Providence’s Live Music Scene Expands with Boston Expats

Cost of living in Rhode Island prompts relocation for this trio of musicians

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Why not Providence? It may not be Austin or Nashville (yet), but the capital city is becoming a destination for professional musicians. In recent years, several notable artists have moved to Little Rhody from Beantown

No doubt the state has always attracted artists and writers, with RISD and other universities providing strong breeding grounds. Events like the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, WaterFire, and PVDFest promote the image of Rhode Island as an arts-friendly state. Public art and other innovative year-round festivals and events throughout the region add to the hip vibe.

Like many, Cody Nilsen’s life was upended in 2020. Lead guitarist in the popular outlaw country band Ward Hayden and the Outliers, Nilsen was living in Boston when the pandemic hit. “When the remote working-from-home thing became a reality, we decided to check out some different places to relocate,” he recalls. One day, he took a ride with his girlfriend to visit a friend in Westerly. “Halfway there, my friend called us with a COVID scare as we were driving through Pawtucket/Providence. We pulled over for a coffee and ended up spending six or seven hours in Providence, and we really fell in love with it. And it’s only a 45-minute ride to Boston if you put the pedal down,”
adds Nilsen.

Of course, the cost of living is a factor for anyone considering a move, particularly struggling musicians. These days, bands can collaborate on songs remotely and come together when touring. It’s not necessary for members of a band to all live in the same city.

Matt Stubbs, co-founder of chart-topping blues/rock band GA-20, was renting a loft in Boston with his girlfriend when, about four years ago, the couple decided to buy a home but found the costs in Boston were prohibitive. “We looked around; we thought about moving out of the area to Austin, Nashville, or New York. We really liked New England, so we started looking at lofts in Providence, and we ended up buying a house. It was about finding something that was affordable, but also the city had the things we wanted – we both love food, nightlife, music, and art. Providence has all those things.”

Another Rhody-newbie is Boston Music Award-winning singer-songwriter Julie Rhodes, who moved to Woonsocket during the pandemic. “I was living in Somerville in kind of a ‘music house.’ The only way to keep rent down was to cram a bunch of people into a house. When the pandemic happened, I kind of realized that being crammed in the house with a bunch of people was not ideal,” says Rhodes. 

“The Providence music scene is incredible. I’ve always played shows in Providence, but now, being more a part of it, I realize how welcoming everyone is. One beautiful thing about the Providence scene… when you play shows, you see the support from the other bands. It’s not that it doesn’t happen in Boston, but it’s not as common to see it there.”

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