5 O’Clock World | Joyriding with the High Rollers

I used to be the nightlife columnist for a newspaper so dorky, I was the best thing in it. Here’s one of my club reviews from 2005.


high rollers

Copyright © 2013 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

You sure wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the Narragansett Cafe in Jamestown (25 Narragansett Ave.) is one mighty interesting place.

On the face of it, it’s just another small-town bar. Except it’s a small-town bar that occasionally books national acts. We’ve got a few of those around here.

Anyway, that’s how I used to think of the Ganny, as the regulars call it. Unassuming. Low key. Sort of Ernie’s Garage-looking. Am I on the right block?

Then I went in. Many things make the Ganny special. First of all, the bartenders take no prisoners when out-of-towners get out of line. (“Martinis?! What kinda place you think this is?”) Plus there’s this resident angry mob that chased me — twice, actually — because they thought I was some dude invading the sanctity of the ladies’ can. One time a hysterical guy nearly kicked down my stall door. In the women’s room. I am not making this up.

Now, I’m assured by my loved ones that I do not (as Bunny Swan put it) looka like-a man, despite a propensity for motorcycle jackets and cowboy boots. It’s just that the Ganny, where the lights are atmospherically dim and the beer goggles extra thick, is a place where magic happens! Or something.

In other words, the Ganny is my kind of place. So forget that the outside looks like Mayberry Hardware. I’ve heard an awful lot of good music inside, the quality of which easily overshadows any cosmetic disadvantages by many orders of magnitude.

Last week I was overdue for some pixie dust, so I stopped in to catch Dave Howard and the High Rollers. Tommy Ferraro, the band’s guitarist, agrees that the Ganny looks deceptively laid back from the street. He should know. He’s played there for fifteen years.

“Most every night can be a crazy experience,” he says, recalling the old days when he’d perform atop the bar, dragging a long cord behind him. “I might’ve kicked over somebody’s drink once or twice.”

His favorite Ganny memory, though, is a birthday he’ll never forget. “The owner, Danny Alexander, and the manager, Lynnie Sisson, are great people. They brought out a big cake. I played a green Fender Stratocaster in those days, and the cake had a green guitar on it. It was really sweet!”

As it turned out, a bunch of my friends had had the same idea as me on this particular night. So I sat at a table full of jaded professional musicians whose idea of a fun night off is a date with the High Rollers.

Back in New York we called this a busman’s holiday. And let me just say, an evening off doesn’t get any better. We were all kinds of raucous, careening into the night with the High Rollers driving. It was like our own private party except with a killer band, someone to clean up our mess, and a bunch of other people we didn’t know.

Our bus never rolled in but the club was jammed anyway, because the High Rollers always draw a crowd. The dance floor was total chaos.

For the record, the only thing actually rolling here besides the band was a local guy in a wheelchair, who I’m told gets ejected regularly for groping distaff patrons. The vigilante mob? Not so much rolling as roiling. The band’s other fans range from gymnastic swing dancers to crusty jitterbuggers, to hardcore R&B and rock’n’roll purists who brook no shoddiness. This place is like dance school, with beer. And seething mobs and projectile wheelchairs.

The High Rollers’ bread and butter is blues, but they are chameleon-like, adapting seamlessly to the tastes of whichever town they’re in and whatever revelers drop by. They’re almost a different band every time, each incarnation flawless and irresistible. Whaddya like? Rockabilly? Honkey-tonk? Country? Stones? Ballads? You came to the right place. If you’re breathing, you’ll love them. There’s nothing they can’t play the hell out of.

If ya gotta ask why, then here ya go: Each band member is a monster in his own right. Ferraro is one slammin’ guitar wizard, perhaps one of the most underrated artists in the music industry. Paul Bondarovski of Midnight Special Blues Radio said: “Les Paul would stay open-mouthed having heard [Ferraro’s] solo in ‘Old But I Ain’t Dead.'” Ferraro’s been playing since he was eight, he explains, when his accordion teacher goaded him to “play an instrument you can make some money with.”

The rest of the line-up consists of Robillard alumnus John Packer on bass, ex-Radio King Bob Christina on drums, and of course Dave Howard on vocals and harp. He was one of the Vipers (as in Young Neal And The). Along with Ferraro, he’s also the High Rollers’ songwriter. Collectively the band has, like, 800 years of chops. They’ve cut three CDs that’ll blow your doors off: Sure Bet, Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, and Ride Past Midnight (the latter two are hard to find but worth the work).

The Providence Phoenix named the High Rollers “Best Blues Band” four freakin times. They play at the Ganny a lot. So ignore its Guido’s Pizza facade and go on in already. There’s plenty of room to dance and a stunning range of suds on draft. Just steer clear of the wheelchair perv and that lynch mob over by the restroom. Hell, there’s no cover. Whaddya want — everything?

Above: A killer solo by Tommy Ferraro.


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Five O’Clock World | A Time for Thom

Musical Benefit for Musician Thom Enright

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

On March 25, 2012, there was an all-day benefit at The Met in Pawtucket for musician Thom Enright, who died of cancer in February. The event was called A Time for Thom and featured an all-star buffet of musical acts.

There haven’t been any reviews of this extravaganza in the media (not any that I’ve found, anyway). WTF? So I’ll do it.

First off, let me just say this: Thom was my friend, and my hope was that this show would be one he’d enjoy, too. It was. In fact, it was epic. Feeling bad never felt so good.

I’d never been to The Met before, and I’d be lying if I told you the acoustics are great. In fact, they’re pretty much what you’d expect for a warehouse space, which is exactly what this place is. You probably don’t want to hear the Boston Philharmonic here, but for this event it was fine. The club has a comfortable, airy feel (plus two bars, to help make up for the lack of insulation). The structure imbued the music with a fun raucousness reminiscent of parties in your high school gym. Like I said, not altogether unpleasant.

Amazingly, the event’s organizers (bassist Marty Ballou, keyboardist Dick Reed, and saxophonist Klem Klimek, all friends of Enright’s) threw everything together in record time. Was it Woodstock? Nah. For one thing, there was less mud and better bathrooms. But it was one helluva show and a testament to the trio’s resourcefulness that they pulled it off at all. It was also a measure of the community’s esteem for Enright, guitarist/singer/songwriter extraordinaire. Hundreds of people overcame their loathing of Pawtucket to gather together, share memories, hear some kickass music, and help pay for Thom’s medical bills.

I got there earlyish and was rewarded with performances by musicians I’d heard about for years but never had the pleasure of seeing in person: Music Hall of Famer Ken Lyon, the Super Chief Trio, and Rizzz. All were more than worth the cover.

Program-wise, it would’ve been nice if more women had joined. But what there was (as Spencer Tracy would say) was choice. Trombonist/vocalist Pamela Murray spiced up Super Chief Trio. Singer/songwriter Karen Cappelli Chadwick (you may remember her from Forrest McDonald’s band Sundance) helped round out impromptu combos.

One of the most touching numbers was the James Taylor song “You Can Close Your Eyes,” sung by Karen Cappelli and Klem Klimek, who were backed up by hosts Reed and Ballou, and Keith Munslow of Super Chief Trio. I don’t recall Enright ever performing it, but it always makes me bawl like a toddler in coach, and I thought it especially apt for the occasion.

I had to leave before The Young Adults (three of them, anyway), Chris Vachon (of Roomful of Blues), and Duke Robillard played. Sorry, dudes. But what I saw of the show was bangin’. The roster also included James Montgomery, Chris Turner, Dennis McCarthy, and John Cafferty.

All the performers were asked to play songs Enright wrote or covered. I saw many of Thom’s shows, and he would’ve been surprised by some of their choices. Compliance was — well, let’s just call it casual.

Many musicians who took the stage did tell stories about Enright, and Super Chief Trio totally nailed the assignment. They performed with Thom often in recent history, which may be why keyboardist/vocalist Keith Munslow could imitate his goofy vocal lope to perfection. It was magical to hear Thom’s voice again, and for a little while he was in the room once more. I half expected him to leap onto the stage and rip into a tune. Yes, I did see some damp cheeks. You know who you are.

The Met overflowed with Enright’s fans and friends — some just jazzed to be there, some completely discombobulated by his untimely passing, and some a combination thereof. And let me tell you, it was SRO — at three in the afternoon!

To be honest, part of the reason for all the standing was a lack of seating. And apparently some guests were so distraught, they needed the available chairs to park their coats. (Note to The Met: You really need a coat check. And more chairs. Just sayin’.)

I’m not gonna review performances I didn’t see. You can now watch a bunch of them and judge for yourself. Just go over to YouTube and search your band’s name, “Time for Thom,” and/or “Thom Enright.” Sort by upload date.

They advertised seven hours of performance, and they weren’t kidding. Thommy would’ve liked it. It was one beautiful, hot mess.

Karen Cappelli Chadwick and Klem Klimek perform at “A Time for Thom”

Buy Thom Enright’s music here:

Text Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Video Copyright © 2012, 2013 RAY CAPPELLI — used with permission

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Five O’Clock World | Was (Not Was)

I used to be the nightlife columnist for a newspaper. The column was called Five O’Clock World, after the old Vogues song. I’ve already explained this a gajillion times, so won’t bore you with the details again. The following is a club report I wrote in 2005. I’m posting it as a tribute to my departed friend, Josh Barber. Cheers, Josh.

Five O’Clock World
Was (Not Was)
Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Old clubs around here never die. It seems they just change names and reopen with different management. Such is the case with a couple of “new” lounges I checked out.

The first was Rusty’s (Wave Ave., Middletown), which in a former incarnation was the popular neighborhood watering hole called Overflo’s.

Though it has changed hands as well as names, everything at Rusty’s seemed comfortably the same on a recent Saturday night: the usual highly animated customers; a local band from the regular rotation; the familiar cheesy decor; the squirming line outside the miniature restroom; the rutted, parked-out parking lot.

As ever, the place was jammed. A cadre of loopettes commandeered the dance floor, boogying manlessly to driving rock‘n’roll and R&B tunes. The band providing them was Smokestack Lightning, the totally awesome project of Jamestown’s Josh Barber. A guitarist who’s a devotee of Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Barber possesses staggering musical ability all his own that belies his tender age (25). Plus he’s really cute, which explains all the chicks.

As it turns out, one critical element of Rusty’s is different. I ordered a straight margarita and received — check it out — a straight margarita. I couldn’t remember the last time a bartender didn’t load up my margarita with ice and other useless crud. Score!

The way Rusty’s is losing money on the bar, you better go before you have to call it “the place that used to be Rusty’s.”

Josh Barber

Josh Barber


Being from a land where businesses stubbornly remain in the same families for all eternity, I find it amusing how the natives here describe everything in terms of what it used to be (as in “the place that used to be Overflo’s”). So don’t be surprised when you phone the new club Area Venue (3 River Lane), and the recording assures you “it’s where the back door of Friends used to be.”

Like Rusty’s, Area Venue lived a prior existence (in addition to Friends, apparently) as a place called Area 22. It was bigger then, and its front door on Broadway was easier to find. Area Venue is about half the size of Area 22 and its front door, to be honest, is in an alley. An alley exactly like the one with the bistro where Buffy and Principal Wood battled vampires on their first date.

Spooky? Kind of. But on the plus side, no vampires here yet. And Area Venue’s dance floor is now the perfect size. Its stage is elevated so that overwound drunks can’t slam into the band, only each other, as it should be.

The bar is on sort of a terrace that offers terrific people-watching opps for armchair dancers like me. No margaritas, alas, but you got your beer, wine, champagne, sake, juice, and endless combinations thereof. The bartender is indefatigably cheerful.

It’s all charmingly reminiscent of the punk-era pubs of London, especially the bathrooms. Not only don’t the stalls lock, but they have swinging saloon-style doors — the better to see you with, my dear.

Despite this one drawback (or value add, depending on your perspective), it’s just incomprehensible why a place this awesome is flat empty on a Saturday night.

Remembering the great wriggling hordes at Rusty’s, I ask the bartender whither Area Venue’s. Well, it’s been open for barely a couple of cold, nasty months, she explains, and “we’ve only had our liquor license for two weeks.” Another mitigating factor, she says, is that “people travel in clusters, following ‘their’ bands around. When we get an out-of-town band, it’s tough.” Ah, Newport — every touring band’s dream.

Indeed, the night’s music is provided by a New Jersey group, The Commons. They’re plenty good enough, playing original dance material for their sound check when we walk in at 9:30. They stop playing at 10:15, presumably to wait for more customers to arrive.

Now the band’s at the bar with us, drinking suds and watching “Design on a Dime” on the huge flat screen. (“Here, you hold the remote,” the bartender told me and then promptly regretted it.)

Me, I think an imported band is a fine reason to go anywhere. I hope others cluster on over to Area Venue, because I like this place and want it to stay open, swinging doors and all.

Text, Art & Photo Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
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Five O’Clock World | Rock ‘n’ Bowl

I used to be the nightlife columnist for a weekly newspaper that was so chaotic, I had a different editor for every column I submitted. In the dictionary, next to the description of “revolving door,” there’s a picture of this place. Fun!

Anyway, the running title of my column was “Five O’Clock World,” and then each piece had a subject-specific title based on a song lyric. A cool musical theme for the club column! Get it?

Unfortunately, only my first editor knew this. I’d dutifully turn in my pieces and every new editor would change the titles without telling me. Then I’d submit invoices referencing what I’d named each piece, except they weren’t named that anymore, and then I had to call and beg for my money because the poor bookkeeper had no idea what was going on, either.

I bagged the gig after getting stiffed a couple of times and the sixth editor called to say he couldn’t wait to meet me. Maybe he meant in the parking lot, on his way out, if I got there fast enough.

The following is one of the “Five O’Clock World” columns I wrote in 2005. It was a blast while it lasted.

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved


When I was in high school back in the last millennium, I hung with a bunch of delinquents who loved to go bowling. Actually, it wasn’t the bowling they loved so much as the rental shoes, which they always wore home.

Wondering whether things have changed any with this century’s young fashionistas, I cruised over to the Hi-Way Bowl in Middletown to find out.

Seemed like a pleasant-enough way to spend an evening. Every Saturday night from 8 until 11, the Hi-Way Bowl hosts a thing called Rock‘n’Bowl. I called in advance to get the details.

“It’s a DJ. And music. And a light show. Uh, and bowling,” said whoever answered the phone. There’s a $10 cover, too, but they throw in the shoes.

They also have a bar, which meant everyone would be too sauced to notice what a terrible bowler I am. So off I went.

It took a really long time to find the Hi-Way Bowl. First of all, it’s on a road with no street sign. And the guy on the phone had assured me that “it’s right behind the Ames.” Of course, the Ames is long gone. And natch, the Hi-Way Bowl isn’t on a highway. After driving up and down Route 114 for what seemed like weeks, I finally turned into the Home Depot parking lot on sheer gut instinct. I’ve been told I can smell a bar from the next county.

Sure enough, way behind the big box store and the Holiday Cinema and completely invisible from Route 114 is the Hi-Way Bowl. The parking lot was crammed with cars owned by people whose olfactory powers far exceeded mine.

I wasn’t sure what to expect once I finally got inside, but I figured a bunch of drunks slinging 16-pound balls around had to have some kind of entertainment value. But Rock‘n’Bowl is more than that. Much more.

First of all, there’s disco music and pulsing lights and semi-psychedelic projections on the walls. There’s a really polite, fine-looking hunk who relieves you of your cover money as you stroll in. (“Yes m’am, we do draw regulars on Saturday nights. No m’am, it’s a different crowd from the other times.”) Do people still steal the shoes, I ask? Occasionally, yes.

Sharing the building with the bowling alley are the Oddball Sports Bar and a video-game arcade. The edifice is better known to all and sundry as the “Halls of Balls.” Inside the bowling alley, the music is loud and fast. I’m reminded of marketing studies that proved customers in grocery stores that play up-tempo hits shop faster and spend more than those at stores (like mine) that play Spishak’s Greatest Hits of Plane-Crash Victims. I presume that’s the marketing tack at Rock‘n’Bowl, too, and it’s working. This place has 20 lanes, and they’re really getting down with the bowling here. It’s $3.50 per line. You do the math.

You’re probably way ahead of me here. To my mild disappointment, there was no caveman-like action with bowling balls, nor herds of snickering teens stampeding out with smelly, purloined shoes — just neatly dressed couples in their 20s and 30s, drinking and rolling in a civilized way. But Rock‘n’Bowl fans, I’m told, are eclectic. The Boston Celtics have been known to drop by.

So if it’s a Saturday night and you’ve seen every movie in town, and you’re sick of breathing other people’s cigarette smoke in clubs, and you like to bowl or just like the idea of it, check this out. It’s a great place to go with a bunch of friends. Call it a party and bring your own festive grub. The owners of the movie theater next door are threatening to expand their operation and “upgrade” the Hi-Way Bowl out of existence. Go while you still can.


Family Guy photo © Twenty First Century Fox Television
Text Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

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Five O’Clock World | Thom Enright

For a while I was a nightlife columnist. The gig was for a newspaper that shall remain nameless, only because they were so crappy to me. Somehow I thought the job meant club hopping every night and drinking for free. Ha! They were keeping the free drinks in the same place as the paychecks I never got. Here’s one of my favorite columns from 2005.


Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Thom Enright

It’s 9 o’clock on a chilly, rainy Monday night, and maybe a dozen people are in Billy Goode’s. Half are leaning on the bar. The other half are holding down tables. They’re all working folks who stopped by after a hard day at the mines and just got too comfortable to go home.

Compared with some other pubs in town, Billy Goode’s is pretty laid back. There’s no hyperactive pickup scene here, no hordes of self-conscious poseurs. The decorations are softball trophies and neon beer signs. Tonight’s dinner special is The Elvis, something appropriately involving spicy pork. And the music, right now anyway, is at a decibel level such that people can converse civilly, so they do.

Tonight’s opening act is the Killdevils. Despite the scary name, it’s just Jake Haller and Chris Monti with acoustic guitars. They respectably acquit an odd array of genres — Irish ballads, American folk, Bo Diddley. Some drunk requests “Sweet Home Alabama.” The duo plays a rag called “Indiana.” Nobody seems to mind.

To call Billy Goode’s a reliable neighborhood joint is sort of an understatement. It’s the oldest continuously operating tavern in Newport. And yes, there really was a Billy Goode. He was the club’s first owner, says current proprietor Kevan Campbell, who’s been its steward for the past 15 years.

Being right across the street from City Hall and near the harbor, Billy knew everyone in town, says Campbell, “from politicians to sailors. Goode started the club prior to Prohibition. He was the first one ever arrested. They held him overnight, played cards with him, and sent him home. He opened a speakeasy called The Mission. The day Prohibition ended, he nailed up the Billy Goode’s sign. Later on there was a fire in the neighborhood, and this was the only place that didn’t burn. Goode poured beers the whole time.”

Campbell says that in gratitude, Newport bestowed upon his predecessor a great honor: William J. Goode Day. I don’t know if this last part is true, but I like the way it sounds.

Goode may be a tough act to follow, but Campbell has a talent all his own — running the kind of place where top-shelf performers enjoy hanging out. Country blues legends Tom Russell and Paul Geremia play here, and John Lincoln Wright does a show every Christmas. 1960s pop icon Barry Cowsill drops in all the time and jams. Tonight’s headliner is blues guitar whiz Thom Enright, accompanied by drummer Mike Warner and bassist Dean Cassell. They don’t have a band name. May as well call them Roomful Meets Beaver Brown, since that’s where else they worked at one time or another.

It’s hard to believe music this good is free, but it is. “There’s never a cover, so I don’t pay the bands much,” admits Campbell. He’s as amazed as anyone that musicians of this caliber keep coming back.

Enright explains it this way: “It’s my therapy session. We can do whatever we want. I’ve met some unbelievable folks here who really dig what we do. It’s one of the most comfortable places I’ve been in a long time. And I’ve been in a few places.”

At 10 pm the Killdevils split to a booth in the back and tuck into some hot food. By the time I amble by in hopes of sighting whatever an Elvis is, their plates are clean.

The Killdevils may have hoovered The King, but the music lives on as Enright’s trio takes over. More people come in. Three TVs are going (two football games, one baseball). The boxes ought to be muted but aren’t. The band ratchets up a notch and lights into blues whompers like “Goin’ to New York” and a rumba called “Too Many Cooks.”

By 10:30 the place is crammed. Did I mention this is a Monday night?

Now a gaggle of Salve Regina preppies bursts in. It’s a crapshoot, really, whether they’ll appreciate this kind of not-Top-40 music enough to stick around. They nest at the last available table, directly in front of the band. Next thing you know, they’re flailing with wild abandon on the dance floor, which is really just a postage stamp-sized extension of the stage. Every once in a while the band jumps backward to avoid flying body parts, but they never miss a beat.

By 11 o’clock the pub is wall-to-wall synergism. Men are lighting pretty girls’ cigarettes. People are laughing, swing dancing, cheering for the band and touchdowns. Beer is flowing. Billy would approve. Enright’s crew is doing a shockingly zestful spin on a Dylan chestnut, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” And seriously, it is.

Text and Photo Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Thom Enright’s music is available here: www.cdbaby.com/cd/thomenright

Read more about Thom Enright here (Enright Has Left the Building).

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! (Also available in paperback.) Thanks.

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Sydney Schuster
and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.