Published in Woonsocket Call on September 20, 2015
Rich Lupo, 66, acknowledges that time flies by fast. In fact his namesake music venue, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, celebrates its 40th Anniversary next month. We sit at the Cup & Saucer, a retro-fifties decorated diner on Pawtucket’s historic Main St., reminiscing over four decades of being actively involved in Rhode Island’s music scene.
In September 1975, although primarily a blues club, Lupo’s became the first venue operating in the Capitol City to embrace all types of live music. The Brown University graduate opened Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel at 377 Westminster Street (a 4,000 sq. ft. former retail store) after unsuccessful attempts to a find a location in Fox Point & North Main St. Ultimately, his decision to open up that club (followed soon by The Met Café & The Living Room) led to a revitalization of Providence’s music scene.
The Early Years
In his early years, Lupo remembers working long hours as a house painter during his college years and after and saved up the $15,000 to start his bar. As a teenager, he would tell others how cool he thought it would be to open a bar, with people dancing to records playing from a jukebox and listening to live bands. The young club owner dreamed of having Bo Diddley and other rock & roll heroes play on his stage. This would happen.
According to Lupo, it turned out that customers only showed up on live music nights. So, while the jukebox stayed, band nights soon expanded from one to seven nights per week. The Heartbreak Hotel became a home to bands well-known for blues, rock n roll, country rock, jazz – that came to New England looking for a gig. Many local favorites — including Roomful of Blues, Rizzz, Wild Turkey, The Young Adults, Schemers, NRBQ and Max Creek – played there and continue to do so.
Lupo says that the first national act at the club was harp player Big Walter Horton in November 1975. In 1976, teaming up with independent booking agent Jack Reich allowed the club to expand past blues to rock and beyond. That year, The Ramones played his club. In 1977, Lupo’s had Bo Diddley week – 9 consecutive sold out shows with Bo backed by The Young Adults. Over the next few years more rock n roll and blues icons appeared at Lupo’s: James Brown, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Iggy Pop, The Pretenders, The Go Gos, Stevie Ray Vaughn — to name just a few.
Being Forced Out by Condo Development
In 1988, Providence downtown gentrification would force Lupo close his initial club. Reaching out to a college friend & realtor, he found his new digs at the former Peerless Department Store, reopening in 1993. The new space was great because, though large, it still had a sense of intimacy.
With its’s 10,000 sq ft of space, the club could do more and larger concerts. The space also annexed The Met Café, an intimate venue for smaller touring acts and local bands. At The Met, customers saw the early shows of future stars such as Dave Matthews, Oasis, and White Stripes.
At this 2nd Lupo’s, the first shows were Belly and Meat Loaf. Later, the club hosted acts as diverse as Ziggy Marley, Hole, Radiohead, Garbage, Willie Nelson, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Anthrax, and even Tony Bennett.
In 2003, the club was again forced to move and Providence City officials suggested the Strand Building on Washington Street. But the club had to share this space with the existing NV dance club, a separately owned business.
At its new location, there was no room for The Met. It would take 7 years for Lupo & his wife, Sarah, to reopen The Met, just three miles away at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.
Ending our conversation, Lupo looks back and quickly rattles off some of the ups and downs of the last 40 years. Although there were plenty of both, Lupo best remembers realizing the dream of his heroes playing his stage and countless nights of joyous audiences – taking some of the sting out of spending 15 of the 40 years fighting evictions.
But, Lupo remains even-keeled by following advice from his eighty year old friend, Chuck Lynch, who always says “Just keep jogging in place.” If he follows this advice I expect him to remain in business for another 40 years.
The Upcoming Anniversary Celebration
Lupo’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place on October 7 – 11, 2015 at The Met, Hope Artiste Village, 1005 Main St. Pawtucket.
Here are the details:
Wednesday, October 7 — Max Creek $10 (Adv), Doors 6PM | Show 7PM
Thursday, October 8 — “40 Years of Rhody Blues” – Hosted by Duke Robillard & featuring Al Copley, Rich Lataille, Greg Piccollo, Doug James, Carl Queforth, Marty Ballou, Marty Richards, Rob Nelson with Special Guests: Ken Lyon & James Montgomery. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM
Friday, Oct. 9 — The Schemers, Neutral Nation, Jungle Dogs and Rash. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM
Saturday, October 10 — Rizzz. Members of the Wild Turkey Band
& Friends featuring Tom Keegan. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM
Sunday, October 11 – The Young Adults, Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies. $15, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM