Lupo Celebrates 40th Anniversary with Five Nights of Music

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

For more details, call 401-331-5876 or go to www.lupos.com & http://www.themetri.com

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.