Local singer Don McCloskey will perform special one-night hometown show at Bristol Riverside Theatre Aug. 25
By Samantha Bambino
Over the past 15 years, Don McCloskey has done some pretty incredible things. He’s released three full-length albums, brought his artistry to fans across the country, heard his music played on WMMR and WXPN, and landed songs in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, MTV’s The Hills and the Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine.
McCloskey has welcomed his success in the spotlight with open arms. But in the midst of a move to Brooklyn, months spent on the road and an ever-growing following worldwide, McCloskey hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He’s still the wide-eyed little kid from Radcliffe Street, and his sense of Bristol pride continues to pulse through his veins.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, the boy from the Borough is coming home. During a special show at Bristol Riverside Theatre, McCloskey will perform a number of favorite tracks in his signature eclectic, singer-songwriter style, while introducing a few singles off his upcoming fourth album. Throughout the evening, he’ll also share childhood stories of the people, places and experiences that shaped him. Of course, a night of memories wouldn’t be complete without an embarrassing photo or two.
“It’s really going to be just a retrospective of the music and the people who inspired my music from the time I was a wee baby boy,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun night.”
Ahead of the show, The Times caught up with McCloskey to learn more about his Bristol roots, how the town influenced his artistry, and his thoughts on the thriving business district Mill Street has become since he moved away.
The fondness McCloskey still holds for his hometown is evident when speaking to him. As a young Radcliffe Street dweller, he witnessed firsthand the birth of Bristol Riverside Theatre in 1986. When he wasn’t at St. Mark Catholic School, McCloskey could usually be found at BRT working behind-the-scenes under the tutelage of its founder, Susan D. Atkinson, and starring in a handful of plays.
“That’s kind of the history of why I play there every year,” he explained.
As McCloskey learned the ins and outs of the performing arts world, he was beginning to shape his artistic tastes at home. Hailing from an extremely musical family, McCloskey was pleasantly bombarded with influences from a variety of genres. His uncle was an Irish tenor who enjoyed the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other ’90s alternative bands; his mother was a fan of ’70s singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan, John Prine, Carole King and Leonard Cohen; and his father was all about Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead.
After spending his childhood trying to imitate this vast variety of artists, it was only natural for McCloskey to draw inspiration from each when he decided to pick up the guitar.
“When I started writing music, it just came out very eclectic,” he said. “Which is kind of a blessing. I didn’t have any formal training. The blessing is that the music just came out very unique.”
The following years saw McCloskey begin to hone his stage presence on a small scale as he played house parties throughout high school and college.Though he describes his original music at that point as “pretty funny, kind of Adam Sandler-ish,” the lyrics penned by the end of his education were much more serious. McCloskey was soon landing gigs outside of frat row at venues like Brownie’s and CBGB in New York.
After college, McCloskey remained in the Big Apple to give a professional music career a real shot. In 2003, he recorded and released his debut album Bombs Over Bristol, which, as its name suggests, pays homage to the town that supported his passion from the start. The 12-track creation features more references to the Borough than McCloskey can count, including the St. Mark school song.
Bombs Over Bristol received early praise, and McCloskey soon found himself supporting artists like G. Love and Donavon Frankenreiter on tour. Since then, he has gained something of a cult following in the U.S., Europe and Australia, playing to increasingly larger crowds and releasing two follow-up albums, Northern Liberties and Corporal Spirits.
Still, McCloskey doesn’t forget his small-town start and makes it a point to return to Bristol once a year for a special show at BRT — — the second home that ultimately introduced him to the performing arts.
“It’s always a good time,” he said of his annual visit. “It’s part family reunion, part high school reunion, grade school reunion and a show. It’s a blast.”
Every time he comes back, McCloskey finds himself in awe over how much the area has blossomed since his childhood. As a kid, he reflected on how he and his close friend Greg Pezza would walk down Mill Street imagining the potential of each empty shop. To see Pezza’s Itri Wood Fired thriving alongside a bustling business district, McCloskey feels an indescribable sense of pride and validation. He knew Bristol could be something special. Now, thanks to the Small Business Revolution, the entire country does, too.
“For it to get so much attention and love, and to have it continue to build, it’s just incredible,” he said. “It feels like a dream fulfilled.” ••
If you go…
Don McCloskey will perform at Bristol Riverside Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Visit brtstage.org/special-events/don-mccloskey-2018, call 215–785–0100 or stop by the box office at 120 Radcliffe St. to purchase tickets. McCloskey’s music can be heard at donmccloskey.bandcamp.com.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com