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Ra Ra Riot’s “St. Peter’s Day Festival” memorializes a lost bandmate

Ra Ra Riot with original drummer John Pike (third from right)

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, we’re talking about songs with holidays in their names.

Ra Ra Riot, “St. Peter’s Day Festival” (2008)

Since the late ’20s, the St. Peter’s Day Fiesta has been held annually in Gloucester, Mass., where the city’s Italian-American community sets aside five days to honor the patron saint of fishermen. Many of the festival’s events are related to water, like the seine boat races, a rowing competition between 12-member teams steering boats named after Christopher Columbus’ vessels, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Another event is the Greasy Pole, in which a slick telephone pole with a flag attached to the end is dangled over the water, and competitors must shimmy out to capture the flag before dropping into the Gloucester Harbor.

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John Pike hailed from Hamilton, 20 minutes west of Gloucester. He didn’t like the water, according to his aunt, who was quoted in a news article after a police dive team found Pike’s body floating near Wilbur’s Point in Fairhaven, Mass. Pike, 23, was the original drummer in Ra Ra Riot, a power-pop sextet formed at Syracuse University, and had played his final show with the band days before he went missing. I’d met Pike while working on a story about the band for the Syracuse school newspaper while I attended grad school there. He was friendly yet taciturn, and smiled at me whenever I ran into him on campus because I’d made a joke about his name in my article. Wes Miles, the band’s frontman, told me Ra Ra Riot’s songs came out of a highly collaborative process, but Pike never piped up when I interviewed the band about its songwriting.

Turns out he was just being modest. Pike composed the music for half the songs on The Rhumb Line, Ra Ra Riot’s debut album, released just over a year after his death. One of those is “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” a peppy, poppy creation featuring Pike’s most energetic drumming, lent an undercurrent of sadness by the band’s violinist and cellist. Though the song was written before Pike passed, it’s impossible not to think of him when Miles sings the opening lyric: “If you go to Gloucester, you know I will wait there for you.” “Festival,” which sounds equally celebratory and elegiac, honors Pike’s community, his talent, and his memory.

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