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'MET' WITH SUCCESS -- Legendary club owner Lupo reflects on first year

November 5, 2011

During an interview Wednesday at The Met, owner Rich Lupo notes the target audience he wishes to cater to in this smaller-capacity venue at 1005 Main St. in Pawtucket.

PAWTUCKET — It was a little over a year ago — Sept. 9, 2010 to be exact — that The Met brought the music back to Pawtucket. And despite a tough economy, veteran club owner Rich Lupo said the venue at 1005 Main St. has been a success — although he feels it remains somewhat undiscovered by Pawtucket residents themselves.
“You're always surprised how far people will come to see a show. We've had people from a 40 to 60 mile radius depending on the artist,” Lupo said. “Yet, I wish people from Pawtucket would think of it as a close location.”
He added, “I think about one-third of the people in the state don't know The Met exists, and we want to get the word out.”
Situated in the renovated Hope Artiste mill building near the Pawtucket/Providence line, the 515-seat club is roomy and open, featuring a center stage flanked with two large bars and a rear patio deck. The exposed brick walls and industrial styling are warmed by artist Dan Gosch's oversized murals of Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, and other music icons that were transplanted from the original Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in downtown Providence.
“We were trying to recreate the original Lupo's here, but without the cockroaches or the men's room trough,” Lupo joked, referring to the legendary but somewhat gritty Westminster Street club that he operated from 1975 to 1988 (followed by a second incarnation of Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel that he ran from 1993 to 2003 in the Peerless building on Westminster Street). “We just want it to be a comfortable place to have fun and hear music.”
Lupo credited city officials with being welcoming to the business, and said that any fears that neighbors initially raised about noise and crowd control issues have been unfounded. “There have been no problems,” he stated. “And the landlords here have been great.”
“It's very important to us that we do shows for a more middle-aged audience, and The Met lends itself to that,” said Lupo, who co-owns the venue with his wife, Sarah. “It was designed for seated shows, which we'd like to have more of. But we're having some trouble getting middle-aged people to discover this place.”
To that end, Lupo and his longtime booking director, Jack Reich, have several upcoming concerts planned to target what he refers to us as “the gray beards”--a club that he and Reich willingly admit they are members of. “We've been doing this a long time, and at this stage, we want to develop more music that Jack and I like. That's rewarding to me,” Lupo said.
Shows in this category include Tower of Power on Thursday, Nov. 10; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue on Saturday, Nov. 12; and a surefire crowd-pleaser for locals of “a certain age”--the reunited Wild Turkey Band, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26. There is also a show by Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks coming on Thursday, Dec. 1, Lupo added.
While Lupo and Reich personally want to book more traditional rock, blues and R & B bands that appeal to their own age group, Lupo freely admits it is the college-age demographic that is the club's mainstay. As far as choosing the performers, Lupo said, “We simply try to do every type of music that is really good. It doesn't matter what style it is. The only reason not to book a show would be if it was something that seemed unsafe.”
Reich, who has been booking acts for Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, The Met, and other area club venues for over 35 years, echoed Lupo's sentiments about wanting to draw out more older club patrons. “While The Met often books up-and-coming bands that appeal to the college crowd, we also try to offer blues and rhythm and blues. Rhode Island groups such as Roomful of Blues are always popular, and Wild Turkey will be offering three nights of 'roots' music,” he noted.
He also would like to see more city residents make their way to The Met. “There is an artistic crowd who support us in the Oak Hill and College Hill sections. But I'm not sure everyone in Pawtucket really knows about The Met,” said Reich. He added that the venue is even available for private parties and events such as fundraisers. “We did a Bat Mitzvah and we even have a wedding booked here,” Reich said.
The Met also serves take-out sandwiches and food items Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and during many of the nighttime shows from cook/caterer Nicolette Nicolaides and her Eat Smart Lunch Cart at the rear patio deck.
Of the club business he and Lupo have been involved with for over three decades, Reich said, “We both still enjoy it. It gives us a lot of pleasure when we see people in there smiling. And it's not just about booking 'the next big thing.' We try to keep our older customers happy so they keep coming back.”
Lupo added that a fun feature of The Met has been the “Rhode Island Legends Jam” that takes place every Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. Local artists and musicians just stop by and play, and there is no cover charge. Mark Cutler, formerly of The Schemers, former members of Rizzz, Wild Turkey, Storm Warning, Roomful of Blues, and other talented veterans are among the regulars at the informal rock and blues sessions.
“Another benefit of The Met is that I've had the chance to reconnect with many Rhode Island musicians,” Lupo said. “Lupo's had gotten so big, I lost touch with many of the older musicians because I just didn't have time. But I get to see them all now.” For example, he noted that last Sunday, Sport Fisher of The Young Adults happened to be in the area for an art opening, so the whole band showed up. “You get to see and hear some great music,” he said.
Lupo pointed out one of his favorite pieces of memorabilia that hangs on a back wall: a lettered chalkboard from “Lupo's I” that featured the band line-up of the last five days before the original club closed its doors on July 25, 1988. He said the chalkboard had been stolen from the club during that last week, but, during the construction of The Met last year, a musician friend of his happened to walk in carrying it. “He said he found it at a friend's apartment and thought I might want it. It had been left behind by someone. But, whoever stole it respected it enough to leave the chalk untouched. That chalk is 23 years-old,” he marveled.
Throughout his lengthy career as a club owner, Lupo has had the chance to book artists that he personally admires, both big names and small. Is there anyone who he's always wanted to hire but hasn't been able to? “I'd love to book Neil Young,” he responded. “But he probably wouldn't stop by here. And John Cale would be welcome as well.”
Tickets to shows at The Met are available on-line at www.the metri.com, or at the Lupo's box office at 79 Washington St., Providence. Tickets are also sold at the FYE store at 509 North Main St. and Round Again Records at 278 Wickendon Street in Providence.

 

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