Each new year brings an opportunity to hope.
We toss out the old calendars and write a new year on our checks and documents. It’s a time not so much to look back, but to look forward.
Recently, amidst the holiday hassles, we took some time to head down to Water Street Café. My cousin is in a band called the “Wolf Hongos.” They’re a pretty eclectic seven piece group that features an accordion and plays what has been described as “mixing folk music from all over the world with punk and rock feel and sound.”
It’s foot stomping, dance party music, but what’s special is that it feels like home. If you’re Portuguese, it’s spiced with samba and a feel of the guitarra Portuguesa. Lebanese? There’s a Middle Eastern theme. Polish or Italian? The accordion swells to bring a European folk music feel. Jewish? There’s a lot of Klezmer kicking in. Add a little violin, some guitars and drums, and it’s an ethnic musical feast with a contemporary gypsy rhythm.
Like the city of Fall River where they live and were educated, the Hongos provide a sound track to all that is good about the South Coast: rich ethnic traditions that not only provide a strong foundation, but also support and encourage experimentation and celebration. But even more, their musical message shows just how much we’re alike, and provides hope that some day the world will dance to the same tune.
They were joined by Andrea Belanger and the Blind Woods, Max Jeffers, and Day Old Funk. All young, local talents who offer hope that the future of music is more than raunchy rap or pretty boy (girl) whining. January may be cold and depressing, but I dare you to sit through a set by the Hongos or Day Old Funk and not feel like “busting a move” as one listener said.
And to make it even better, they record at Bongo Beach Studios, one of the city’s best kept secrets. Tucked above South Main Street, John Mailloux has digitally recorded, mixed and mastered an array of talent from locals to Grammy-nominated artists. He also shares his knowledge by teaching at Bristol Community College and provides the behind the scenes support and encouragement to keep local music alive.
Across the hall, Mike Herren operates hurricaneradio.net, an online radio station. Just before the holidays, Mike and his crew survived a seven day marathon to raise funds, collect food, and gather toys to help the needy. Like him or hate him, you’ve got to give him credit for offering a helping hand – and for having the courage to take his message to the airwaves.
Downstairs and down the street, places like the Tap House, Addagio, Trio, and others are lighting up Fall River’s downtown and providing food, fun, and music. Nearby Battleship Brewhouse does much the same – with a great beer selection. Combine these with the city’s legendary Portuguese and Chinese restaurants – and the amazing listening room the Narrows – and you’ve got to agree that there’s hope that the city center will return to its once greatness.
Move to the waterfront, and Commonwealth Landing is bringing new life to the old Quaker headquarters on the Taunton River. Although the hole left by the old Dockside remains nearby and the abandoned Regatta is a reminder of what won’t revive the waterfront, the enthusiastic welcome that’s been given to Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill is reason for hope -- and a vote of confidence from RemDawg that the area can support a quality, Boston-style restaurant. Maybe Emeril will take notice.
And Fall River is not alone. In fact, New Bedford has offered signs of hope for several years now. Walking the cobblestone streets at night (or sometimes during the day) used to be a little frightening for this Fall River kid, but now light shines from art galleries and restaurants.
Waterfront Grille offers amazing seafood fresh from the boats that float just outside its windows. Rose Alley Ale House, the Pour Farm Tavern, and the Hibernia Irish Pub are bringing music and life to downtown area where No Problemo was, and still is, not just a great deal but well worth the trip.
When you add in the always excellent Antonio’s for Portuguese food served in heaping panelas and the shiny, new Market Basket, the Whaling City with its museums, zoo, and National Park is a beacon of hope for the region. But perhaps more impressive are the efforts Fall River has taken to give its dropouts a second chance.
A new “middle college” program, offered in conjunction with Bristol Community College, is taking young people who didn’t finish school and giving them the opportunity to complete their high school degrees and earn college credits. Modeled after the national Gateway program, which will be serving a similar population in Fall River starting this month, it is giving our youth hope that they can start over and become successful.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I work at BCC. From that vantage point, I get the opportunity to meet many young – and not so young – people filled with hope. They want to get an education, to make a difference, and to change the world.
And maybe that’s why, when I look ahead to 2012 and beyond, I’m not worried. Sure, things are not great, but there is hope and at least for me, that’s reason to be happy this New Year.