The streets of Providence are quiet. The river that slices through the city is still. Even the line at Dunkin Donuts is absent. To an outsider visiting the city, they may not realize what is coming; it is the calm before the storm. In less than two days, some say an estimated 100,000 people will engulf the city to watch and partake in this year’s PVD Fest, a festival held in Providence connecting people across the area through music, art and cultural experiences.
Tucked away in small brown boxes at 270 Westminster St. are the guides to the festival in the form of a pamphlet, each one equipped with a map of providence-locating where the seven stages are, the 11 visual installations and more. This building is also home to FirstWorks one of the leaders of the festival and founder of the PVD Fest, before it became what it is today.
FirstWorks is a Providence non-profit organization dedicated to, “connecting art with audiences.” FirstWorks hosted its own arts and music festival in Providence until they received a grant, from the National Endowment for the arts, in 2013 to expand the festival. From then on more of the city became increasingly involved in the production of the festival including the community, mayor and other organizations. Last year the festival was called Providence International Arts Festival, the name has now been changed to PVD Fest.
“Seeing the city, even the state’s population, come together and get to see things that they don’t always get to see is really remarkable,” says Peter Bramante, the managing director of FirstWorks. ”They get to see a mesh of national artists, as well as local.”
Inside the FirstWorks office, boxes are lined against the wall filled with PVD Fest pamphlets and maps. An employee sits at a table carefully cutting PVD VIP passes. The room is quiet but in peoples eyes you can see a hint of stress and lack of sleep. Bramante takes a few minutes away from his hectic day to talk to us before his next staff meeting.
“There is never enough time,” says Bramante. “Right now we are finishing the fine details.” These details include more than just cutting passes though, they also have to make sure that performers from outside the country arrive on time, that the schedule is right, passing out maps for the event and any other challenges that may develop along the way.
The festival has been a year in the making and with the final schedule of performances online we are able to see just what has been accomplished in a year, including over 120 groups coming to perform at the four-day festival.
PVD Fest begins Thursday evening with art installations and a kick-off party. It continues Friday afternoon with art walks and tours, performances and food trucks. Saturday the event is all day and all night. A giant parade begins at dusk that has performances ranging from Big Nazo to the Eastern Medicine Singers. The festival ends Sunday with a last chance to catch an exhibit or final performance from Sidy Maiga.
FirstWorks has contributed many performers to this year’s festival including, Close-Act Theatre where wild dinosaurs come to life and wander the city streets. Rocky Dawuni, a Ghana local and GRAMMY Award nominee for his “Afro-roots” style music. Doppelgänger Dance Collective, two dancers who eloquently take the stage and move as one. Even the local Salsa y Gaitas group, a 12-member salsa style band that will make you want to stand up and dance.
“This is a great opportunity for local performers because a lot of them tour across the country, even in the world, and now they get to perform at home,” says Bramante, who also mentioned that FirstWorks has three stages at the festival this year.
Bramante himself says some performances, that he does not want to miss are, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, a 17-piece that combines multiple musical styles to create one unique sound, and Lakou Mizik a group of Haitian musicians who use their musical talents to showcase the “pride strength and hope of their country”.
“There is a world of culture being brought here by the performances,” says Bramante. “Our model is to have the performers engaging with the community.”
This free Providence festival has performances Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 5. For a full schedule of performances, times, stage locations, street blocks, parking, list of vendors and more visit PVDFest.com.
“This year’s festival is going to be great,” say Bramante. “But then again we are already planning 2017 too!”
by Sara Cline