From 2010 to 2016, The Spot was an epicenter for culture, creativity and musical excellence in Providence.
The Spot was a vital part of the resurgence of the city’s music scene at the start of the decade, providing a venue for both local and national acts to perform. It didn’t matter what day of the week it was – all you had to do is spend an evening there and you would have a good time.
On the night before Thanksgiving, a few people who were involved with The Spot will be performing at Revival Brewing Company at 505 Atwood Ave. in Cranston. Among them is former general manager and artistic director Josh Willis, who recently spoke with me about getting involved with The Spot, his memories of the venue, and what to eat at Revival.
ROB DUGUAY: You were involved with The Spot during all three of its incarnations, at 286 Thayer St., 15 Elbow St. and 101 Richmond St. How did you get involved in the venue in the first place?
JOSH WILLIS: I was definitely involved with The Spot from the very early days – the Thayer Street days, circa 2005, just after the renovation of the front room, the old In Your Ear record shop, which was the dance and yoga studio, art gallery and performance space. Shortly after, we acquired the old LunaSea and made it the performance room with recording studio and massage therapy room. In the early turn of the century, I had been chasing the dream of being a paid actor through Rhode Island and Manhattan, but it’s not easy to get paid as an actor in the city. I worked as a staged combat choreographer on a couple way off-Broadway shows and I worked as a private in-home bartender for the ridiculously rich.
I saw some things, some crazy things. Sure, I learned a lot, but I never got much closer to realizing that dream. I was going to get married, or something like that, and had planned on having it on my family’s land in Samoa. My dad’s mom was born in the western islands and his father was born in the eastern islands. When that fell through, I took the long journey anyway.
I lived there about a year hopping between islands and worked as a ranch hand looking after 62 head of cattle and on banana, coconut, papaya and taro plantations with my cousins. I was also a deckhand on a commercial sport fishing boat. I returned to Rhode Island after a short six-month stint in Los Angeles working as a deckhand carpenter building random scenery and stages for stage and screen and attended a wedding or two. I had no plans to stay in Rhode Island long, but I decided to look for work to tide me over till the next adventure. I got a job at a local hip-hop club and fine dining restaurant in the Jewelry District.
One night we had to close early, so I went over to a restaurant called CAV. I had not seen Sylvia Moubayed, who is the owner, since I use to play open mics there back in the day. She remembered me and bought me dinner. Then we talked for hours. At the end of the night, she said, “If you have black pants and a black shirt, you can come and train here on Monday.” She said she got the feeling I was looking for more work and that I was the right fit for her place.
I worked the floor and then the bar and then private parties upstairs and had a blast. One day she asked me to train a new hire. Josh Fulford seemed like a nice guy and was super quick to learn. Once he found out I was a musician, I was over his place practicing roughly five nights a week. Finally, one day, he says, “I want to introduce you to my friends over at The Spot. You gotta get involved with us.”
We go to Kartabar and I meet Philippe Maatouk, who was the owner there. We have a Johnny Walker Black while waiting for Nick Cardi and Keven Blanchette to arrive. Then we were four. We sit down and in a few minutes it is obvious that we are all supposed to work together. That, as they say, is history.
RD: That’s quite the story. If you had to pick a handful of your favorite shows ever at The Spot, what would they be?
JW: For individual shows, that’s tough. We are talking conservatively around 5,000 shows in total, so for individual ones I can’t. I’ll just be general – Turkuaz on any given holiday, Twiddle in the early days, Bernie Worrell when it was snowing buckets out, Art Alexakis from Everclear and Black Francis from the Pixies solo immediately come to mind. Anytime Dopapod played was amazing, and the same goes for Kung Fu, The Heavy Pets, Zach Deputy, Danny Pease and the Regulators and Otis Grove. There’s also acts from the family we made at The Spot, like Daddie Long Legs, Fungus Amungus, Nights Without Television and Apogee. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg – my head hurts now just thinking about it. There’s just so many to love.
RD: You studied acting and directing in the University of Rhode Island during the ’90s. Do you find there to be a relationship between those two creative mediums and live music?
JW: Sure, there is one. Live music is pretty much theater with no blocking. With the industry, there are so many similarities between the industries as well. First, it’s about communication. Theater taught me how to express myself, to clearly portray my emotions, to capture the attention of my audience. As a director, you have to lead actors to discovering the story and their emotional connection to it.
As general manager, I needed to oversee the front and back of house, the talent and the guests. You have to be able to communicate with everyone while making everyone feel welcome and also being able to delegate duties and make sure others follow direction. You have to have empathy for all of them regardless of which division of the event they are a part of. The trick is getting them to follow directions and still enjoy themselves. I’ve always loved throwing parties – it’s just in my DNA.
Really, one of the greatest similarities is that the show must go on. You can’t ever quit, ever. If the sound guy is sick, you find a replacement or you do it yourself. If the band’s van broke down, grab a guitar and get on stage. At the end of the night, you count the money, then if need be, you mop the floor.
The clichés are the same – know thyself, sleep is overrated and organization is key. Be nice, too – just be nice. It’s all about the creative community. Food, service, beverage and entertainment are the fibers have been interwoven since the beginning.
RD: Anyone who follows you on social media knows how much you love food, either cooking it or going to a restaurant to eat it. For folks who come hungry to the show at Revival Brewing, what do you suggest they order?
JW: I suggest they order two of everything (laughs). Sean Larkin is one of my personal heroes as a chef, an alchemist, a master brewer and a visionary. The beer and beverages are awesome, but the food at Revival is where it’s at. Everything is scratch made and the intricacies are mind boggling … No word of a lie, no exaggeration, you can't go wrong with anything there.