A JOYFUL NOISE Members of the Rebirth Brass Band.
“It can’t happen again,” Jim Vickers says. “Impossible.”
“It’s a stone building with a cement floor and a sprinkler system that pushes out twice as much water than the code requires,” he continues. “Everything in this bar is built of non-combustible material: the bar, the walls. The stage is built out of fire-retardant wood and painted with fire retardant paint.”
It’s Friday afternoon and we’re standing in a former mill that Vickers’ company (which he declines to name, simply saying he’s a “spokesperson”) has turned into a live music venue called Manchester 65. The room is empty and quiet except for a plumber who’s walking around checking on some of his recent work.
So why the emphasis on fire protection? Why does Vickers — the founder and former publisher of Motif magazine and former co-owner of PVD Social Club — tell me, “You could throw a hundred gallons of gas in this place and not start a fire”? Well, because we’re in West Warwick, and Manchester 65 is the first music venue to open in town since the Station fire. That’s why.
But, nightmarish as that event was, it actually doesn’t occupy too much space in conversations about the new joint. Interim West Warwick Town Manager Fred Presley says the venue can be the seed for a “new burst of the arts culture back in the town.” City Councilman Dave Kenehan, who represents Manchester 65’s ward, says he’s excited for the much-needed flux of visitors’ cash to local restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations. Gina Russo, president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation — and a survivor of the fire, who sustained burns on 40 percent of her body and spent more than four months in a Boston hospital — is candid and succinct. “We’re excited,” she says. “It’s a new place to go listen to music. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
And the music on Saturday night after the Friday walk-through is damn good. Onstage is the eight-man — and fittingly named, for this particular gig — Rebirth Brass Band, who have brought the trumpet-blaring, snare-drum-rolling, bass drum-thumping, cymbal-crashing, tuba-honking, call-and-response-shouting, flavor of a Bourbon Street parade to this cavernous space. The crowd is modest: around 75 people, compared to the more than 200 who turned out for a ska-filled ticket on the previous Wednesday’s opening night.
But a smaller crowd just means more room to dance. Couples clutch each other, bump hips, shout, and twirl. One enthusiastic woman paces in front of the stage, jabbing arms into the air rhythmically, and, at one point, tossing what appear to be a pair a leopard-print panties at a trumpet player, who casually picks them up and hangs them from his horn. Meanwhile, a few older folks sit a few yards back on chairs they’ve pulled from the adjacent room. (Manchester 65 features a separate, pub-type space with a bar, a few clusters of flat-screen TVs, and large-scale photos of Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen, and other rock deities snapped by longtime Phoenix contributor Richard McCaffrey. Vickers says the pub will be serving food within weeks.) In the back of the room, a bulky West Warwick fire fighter with walkie-talkie pinned to his shirt stoically watches the activity.