Stand outside News Café on a Friday night with Justin Foster and it becomes clear: something different is happening in Pawtucket.
Owner John Marques could easily keep the News Café strictly as a neighborhood bar, but why not have revolving art on the walls and bands most nights of the week? Justin Foster and Hana Kearney are pushing music and art to maintain the News Café’s slogan, “making Pawtucket famous,” with an emphasis on bringing in a steady stream of musicians, visual artists and anyone else with something to show for themselves.
For the past year, Justin has taken over booking music at the small dive bar. Justin, who is also the bassist for Roz and the Rice Cakes, has kept News Café on the map as a refuge for bands and artists, new or old, looking to have a show on their own terms. On any given night of the week a band, drum circle, open mic, VHS movie night or art opening offers something different to the masses and everyone is welcome.
Hana points out, “We welcome everyone from old to young, such as [a] regular known as Harold the Cat who is an 89-year-old Navy vet, to young kids who play their first show here.” Most people who come in the door will know John, Justin or the bartenders Samantha Ragusa, Becky, Debi and Hana by name and they take pride in keeping things that familiar.
Many of the acts that come through News are traveling bands that contact Justin looking for a night to play on their tour.
In true do-it-yourself fashion, all money made at the door always goes to the bands or artist. Justin is hoping to host bigger national acts as they pass between Boston and New York.”
Along with traveling bands, News Café has become a place that local acts seek out to get their music heard. “Some acts I love having [here] are Lucky United, Baggie Rajwah, Wichita, Adjuncts, Julius, 14ft1, Two Brothers, Pals, Icky Woods,” says Justin. “I could go on forever.”
With a nod to venues he has played with The Rice Cakes, such as The Proletariat in Galveston, TX, Justin, along with Hana on the visual arts side of things, wants to see News Café grow into a hub for the like-minded company of the “work-in-progress” Pawtucket arts scene.
Since January, Hana, also a bartender at News, has started a rotating gallery featuring local artists. The art-meets-dive-bar atmosphere contributes to the aura of News: Part enigma, part everyone gets it. “Our first official art opening was the first weekend of the year,” she says. “This is brand new for all of us, so for each art reception my expectations will be bigger and bigger.”
Hana has been choosing local artists to have openings at News and keeps their work up for six weeks before changing over the wall space. Her goal is to give aspiring artists a chance to get themselves art out there and hopefully sell some art.
The News Café is making a slow change that can only happen by giving people what they know mixed with what might be new. A local patron to News might drop in and give the post-hardcore, art-rock band a listen and leave, but the point is they were there and they heard something unique.
In the words of Justin Foster, “Pawtucket is the place to be and it is only a matter of time until everyone realizes it.”
43 Broad Street, Pawtucket