barnard, of Simsbury, Connecticut, who noted his last words, “I’m going on a great adventure.”

Walton Touched Many Lives

Even with many in Walton’s vast progressive and activist networks knowing about his illness, people were caught off guard by his sudden passing one week ago, stated Rick Wahlberg, a computer consultant and a former president of Stone Soup Coffee House, who worked closely with Walton on the nonprofit’s Board of Directors for over 20 years and developed close personal ties. “We considered him part of our family just like many others did,” he said. .

According to Wahlberg, a Cumberland resident, Walton was part of New York’s intelligentsia scene, [mingling with writers at the Lion’s Head, a bar a few steps down from Christopher Street] in Greenwich Village, where he lived making a living as a writer.

Wahlberg viewed Walton as a “great example of morality, humanity and a supporter of nonviolence,” noting that his friend led an amazing life that help shaped his progressive point of view and that of his two daughters. When his oldest daughter, Corinne, heard of Walton’s passing, she remarked, “he did more in one lifetime than most.”

Over the years, Wahlberg, 59, and his wife, Barbara, attended Walton’s birthday parties that would raise large sums of money for his favorite charities, attracting the state’s powerful political and media elite right to his family compound, located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick. This legendary fundraising event occurred from 1988 to 2011, bringing hundreds of people each year to celebrate his progressive causes. Due to his health in 2012, for the first time, Walton’s birthday was held at the Roots Cultural Center in Providence.

Joyce Katzberg, 59, folksinger and a founding organizer of Stone Soup Coffee House, spent decades protesting with Walton at vigils, rallies and picket lines. She remembers him as a kind, honest person. When necessary, he was not afraid of using the “F word,” she quipped, noting that this word stood for fascism. His social advocacy “has left many ripples and impacted many Rhode Island nonprofits,” she adds.

“Richard called things for what they were, said things in ways that were hard to argue with because he had the facts, knew the background stories and did his home work. He cared enough to tell the truth,” said Katzberg, stressing how he excelled at moderating views between people with differing positions.

Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks), a co-author of Phillip and Jorge column in the weekly Providence Phoenix, who knew Walton for over 30 years as a social activist, educator and a strong advocate for traditional American Folk music, had his thoughts about his recent passing. “There is no doubt in my mind that Rhode Island would have been a much different and poorer place without his constant presence. He was a mentor to generations of students and social activists and one of the strongest voices for peace and equality that Rhode Island has ever known,” he said.

McCrae, 62, says his efforts for social change extended internationally to Africa where, in 1960, he worked on a number of documentary films on the emerging independence movements on that continent and to Latin America, where he started the Sister Cities Project between Providence and Niquinohomo, Nicaragua, helping to build a medical facility and school there.

One of the City of Pawtucket’s most visible social advocates, Maggi Burns Rogers, remembers Walton as someone who worked hard to improve the world without forgetting how to enjoy it. “He loved to laugh, eat, drink, was an avid gardener, knew his music, read literature and even traveled the world.” (In between his social activism, teaching and writing, during his long life Walton traveled to over 50 countries, making return trips to many of them.),

“Richard won’t be remembered for just one thing because he brought his talent to so many different nonprofits,” says Rogers, including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Stone Soup Coffee House, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the Pawtucket Arts Festival Executive Committee to name just a few.

With his long white beard, President Betsy Florin, of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, viewed Walton as a Santa Claus-like figure. But unlike Santa, he gave every day of the year, all of his life, she said. “His real gift was not something tangible that could be wrapped in a pretty box and placed under a tree, it was, rather a gift of imagination combined with activism.”

Walton “imagined a world of decency and fairness and then sought to make that happen,” said Florin.

As to Walton’s daughter, Barnard, 52, even in her earliest childhood memories she remembers her father as being an activist, who once marched with his young daughter at a gay pride parade. While not being an activist to “his degree” the Preschool teacher is very politically active in her local community.

Today, Barnard is a diehard New York Mets fan. When Barnard and her brother visited their father in New York, he often took them to watch the team play at Shea Stadium. (As noted in an Op Ed penned by Walton in 2000, throughout his life Walton’s favorite baseball player and hero was Hank Greenberg, a Jewish baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily for the Detroit Tigers. He was considered to be one of the premier power hitters of his generation. Walton noted that Greenberg, who experienced anti Semitism, would encourage another player subject to slurs from the sidelines, that was Jackie Robinson.)

Six Lifetimes Jammed into One

Walton’s life is richly detailed in Wikipedia, a web-based free content encyclopedia.

Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945. After taking a two year break from his studies at Brown University, serving as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

Walton’s training at Brown University and the School of Journalism at Columbia propelled him into a writing career. During his early years he worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton would initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. Foreign policy. In the late 1960s, as a freelance writer, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy. He was also the former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s personal editor for his memoir, “The View from the United Nations.”

In 1981, after 26 years of living outside of Rhode Island, he would return, ultimately becoming one of the most recognizable social activists around, fighting against hunger, homelessness and poverty. The journalist would run for political office and was active in the Citizens Party [the predecessor to the Green Party]. He ran as the political group’s vice presidential candidate in 1984 with the radical feminist Sonia Johnson. They did not win.

For over 25 years, Walton has taught writing to thousands of students at Rhode Island College (RIC). Walton fought to successfully establish a union at this university, hammering out a contract, ultimately serving as its first president until his death. With his death, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory.

Walton was married to Margaret Hilton and Mary Una Jones, both marriages ending in divorce. He is survived by his daughter Cathy Walton Barnard and son Richard Walton and three grandchildren.

Big Shoes to Fill

Walton, with his long white hair and beard, wearing his trademark blue overalls, bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap, serves as a role model to the younger generations of social activists, those who will take up his worthy causes to fight for justice, to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He taught us how to live life to the fullest, exploring the world while not forgetting to help those in need.

Walton’s life turned out to be a grand adventure. But even with death approaching he taught us to take that leap of faith into the unknown, recognizing that death, too, can be and even grander adventure.

The family is planning a memorial service to be held the first weekend in June.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.