The band Eastward. Photos contributed by Dave Sarazen. 

Last Thursday night, the band Eastward performed at the University of Rhode Island’s 193 Coffee House in the Memorial Union for the first time. 

Eastward, a self-described acoustic folk rock student band leaning a little towards pop, was formed in October 2019 by three URI students; sophomore Dave Sarazen, junior Donovan Cassidy and senior PJ Thomas. Thomas serves as the band’s lead singer along with playing the acoustic rhythm guitar, while Sazaren provides vocal harmonies and percussion and Cassidy plays the electric guitar. 

While Eastward only formed a few months ago, Thomas and Sarazen have a long history of playing music together going back about seven years when they met in high school.

“I wasn’t the best singer at the time, but when I would sing with PJ our voices would blend pretty well,” Sazaren said.

They blended so well that they won their first Battle of the Bands in 2014 while still in high school, which just further motivated them to keep performing. However, Sarazen took two years off between high school and college to work before joining Thomas at URI, where they once again won Battle of the Bands in 2017.

It wasn’t until last year that Sarazen began playing music with Cassidy, who didn’t start playing guitar until he was about 15, unlike Thomas and Sarazen who had been playing instruments as early as three-years-old.  

“My musical background is basically just me playing guitar at home, listening to whatever music I like, which is mainly 60s, 70s blues and rock and then just teaching myself how to play guitar,” Cassidy said.

When Sarazen introduced him to Thomas, they had the same realization they had had seven years before; that they sounded really good together and that it was a sound that people really wanted to hear.

“We kind of just played what felt natural and we’ve adapted to what fits us the best so far,” Thomas said. “I don’t even necessarily know if we’ve 100 percent found [our sound] yet, but I think we’re on our way there since we’re so new. I think that’s all about the learning process, finding out what works for you the best.”
Their first live performance for an audience was at Proof in Narragansett and the pub ended up being packed. A friend of the band’s posted a video of their performance on his Instagram story and it ended up being seen by popular Westerly musician Will Evans.

Evans then reached out to Eastward, asking them to open up for him at a show at the Pump House, which they did last month to a sold-out crowd. They will open for Evans again on April 3 at Ocean Mist. 

“We’ve been playing a lot of local stuff, but we’d love to start playing in Providence or potentially even Boston,” Sarazen said. “I think a stretch goal in the future would be to play at Newport Folk Festival in the summer, but that’s probably way’s away.”

While they’ve just started out as a band and the Newport Folk Festival seems far away, Thomas has performed in large venues as an individual performer, with a highlight being a performance at the Dunkin Donuts Center last June with Josh Groban.

The band is currently in the process of writing and recording their own music to put on streaming platforms, but they do have recordings of their live performances available on their YouTube channel, Eastward The Band or on their Instagram, @eastwardtheband.