WESTERLY — If you're looking for a way to get information on the town's response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a little entertainment and connection (virtual of course) with friends and neighbors, Caswell Cooke Jr. has an idea.
For about two weeks and for the foreseeable future until the crisis ends, Cooke is presenting "Ask Caswell" on his personal Facebook page. The live show is sort of a return to the old "Caswell Cooke Jr. Show" that Cooke hosted on cable access television from about 1995 to 2011 and then revived earlier this year.
"We were hearing a lot of things from the federal level and receiving updates from the governor, but I thought it would be nice to hear something from the Westerly area," Cooke said.
The show offers a way for Westerly residents to ask Cooke, a member of the Town Council, questions in real time, and serves as a virtual meeting place. He tries to provide information on changes to town services such as appointment-only services at Town Hall, reduced recycling at the transfer station and social distancing restrictions. Information on local businesses and restaurants offering curbside and delivery of meals and places to find help are also discussed.
As the crisis has worn on, Cooke has had a host of guests who appear remotely. Police Chief Shawn Lacey drew the most questions of any show so far. Other guests have included Town Council President Christopher Duhamel, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, and former governor and presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee. Cooke is campaign treasurer as Chafee seeks the Libertarian party nomination.
Rather than dwell on the bleakness of COVID-19 for an entire show, day after day, Cooke is also working in musical guests. So far the musicians are all ones who have performed in Westerly at Springfest or Fallfest. The musical artists who have appeared on the show so far include John Ford Coley, Denny Laine of Wings and Terry Slyvester, who has worked as a member of the Hollies and the Swinging Blue Jeans.
"They've all played some tunes for us here in Westerly and they all have a connection to Westerly from having played here before," Cooke said.
The show is produced by Ben Barber, a local entertainment, social media and technology impresario.
For Cooke the show is an effort to wring something good from a bad situation.
"I'm going to keep doing it until we're over this and back to normal," Cooke said.