Once a neighborhood falls into hardship, it’s often difficult to recast that reputation. Olneyville is one such area that has taken more than its fair share of economic beatings, causing many to label the former bustling mill neighborhood as unsafe and defunct. Though artist collectives like Fort Thunder brought some creative light to the downtrodden buildings in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, it didn’t have an inviting allure that made the non-artist or occasional adventurer feel welcome.
However, Don King, Nicolas Bauta and Anna Shea, the founders of Fête, are among Olneyville’s believers. A mid-sized, extravagantly designed boutique music venue, Fête flies in the face of the seedy artist co-ops and grafitti-filled rooms designated for illegal one-night-only concerts that have long been the hallmarks of the neighborhood’s arts scene. It’s really two venues in one, containing both an intimate lounge for smaller events and a large ballroom for big name shows.
The unassuming khaki-colored exterior hides a gorgeous interior designed by Bauta. From the two stages draped with royal blue curtains, to the dramatic lounge area complete with large religious tablets from Puerto Rico, the space has the intimacy of a small and cozy jazz bar while boasting a state-of-the-art sound system fit for a large club.
The trio says the idea started three and-a-half years ago, and since then, they’ve been working to create a space both music junkies and casual concert-goers alike can enjoy. “We believe in this neighborhood and know that Olneyville is a place to watch,” King asserts. “There’s this myth of Olneyville. It’s hard to wash the stigma away – but once people come, they usually return. We’re taking steps to do that.”
Since opening in October, the pro- gramming has reflected the trio’s mission: to have a boutique venue that’s also genre-defying. Open seven days a week, Monday nights feature Magnolia, a New Orleans style brass band dance party with the 5 Point Lookout Brass Gang; Tuesday nights showcase local rock bands; and Thursdays feature hip-hop and electro music. “We invested a lot of detail without being pretentious,” King says. “It is a place we’d like to see the Philharmonic come play on Sundays – we want that diversity. It’s a place for true audiophiles but at the same time, we don’t want anyone to feel alienated.”
National artists have also been added Fête’s programming, including the venue’s first big name, E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, back in October, Mos Def on December 10 and the Cowboy Junkies on February 25. One of the venue’s goals is to become a destination for music lovers from all over New England, reestablishing Providence as a stop for mid-to-major touring bands.
Shea and her partners know Providence is more than deserving of another good space for live music. “As a city, Providence stands relatively low in the national placement of live music venues,” she notes. “There used to be more. It doesn’t have to be a one-horse town. The more people that come outside of the boundaries of Rhode Island, the more we’ll all benefit from it.”