The Brenda Bennett and Rhode Island Story

I wanted to write a little summation of my 24 hour trip to Rhode Island.

Upon arriving it felt good to be back in the north.  No matter how many years I live in Florida the northern blood pumping through my veins is inescapable.  While it’s always a pleasure to visit above the Mason-Dixon line…I can never stay too long.  The cooler temperatures and moodier skies conjure a melancholy within me that I’d rather keep suppressed.  I think I could only live in the north again if I fell in love and had someone to sleep next to who would guard me from my own natural blueness of mind.

My first impression of Rhode Island was the car rental desk.  These girls were a trip.  They loved that I was flying up from Tampa to see a concert.  I loved their hair and earrings.  Too bad I didn’t live in Providence, Rhode Island.  I’d bet my life me and the car rental girls would have a fun night out dancing.

My next encounter was to pick up the car.  I climbed the stairs and met a gentleman named Hang.  As I was situated in my first car I saw there was no CD player.  This just wouldn’t do!  Poor Hang.  I pulled up to his booth with my saddest face on and pleaded my case.  I was here on artistic business!  I just simply couldn’t navigate these foreign highways without listening to the CDs I brought with me in my bag.  I got a free upgrade.  Thank you Hang!  I promised to buy him a pizza if he ever came to Tampa.

I fell in love with Rhode Island the second I hit the highway.  Despite the sun there was an autumnal feeling of wisdom and magic within the breezes.  It was almost as if I could feel the ghosts and ancient stories emanating from the trees and bushes alongside I-95.  This was a land of old souls and wise tales.

After a couple wrong turns I succumbed to GPS and made my way toward Portsmouth.  I was led through the majesty of Massachusetts…driving past weather-beaten small towns and cities. Upon arriving in Portsmouth the first thing I did was pull into a strip plaza that called my name.  There was a Chinese joint and a pizza joint.  I wanted some greasy sweet and sour chicken so I opted Chinese.  It sucked.  I felt bad though so I pretended I was getting it to go and I threw it out outside where the dude couldn’t see.  Sorry to cheat on you China King in Tampa.  The slice of Pizza from Martrino’s was much better.

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While I was in Tampa planning my trip my friend Bylli went on her phone to pick a place I had to visit while I was up there.  She found a cute place called Common Ground coffeehouse which was in Westport Massachusetts (about a half hour from Martino’s).  The place looked adorable in the photo.  I had to go!  It was just as adorable in person.  To get there i drove down a windy gorgeous country road with stone fences and majestic farmhouses.  There was a feeling of familiarity and comfort in the drive.  I’d never been here but it felt like I had.

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Common Ground was as quaint and perfect as one would expect.  Upon entering I was greeted by two laid back cool dudes.  One of them made me a great coffee and both of them got bombarded with my You Tube information.  The promotional trail never stops for Mr. Gloff *wink*

Tiredness hit so I drove half a mile down the street and found a parking lot that called my name.  With a view of a wooded hill that led to somewhere I’ll never go I parked and slept.  I wish I had more time.  In a different life I hiked in those woods and found what secrets they kept.

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The hour was getting closer to the Brenda Bennett concert which was the reason I flew to Rhode Island.  It was time to head back to Portsmouth.

On the way to Westport I passed this sinister ominous huge building off the highway.  Something about it called my name so I got off the nearest exit and took the side roads…following my intuition and heart.

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The building looked like an old mental ward…or school..or castle.  There seem to be offices in it now.  I sat and my car and daydreamed about being a king in that castle…or a patient in the ward.  I’d like to go back there one day and walk its halls and hear the stories the walls have to tell.

Alongside the back of the parking lot there seemed to be a paved bike trail with shady underpass.  Curiosity struck again.  I’m not sure how wise it was to be exploring these desolate parts alone…but the graffiti was fresh and beautiful.  I could smell the distinct scent of youthful art and rebellion bouncing off those stone painted walls.  The trail continued and there were more graffiti-filled underpasses with the bustle of the highway zooming overhead.

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I stood for a moment surrounded by art and stillness and cool air.  The huge stone building loomed in the distance.  The sounds of the trucks whizzed by overhead and for a moment all the recent sadness in my heart subsided.

The hour was getting late.  Upon returning to Portsmouth there was still an hour to kill.  Martino’s got a second visit and they remembered me.  My sub was delicious.

I sat in the parking lot of the strip plaza and watched a bunch of young boys walking and throwing a football.  I wondered if this small town hugged them or suffocated them.  I wondered if they liked the Chinese restaurant and if they loved Martino’s as much as I did.  I put my Vanity 6 CD in the player and listened to two songs.  I was nervous as hell.  I was about to meet the woman whose voice provided me comfort when I was a confused and troubled little kid.  I had a good feeling about it but still my anxiety was high.

The road to the Common Fence Music series venue reminded me a lot of a rural road in Brocton, New York…a town near where I grew up.  You had to drive underneath a narrow red bridge and pass a VFW.  In a different life I stopped at the VFW and made friends with the locals.  I used to go to the VFW with my Grandma when I was a kid.  I recall the smell of booze and leather barstools.

As I approached the venue I saw a long line and a full parking lot.  So much for being worried I was showing up too early.  The venue was small and welcoming.  Long tables are set up and people are encouraged to bring food to eat and wine to drink.  I didn’t expect that most people actually DID this.  Had I known I certainly would have gotten my Martino’s to go and gotten a seat closer to the stage.  Bah humbug.

As it was I sat in a row of folded chairs near the back.  There was a woman sitting next to me by herself.  We began to talk and she was sassy and sweet.  Eleanor and I became instant friends and concert neighbors.  Like in every situation my worries were unfounded.  I always find allies.

I saw Brenda Bennett from across the room.  I also recognized a lot of her band members from her recent music videos.  I am especially a huge fan of Mark Taber – her pianist.  You can tell by looking at him he’s got a thousand quirky and hilarious stories to tell.  And he plays one badass set of keys.

The concert was going to begin a little late so I couldn’t resist of piece of the cake.  It was as good as it looked.

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It was so surreal to look across the room and see Brenda Bennett.  I am not a star-struck person and I often worry my bright enthusiasm about the things I love comes off overbearing.  But if there was ever a time to allow myself to be a fan boy it was now.  I was so very excited to be at this show.  I loved every song that Brenda ever sang – from her work with Ken Lyon…through her work with Prince…to every single song on her solo album from 2011 named A CAPELLA.  If there was ever a time to allow myself to be a fan boy it was now.

Brenda and the band approached the stage and the show began.  After introducing her band Brenda called me to the stage.  She told the crowd how I’d flown in from Tampa.  I started crying.  So much of my life has been a struggle to feel loved by the people I love the most.  My father.  My relationships.  Even recently I’ve negotiated the stormy waters of a situation that began super hopeful and ended in ashy charcoal.  The one thing that always loved me back was music.  And to be acknowledged by one of my favorite vocalists and songwriters of all time felt like the opening of a thick shade on a sunny day.  The sun was a-comin’ baby!!!  If I walked into the building feeling like an uncolored page of a coloring book – when Brenda Bennett took my hands and smiled my heart was colored in bright red.

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The show was everything I expected and more.  The A CAPPELLA songs were given some additional muscle in their live renditions.  Brenda’s voice was just as rich and majestic in person as on record.  The set opened with my personal favorite  “Jemmima” – a pure treat.  Song by song me and my seat neighbor Eleanor smiled and danced and had the time of our lives.

One unexpected treat of the show was when Brenda allowed her bandmates to showcase some of their own material.  Not only were these songs strong — but it was a pleasure to see Brenda again in a supporting ensemble situation.  While watching the old Vanity 6 videos one never got the vibe that Brenda minded not being the star in the center.  Brenda’s role as a foundation and anchor was essential and necessary.  This was evidenced once again when she let her friends sing their songs.  During these songs Brenda seemed to let loose a little more – dancing and smiling and loving the songs that her friends wrote.  The same Brenda that made “He’s So Dull” even more awesome did the same thing for her friend Betsy’s song about America and freedom.  All I heard over and and over was what a sweet and giving person Brenda is.  This was never more evident by the joy in her face when she supported her friends on their songs.

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In a way I felt like Brenda has in Rhode Island exactly what I have in Tampa.  You can tell she is very loved.  Her hairdresser was there.  Her friends were there.  Everyone seemed to have a deep and warm connection to Brenda.  I almost felt like an intruder or outsider but not for long…because after an hour and a few songs I was part of this family of people who crossed paths in life too.  Even as I sit in Tampa and write this I smile because a little piece of my heart sits in Portsmouth. I hope to revisit that piece again one day.

Brenda said this was her last show but I hope she reconsiders.  Even if she does one show every three years — one special big show like this one — it is an opportunity for this lovely family of people to reconvene.  People connected by memories, stories, feelings, and most importantly songs.

I hugged Brenda before I left and gave her a copy of THOSE WHO SURVIVED.  I had some many questions to ask and compliments to give but those will have to be for another day.  As a performer I know that after a show I don’t like to talk much.  And as an audience member I really wanted to get back in my car…head for the airport…and recap in my mind all that had just happened.

I hugged Eleanor goodbye.  We exchanged emails.  I saw Mark Taber outside and wanted to tell him how rad he is but that will have to wait for another time as well.

I arrived at the airport at 11:47 am.  Hang was still working the car rental booth.  The girls were no longer at the counter though.  I found a seat in the terminal and waited for five hours until my plane boarded.  I messaged the dude who currently has my heart (but doesn’t want it).  He was too busy to talk.

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My plane arrived back in Tampa on time.  I was at work by 3:30 pm.