Rich Lupo acknowledges that time flies by fast. The Brown University graduate opened Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel at 377 Westminster Street in September of 1975, the first venue operating in the Capitol City to embrace all types of live music. The two of us sat at the Cup & Saucer, a retro-fifties decorated diner on Pawtucket’s historic Main Street, talking about Lupo’s upcoming 40th anniversary celebration and reminiscing over four decades of the club’s impact on the Rhode Island music scene.
As a teenager, Lupo would tell others how cool he thought it would be to open a bar where people could dance to records playing from a jukebox and listen to live bands. During his college years, he worked long hours as a house painter in order to save up the $15,000 needed to start his business. The young club owner dreamed of having Bo Diddley and other rock ‘n’ roll heroes play on his stage.
According to Lupo, customers only showed up on live music nights. He kept the jukebox, but altered the schedule to have bands playing every night of the week. The Heartbreak Hotel became a destination for blues, rock ‘n’ roll, country rock, and jazz bands looking to play a gig in New England. 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.
The first national act to play at the club was harp player Big Walter Horton in November of 1975. Lupo later teamed up with independent booking agent Jack Reich to expand the club beyond blues to rock. Over the next few years, more rock ‘n’ roll and blues icons appeared at Lupo’s: The Ramones in 1976, Bo Diddley (who played nine consecutive sold out shows backed by The Young Adults) in 1977, and many other well-known performers such as James Brown, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Iggy Pop, The Pretenders, The Go Go’s, and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Forced Out by Condo Development
In 1988, the gentrification of downtown Providence forced Lupo to close his initial club. Reaching out to a college friend and realtor, he found his new digs at the former Peerless Department Store and reopened in 1993. The space was big enough (10,000 square feet) to host larger shows, yet still felt intimate. The new location also annexed The Met Café, a venue for smaller touring acts and local bands such as Dave Matthews, Oasis, and White Stripes. Belly and Meatloaf were among the first shows at Lupo’s new location. Later, the club hosted diverse acts like 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 Lupo’s had to share this space with the existing NV dance club, a separately owned business. Furthermore, the new location provided no room for The Met; it would take seven years for Lupo and his wife, Sarah, to reopen Lupo’s sister club, just three miles away at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.
Although there were plenty of ups and downs along the way, Lupo is proud to have realized his dream of having his musical heroes playing his stage. He says the countless nights of joyous audiences takes some of the sting out of the many years spent fighting evictions. 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 continues to follow Chuck’s 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.
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 & www.themetri.com
Written by Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, a Pawtucket-based writer who covers Rhode Island’s art and creative scene.