Every spring in Pawtuxet Village, there’s a party that celebrates the spark that helped start the Revolutionary War.
It commemorates the raid and burning of the HMS Gaspee to show the English crown that the American people were willing to rebel. It’s known as Gaspee Days, and it runs through mid-June with tons of fun events taking place.
One of those events is the Block Party happening in Pawtuxet Park on May 25. Headlining the bill for the night will be legendary local roots rock act Neal & The Vipers, who will perform from 8-11 p.m. Salter’s Groove takes the stage from 6-7:30 p.m.
I recently had a talk with the band’s Neal Vitullo about turning the dial on the radio as a kid, always wanting to play guitar and how there’s nothing like live music.
ROB DUGUAY: What was your upbringing like? Were you introduced to music at a young age?
NEAL VITULLO: I listen to a lot of AM radio when they played music, and what I heard was a big part of my upbringing. From there, I just wanted a guitar, and I didn’t get one until I was around the age of 13, but that’s how it all started.
RD: What were some records that you grew up listening to?
NV: I wouldn’t say that there was a specific music or artist that inspired me – I just wanted to play guitar. I did like the stuff from England, like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, good and genuine rock ‘n’ roll. I also liked Black Sabbath, pretty much anything that’s guitar-driven. Those artists drove me to finding B.B. King’s first record, and that blew my mind. There’s also Albert King’s double live album, and I ended up going through four copies of it.
RD: That’s crazy, the grooves must have gotten so worn in.
NV: Oh yeah.
RD: You and The Vipers have a large catalog of original songs, but you also have a steady habit of including covers. When it comes to putting a set list together, do you strive to fine a balance between covers and originals, or is there a different approach each night?
NV: We don’t write set lists. I can’t remember the last time I wrote one. When I’ve tried to, I just read the crowd and I’ll change it up on the fly. We have a deep book, so we’ll just do our own thing sometimes and pull songs out that we haven’t played in a while. It always goes to the audience. If it’s working, then we’ll feel where they’re at. Any covers that we do, it’s not because it’s popular – it’s because it moves us. We’ll then put our own stamp on it after we learn it so it comes out like us rather than a carbon copy.
RD: From being in a band that continuously plays around New England on a weekly basis, how difficult can it get to balance gigs?
NV: We get out to Connecticut, New Hampshire, and over the years we’ve done our road trips. I try not to keep our shows too close to each other with time and location. We have a loyal fan base that loves us and supports us, so we’re very, very fortunate. One week we’ll be in Hartford, then the next week we’ll be in Boston. We also play the South Shore from time to time … I grew up in Warren, so when I told people I was playing in Providence they would make me pack a lunch.
RD: What do you think has changed the most with live music in the 30-plus years you’ve been a musician?
NV: There are so many different kinds of entertainment to get people’s attention. People either just want to see things on their phone or they can watch anything they want on television. There was a time when you just went out and people don’t go out as much as they used to. Those things have definitely changed attention spans. Hardly anyone listens to a song that’s longer than three minutes. We do, but not a lot do.
RD: Everyone wants to hear that two-minute hit radio single and get on with their day.
NV: Yeah, but there also people who still want to go out and experience live music, and thank god for them. There’s nothing like it. When you see someone pulling off a solo on stage versus hearing them on a record, it’s not the same by any stretch. Especially in a club with the vibe and the energy – there’s no comparison.
RD: There’s also an authenticity that comes with it.
NV: Oh, absolutely. There’s so much to see when a full band performs. You can’t change that.
RD: After Gaspee Days, what are some of the next big events you and the band have lined up?
NV: We’ll be at the New London Blues Festival in New London, Connecticut, on June 30. We’ll also be at the Rhode Island Blues Fest at Mulligan’s Island in Cranston on Aug. 10. Those are two big ones for us. We also have gigs at The Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, on June 8, The Towers in Narragansett on June 27 and The C-Note in Hull, Massachusetts, on June 29, among a bunch of others.
To learn more about Gaspee Days and the Block Party, visit gaspee.com. To learn more about Neal & The Vipers, visit nealandthevipers.com.