Drove into Providence last night to play at the PVD Hoot open mic. It’s in a section of the city known as Federal Hill, and it wasn’t till last night that I wondered why. All I knew about the area was that it was associated with mobsters. There’s a strip of fancy/gaudy restaurants that I’ve driven through a bunch of times that fulfills my narrow image of the place. Heading to the Hoot, though, through a different part of Federal Hill, I got the feeling my picture was quite a bit too small. It was then that I started wondering about the origins of the name, with visions of George Washington and the Federalist Party in my head.

My knowledge of RI is a nice example of a more general principle. It’s a relatively small state, the smallest even, and I grew up here. It’s easy to imagine I know my way around, but were it not for my phone I would have been lost many times by know.

Eugene is built on a grid. What’s more, a good number of the North/South streets are named after the presidents, in order. (Except for John Adams. He’s been eliminated from the paved record.) It is, in short, easy to get around once you know the scheme. Rhode Island isn’t like that. Rhode Island is a maze. Cities grew organically, chaotically. Consequently, it can’t be reduced to a geometric scheme.

Anyway, GPS guided me through the maze. My mom, who has lived all of her 75 years here, always gives me directions before I leave. I used to try to stop her, telling her that all I need is an address, but then realized that giving such directions is part of her identity. She worked selling home improvements for some decades, cold-calling door to door around most every neighborhood in the state. Following these streets in her mind connects her to herself, and even though I’m just going to use my phone anyway, I always let her tell me how to get where I’m going.

So, the GPS announces that I’ve arrived at my destination. It’s a yellow house in the middle of a block, down a typically narrow street. Three people are sitting out on the stoop, glass in hand, sharing a bottle of white wine. There’s a small parking spot right in front of them and I make a few attempts to squeeze my mom’s car in. Though it’s equipped with a rear-view camera, I really don’t have a sense for how long the front is, and so hop out to get a look. The three tell me I’m fine and give me some conflicting directions about how to complete the maneuver. I choose the most reasonable of these and a minute later I’m standing on the sidewalk talking to them.

They ask if I’m going to the open mic. I reply that I am and ask them how to sign up. Turns out the open mic is actually a couple doors down, on the corner. They’re just three people sitting on their stoop enjoying the late afternoon. For some reason they have a fourth glass, which they offer to me.

My point in recounting all this is that it is not long before we find that I have a friend in common with one of these three, Jeremy Wegner, of Eugene, Oregon’s The Sugarbeets. In fact, earlier in the year, she’d gone to his mother’s funeral here in Providence.

Well, Jesus, that was a long story for a very little pay-off. In any case, there it is.

The open mic was great. Very different scene from the other pub-based open mics around town. A big, attentive and supportive crowd of mostly young people. A long list of performers. Five minutes each. A nice space.

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