By Anthony Arrigo
SNA contributing writer
Bright sunshine, mobs of dancing people, faerie and bee costumes, hula hoops, bubbles, graffiti art, rows of vendors, lines at food trucks five people deep, the mayor, a half-century anniversary party, and, oh yeah, six straight hours of great music, all of which marked this year’s Summit Music Festival Aug. 24 in Lippitt Park as the best one yet in its four-year tenure.
The Extraordinary Rendition Band officially kicked off the day with an animated “When the Saints Go Marching In” procession from the Hope Street Farmer’s Market to the festival’s main stage. They would come back later for a full set on the grass in front of the stage.
Local band Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes then treated the crowd to a preview of the kind of musical day it was going to be with their keyboard-led, hip-shaking alt-rock that had the neighborhood streaming into the park.
Fifteen-year-old Emeline Easton, of Providence, followed, and although it was just her with an acoustic guitar on the large stage, she captivated the audience with her strong-voiced Joni Mitchell-like original songs and singer-songwriter covers. A mark of things to come for young Easton, she transfixed the outdoor crowd with singing that evoked the intimacy of a Soho coffee shop. In a tender moment at the conclusion of her first tune, the resounding roar that leapt from the crowd took Easton aback and left her giggling humbly as she soaked in the cheers.
Nationally known, Brooklyn-based, Marco Benevento soon got the listeners back on their feet. Identifiable by his melding of samples, real-time loops and ragtime-sounding upright piano, Benevento’s stage setup spans decades of technology with his Mac laptop, guitar pedals and electronic keyboard sitting atop a truncated 1920s Gibbs piano originally made for entertaining on train cars.
A strong contingent of 20- and 30-somethings who came out just to see Benevento’s set were quickly up in front, digging every sample and syncopated minor chord. Likely unaware of his signature “TigerFace,” however, the stage was swarmed with giddy, cell phone-wielding, middle-aged parents when Benevento took the giant fuzzy tiger face down off the side of the piano and onto his head during an extended jam in which each member donned the costume piece, eliciting laughs from the crowd and lots of bobbing heads lost in the music of the funky ensemble. Benevento finished up the set with his catchy “Limbs of a Pine” (the tiger head prop also appears in the music video on YouTube) and a song titled simply “RISD,” which was, according to him, written during a sound check at a Rhode Island School of Design gig and “just stuck, because it works.”
The Sugar Honey Iced Tea gave the crowd a short breather with their bluegrass-styled harmonies and instrumentation while the headlining act, The Stooges Brass Band, from New Orleans, was getting set to take the stage. Once again people were up and dancing as the Stooges’ brand of traditional New Orleans brass music infused with humor and rock and hip-hop infected grooves moved even the most genteel East Siders in attendance. The Stooges’ single “Wind It Up” and a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” highlighted an energetic set that continued right up until the city Parks Department literally pulled the plug on the power at 6:25 p.m.
But music wasn’t the only thing happening. In addition to the craft vendors and food trucks that you’ll find at nearly every event in Providence, the Trinity Brewhouse ran a beer garden that was shoulder-to-shoulder with happy revelers all day long. There were activity tables for children, as well as a body-painting artist. The Avenue Concept, a nonprofit organization that fosters public art opportunities, set up an art wall for anyone to use, an attraction so popular with kids and parents alike that the paint ran out.
And to top it all off, The Sandwich Hut had a tent set up for their 50th anniversary party. Dean Weinberg, president of the Summit Neighborhood Association, arranged for a surprise appearance by Mayor Angel Taveras to give the restaurant an official commemorative citation in recognition of five decades of business and community service on the East Side.
It was a great day in the park, and the only question left now for the SNA is how they’re going to top it next year.