Susan Cowsill is no stranger to the stage.
In the ’60s, at the age of 7, she joined her brothers and mother to be part of a band that would eventually inspire the Partridge Family television series. The Cowsills, formed in Newport, built an impressive bio, performing on multiple television shows throughout the ’60s and ’70s and receiving numerous gold records. Cowsill herself is the youngest rock performer to have a Top Ten hit, according to the band’s website.
Almost 50 years later, music is a second language to Cowsill, now 56.
“I’ll be that girl with no pension plan,” joked Cowsill, who has had her own solo career in music for about 15 years now. “I’ll be doing music for the rest of my life.”
The Cowsills, featuring Susan and her brothers, Paul and Bob, will perform Saturday during Springfest at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly. Cowsill said she often comes back to Rhode Island and tries to make the rounds to see family when she’s here.
“We have like 8,000 cousins who live in Westerly. We try to make it back when we’re able to,” she said.
Part of Cowsill’s return to Rhode Island with her brothers will involve holding a memorial for her brother, Richard, who succumbed to his year-long battle with lung cancer last year. The group will surround his memorial bench, which was dedicated just this year, Tuesday at 11 a.m. in King Park in Newport; the public is invited to attend.
The park bench sits near memorial bench for Cowsill’s other brothers, Bill and Barry. Barry died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Bill passed away the day of Barry’s memorial service from health issues related to hip replacement surgery, back surgery, emphysema and osteoporosis.
The funds to pay for Richard’s bench came through a request Cowsill put out through her website. In just three days, enough money – just under $1,000 – was raised.
Cowsill said she sees the benches in the park as an affirmation of where they came from, since she still feels at home in Newport.
“[Having the memorial benches] is about as good as it gets,” she said. “It’s the best.”
Cowsill’s father was in the Navy and the family moved to Newport, but Cowsill spent enough years in the city that it was really all she knew. When the family made the move to Los Angeles in 1967, she was 8 years old and desperately wanted to come home. Back then, she “would have traded the mansion in L.A. to come back any day,” she said.
But Cowsill carries no regrets. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she said.
Some of her fondest memories, Cowsill said, are of her and her family’s performances on the porch of Halidon Hall, the house where the family lived in Newport. She remembers there were times the whole neighborhood would venture up the hill to the house to hear the family play.
Cowsill lives in New Orleans and said she would love to return to Rhode Island – if she could “convince her Cajun husband” that the winters aren’t nearly as bad as everyone says.
In the process of writing her new solo record, Cowsill said she is finding a “lightness” in her new music, since she has come through the dark. She has found solace in doing her own songwriting – it’s a way for her to “get a handle on things” after the heartache she and her brothers have experienced, she said.
“Life can be horrible at times, beautiful at times, beautifully horrible and horribly beautiful at times,” she said. “We all have something to express – [in music] you might not get paid for it, but it’s a healing entity.”
The Cowsills will soon begin performing in the “Happy Together” tour with the Turtles, featuring Flo & Eddie, The Association, the Buckinghams, Mark Lindsay and Grass Roots, with concert dates through the summer. The group plans to begin work on its final album at the beginning of next year. Cowsill said there are no solid plans on what will be on the album, but said it will have some songs by Barry and Bill and other original songs written by all three performers.
As for Cowsill, she plans to continue her solo career in the Americana, folk-rock genre. She’s also gained an appreciation for end-of-life care from the losses she’s experienced and said if she were to have an alternate career, it would be in hospice.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of death in my life,” she said. “I think people would be grateful to have someone be part of their passing on, just like with birth. It’s an honored position to be in. It’s a part of my life that I don’t fear.”
Springfest will be held Friday from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Misquamicut State Beach, 257 Atlantic Ave., Westerly. The Cowsills are set to take the stage Saturday at 7 p.m. on the main stage. Admission costs $7 and children age 3 or younger may attend for free.
For tickets, visit misquamicutfestival.org.