Going to PVDFest this year? Here's a sneak peek at performances planned for 2024

After getting washed out and criticized for its location choice last year, organizers hope to lure back crowds and vendors to this year’s festival

Jonny Williams
Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE – Italian aerialists, West African drummers, an all-women salsa dance group, hip-hop and R&B performers – all these groups and others will perform at this year’s PVDFest in downtown Providence, the festival’s organizers announced at a press junket in front of City Hall on Thursday afternoon.

The festival will be held in the Kennedy Plaza area on Sept. 6-7, with an inclement-weather date of Sept. 8. It will include block parties, cultural heritage celebrations, showcases of craft makers and designers and immersive tech exhibitions featuring AI and virtual reality. A so-called Food Truck Village will bring in mobile restaurants and vendors to Kennedy Plaza.

“PVDFest is the signature event of, by and for the great people of Providence. This festival remains and will always be the people's festival, celebrating all that makes Providence the dynamic cultural destination that it is,” said Joe Wilson Jr., director of art, culture and tourism for the City of Providence.

Mayor Brett Smiley promised an “exciting weekend packed with amazing performances.”

Mayor Brett Smiley at Thursday's press conference: “The community feedback was pretty consistent, that they preferred to have a festival downtown."

Who is performing at PVDFest?

Kathleen Pletcher, executive director of , a nonprofit that is the city’s planning partner for PVDFest, said performances are still being finalized, but she provided a sneak peek of what to expect at this year’s festival. Among them are:

eVenti Verticali: A “gravity-defining” troupe of Italian aerialists who are suspended from a crane 60 feet above the ground. The performance begins with a deflated transparent sphere, an aerialist suspended inside, that inflates as it rises. The performance “inspires us to reflect on our relationship with the earth in these times of climate peril,” Pletcher said.

Lulada Club: This hailing from New York City will perform Friday, Sept. 6. Rolling Stone magazine and “challenging the patriarchy” at the same time. The performance will include a dance lesson by , a Providence dance instructor.

Chip Douglas: A soulful blend of hip-hop, R&B and dance. The performance, which will highlight various genres of music, will be anchored by DJ Nyce Hitz along with Derrick Jones and band. “I think of Chip as an empresario bringing together raw talent,” said Pletcher. Muralist Agonza will do a live painting on stage during the performance.

Sidy Maiga: Returning for the 12th annual Afrika Nyaga Drum & Dance Festival, a celebration of West African music and dance and its influences on the African diaspora. “ as a sonic synthesis of African traditions and Rhode Island’s diverse communities,” said a press release. “The festival nurtures artistic exchange through the universal language of music across cultures, ages and nationalities.”

Returning downtown after a major letdown

Last year’s PVDFest left much to be desired. One reason for the disappointment was the choice of location. Organizers moved the festival from its traditional downtown location to the 195 District Park by the Providence River. Vendors – who had to pay $300 more than in previous years to participate – complained that they were separated by the pedestrian bridge from the performances, affecting their sales.

This feedback led Smiley to bring back the festival celebrations to downtown.

“The community feedback was pretty consistent, that they preferred to have a festival downtown. And so we heard that loud and clear, which is why we're returning to our roots,” Smiley said.

Attendees also complained that open containers of alcohol were prohibited, and block parties, which were initially barred, were held only on one night. Smiley clarified that open containers would be allowed at this year’s PDVFest, but only at block parties, which Josh Estrella, Smiley’s spokesperson, said should be held Friday and Saturday. That, however, is yet to be finalized and specific hours for them have not been confirmed. Businesses can still apply to have their premises expanded to host a block party, Smiley said at the press conference.

“There will not be open containers in the street, which means that you'll need to finish your drink at one of our establishments before heading to the next block party,” Smiley said.

Compounding matters last year was a torrential downpour that washed out most of the weekend, causing thousands of dollars in damage to vendors’ goods. The city then paid vendors $500 for damages.

Smiley, at the press conference, seemed optimistic after deciding to return the festival to its downtown location and setting a contingency date in case of inclement weather.

“After last year’s rain, we deserve nothing but today’s sunshine,” Smiley said.