SARATOGA SPRINGS – Jorma Kaukonen stepped into the sunlight and rode an E chord for all it was worth:
“Down in the mine,
circled ‘round the diamond,
Serpent of your expectations,
Sleeps a nervous dream…”
Electric Hot Tuna – these days a power trio led by longtime bandmates Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, and aided amply by the grounding beats of drummer Justin Gulp, came to Saratoga July 3 and staged a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in support of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the Wood Brothers.
Hot Tuna delivered a seven-song, 45-minute set that came full circle, commencing with “Serpent of Dreams” and concluding with “Hit Single #1” – adjacent vinyl tracks on the band’s 1975 album “America’s Choice.”
It was 49 years, nearly to the day, when Kaukonen and Casady graced the front cover of Life Magazine beneath the headline: “Music That’s Hooked The Whole Vibrating World.” Perhaps best known for their respective roles in helping create the Jefferson Airplane’s signature sound – try imagining songs like “White Rabbit” sans Casady’s "Bolero" bass, or “Somebody To Love” and “Lather” without Kaukonen’s soaring guitaristry - the Hot Tuna duo has done well in creating their own legacy during the past 45-plus years, alternating between the moody electric wailing of Kaukonen’s wheezing guitar and elaborate acoustic fingerpickings, and Casady’s melody bass. Add to that hipping an entire generation of guitar players to the music of Robert Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Reed and Rev. Gary Davis.
Much of that legacy was on full display at SPAC, where the band’s set began with a pair of acoustic numbers and took off in earnest when Kaukonen strapped on his electric Firebird that bent through the wave of a Wah-Wah flange and delivered a string-bending swoon of vintage psychedelia, blown in on a breeze from the west coast of America.
The three-piece ensemble allows ample space for each instrument to be well-defined by the human ear, and as Kaukonen displayed a mental fixation on his fretboard delivering his searing notes, Casady plunked, boomed, slid and slapped out the low tones on his Wine Red hollow-body bass, his undulating eyebrows rising and falling with the plonk of the beat.
“The last time I remember that Jack and I were here was in ’89 on the (Jefferson) Airplane reunion tour,” announced Kaukonen, a black Harley T-shirt clinging to his 76-year-old frame. Truth be told, the band had been here with The Further Festival in the late ‘90s and on a bill with the Allman Brothers in 2000, but no one seemed to mind the historical misstep inside the amphitheater and out on the summer lawn where fans of the music swooned and grooved, transported to some heavenly place in a world of song.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Quinn Sullivan was in the second grade when legendary bluesman Buddy Guy pulled the 8-year-old guitar player onto the stage in his native New Bedford, Massachusetts to show what he could do.
“I'm like, "There's no way in the world you can play these notes,” Buddy Guy told Rolling Stone, regarding the performance. “He was hitting Eric Clapton, he was hitting me, Stevie, Jimi Hendrix. I couldn't even play a radio when I was seven or eight years old! Players like him come along once in a lifetime. I said, 'I need to let the world know about you.'"
A decade later, the guitar prodigy has shredded six-string licks in front of the TV cameras for Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Kimmel and NBC's The Today Show, performed at music festivals alongside Dave Matthews, Sonic Youth, and Pearl Jam, and received a standing ovation while on stage at the Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden with his mentor Buddy Guy. Surreal, he says.
“The musical influence came right from the time when I was a little kid,” says Sullivan, who celebrated his 18th birthday in March. “My parents bought me a First Act acoustic guitar for Christmas – one of those kids’ guitars - when I was about three years old. That was my first encounter. They also played me all different kinds of music, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers band. In my house, the music was always playing and I would just sit down, and absorb it all.”
Sullivan released his debut album, “Cyclone,” in 2011. His latest, “Midnight Highway,” was released last year. Sunday afternoon, local fans can catch the blues phenom on the big stage during Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The event, which takes place on two stages Saturday and Sunday, features nearly two dozen acts and is headlined by Chaka Khan - on Saturday night, and the Gipsy Kings – who close the festival on Sunday.
A living contradiction of the classic Alice Cooper tune about teen angst, Sullivan is 18 and he knows what he wants.
“There are the normal things that are great about becoming 18, but I think I’ve grown up in such a good environment with really great people in my life and a support system that has always been there and surrounded me. My main focus now is to just put on the best show I can,” says the guitarist, who performed nearly 100 shows last year and will certainly top that number in 2017.
“I’ve been able to evolve; Playing with the guys I’ve been playing with for years now we’ve reached this level on stage where everybody is jelling and the chemistry is very good,” Sullivan says. “I think the future of music – real music anyways - is live music and live performances, more so than records. I love the recording process and making records, but to me you need to have that same level of confidence on stage,” he says. “I think that’s what a true artist does, and that’s what I’m trying to do: to better my live show, and to not be afraid to take chances. Life in general is about taking chances especially when you’re in the music industry. I’m all about learning more and more every single day. “
With a bright future ahead of him, Sullivan says the musical path is without restriction, or limit. And while some may try to tag him strictly a blues artist, the guitarist says he won’t be pigeonholed into such fine a category.
“I don’t think of music as one thing, six different genres. I think if you’re putting out music that touches someone, that helps someone feel something, that’s the key to great music. I have so many different influences that I take from and I want to put that into what I do,” he says. “The sky’s the limit.”
If he wasn’t a touring musician, Sullivan says he imagines he somehow would have found his way into some segment of the arts. And at the age of 18, he’s not so far removed from his initial inspiration of what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“When I was a little kid, it was funny, I wanted to be a police officer. That was my first love,” recalls Sullivan of an age when the guitar was still a hobby. “I had a cousin who I used to play cops and robbers with all the time. I was totally down for that.”
View Quinn Sullivan at various stage of his musical life:
- The 8-year-old guitar prodigy tears it up on the B.B. King classic, "The Thrill is Gone," at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHoO3JHnn3Q.
- Performing Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” a sunburst Strat draped across his lithe torso, his chest be-spotted with a Sex Pistols “T-Shirt, on stage at the Western Maryland Blues Festival, June, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMl7FYVz8x8
- Sullivan’s latest, “Something for Me,” featuring noise-infused blues on the cobblestone streets of downtown Manhattan: https://youtu.be/C1oIzzxtOUQ
Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be held Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25 at SPAC. For more information about artists performing and tickets to the festival, go to: http://www.spac.org/events/jazz-festival.
Danny Melnick grew up on Long Island listening to The Who and the Rolling Stones records the older kids used to play. His friends loved Kiss, the Good Rats, and Twisted Sister; his younger brother had a fondness for pop new wave.
“Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys,” he bristles. “Music I couldn’t stand then, and music I still can’t listen to today.”
Melnick was more drawn into a world of moody tempo changes, haunting mellotrons and lyrical fantasy. Melnick was a Prog kid.
“Somehow, I got into Progressive Rock: King Crimson and Yes, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. Through that education I learned about Miles Davis and John Coltrane and then quickly on to people like Dave Holland and John Abercrombie, Gary Burton and early Pat Metheny,” he says. “It really opened up my ears to a lot of things.”
Why this all matters is the reasoning behind what brings thousands of people to the Spa City every year for The Hang. This month, the Saratoga jazz festival celebrates its 40th anniversary with two days of shows on two stages, marking the fifth longest-consecutive-running jazz festival in North America.
Melnick first worked with the festival in 1991, overseeing the transport of musicians from New York City to Saratoga Springs. “The band bus monitor,” he says. Eight years later he was in charge of booking all the artists to perform at the festival.
“The market there is pretty interesting. The audiences in Saratoga have been coming to this festival at SPAC for a very long time. They’re committed to it. We’ve got people coming in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the tri-state New York City area, and of course, the Capital Region. So, for me, as a presenter, I’m trying to appeal to all of them with a great mix of artists,” Melnick says. He’s also cognizant of maintaining traditions.
“When I look back at the acts in the late ‘70s and ‘80s there was always blues, always Latin, always straight-ahead jazz, a little bit of avantgarde here and there. I try very hard to continue that. The biggest challenge in modern times is that so many legendary jazz legends have died,” Melnick says, riffing on a memory list of the departed that includes Dave Brubeck and Ray Charles, B.B. King and Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Art Blakely and Ella Fitzgerald. “I can name fifty artists who have played the festival and who today are gone. So now, I have to mix it up a little more.
“The festival needs to keep going forward. In order to stay alive and stay relative you need to book a diverse roster of artists who can tell where the music is today,” he says. “I want people to learn about new artists, I want them to be entertained and to have fun. I want emerging jazz artists to have a platform, to be heard, to build careers so that hopefully they will become headliners in the future.”
This year’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival - initially called the Newport Jazz Festival at Saratoga when it launched in 1978 – will feature a new, bigger gazebo stage for emerging artists to showcase their talents.
“Quite a few people who started out playing the gazebo stage have moved on, to the main stage, or are playing bigger festivals around the world. It’s cool that the festival audience is supporting the artists. They’re listening to them, they’re meeting them, they’re getting their autographs, they’re buying their CD’s. And there are no walls between the artists and the audience, it’s all right there,” says Melnick, president and director of Absolutely Live Entertainment. His official title at the Saratoga jazz festival is producing partner and artistic director.
His accomplishments as a presenter include a world tour commemorating the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" recording, North American tours celebrating the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 55th anniversary, and the Newport Jazz Festival’s 60th, concerts at Carnegie Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival and a Blue Note Records' four month-long 70th Anniversary tour.
“There were nights when I was hanging out with Dizzie Gillespie backstage in Japan and thinking: really? How did this happen?” Prior to forming ALE, Melnick was the artistic director and a senior producer at George Wein's Festival Productions company.
“I have a lot of great memories and incredible stories. I’ve been very lucky over the years to be in the places that I’ve been and do the work that I’ve done, particularly in all the years when I worked as an employee for George Wein,” he says of the jazz impresario who founded the local festival in 1978. One recent memory involved booking legends Tony Bennett and Buddy Guy on the festival’s closing night in 2013.
“Buddy Guy was set to close with Tony Bennett going on before him. A week before the festival, Buddy’s agent calls.
“Buddy has a problem closing,” Guy’s agent told him. “He feels weird going on after Tony Bennett. He doesn’t want to disrespect Tony.”
“I said: What? What do you mean?”
“Well, Tony is a legend and Buddy feels, who is he to go on after Tony Bennett?” the agent said.
“Listen, ‘Buddy Guy is a legend also,’ I told him. Tony is going to go out there with a jazz trio. He’s going to sing standards. He’s going to put the microphone down at one point and sing an amazing a capella tune, and then Buddy’s going to come out with his electric blues band and rip the place to smithereens,” Melnick recalled. Those in attendance will recall that’s exactly how it all went down.
“It was all vetted with Tony, and he was fine with it. The agent called me back to say Buddy was cool with everything. What was so interesting to me to hear, after all those years and success and awards that an artist like Buddy Guy still had the humility to look at the situation and express themselves in that way.”
The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The milestone event features the return of Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jean Luc-Ponty - who performed on the inaugural 1978 festival. Headlining the weekend are Chaka Khan, and the Gipsy Kings. Jazz 100, led by Danilo Pérez, will pay homage to iconic musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaria, and Thelonious Monk in celebration of the 100th anniversary of their shared birth year. For more information about the festival go to: www.spac.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Three Sundays of free music, a new gazebo, and nearly three weeks of film screenings highlight some of the new amenities at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this season, the organization announced Wednesday at the Hall of Springs, during its annual meeting.
A “Caffè Lena @ SPAC” Concert Series – in reciprocity of the recent “SPAC at Caffè Lena” series will take place on SPAC’s gazebo stage from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, June 11, July 9 and Aug. 27.
“We look forward to bringing people from all corners of our community together to experience the exhilaration of live music performances, without the barrier of cost,” said SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol.
The musical lineup, thus far, features Birds of Chicago, The Pines on June 11; The Steel Wheels, Twisted Pine, Honeysuckle and Western Den on July 9, and Soul Inscribed, Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers, and Let's Be Leonard on Aug. 27. Fans are welcome to bring in food, drink, blankets and lawn chairs for the concerts. Food concessions will also be available. In the event of rain on the day of performance, the concert location will shift to Caffè Lena, on Phila Street.
Also new this year: SPAC will host the Saratoga Film Forum at the Spa Little Theatre from July 20 – Aug. 2, and Aug. 23 - 28. Many of the films screened during the series will feature subjects with connections to artists, composers, choreographers or works that are part of SPAC’s summer programming. The film schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.
The venue’s new gazebo, which will feature an increase in square footage of 133 percent over the current one, will be named after the late Charles R. Wood – who in addition to his other regional accomplishments was a member of SPAC’s board during the ‘90s. The Charles R. Wood Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to SPAC that will underwrite the cost of replacing SPAC’s aging gazebo stage.
According to SPAC’s 2016 Revenue Statement issued Wednesday, $10 million in operating revenues topped approximately $9.85 million in operating expenses, resulting in a net surplus of approximately $152,000.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Brad Paisley stood atop the stage surrounded by hundreds of local high school seniors and asked for the details of their school mascot.
“Blue Streaks!” came the shouted reply.
“Blue Streak? What is a Blue Streak?” he pondered. “You guys are a streak of lightning,” he said, finally. “That’s very cool!”
And so it went Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where Paisley put the finishing touches on the stage show for his Weekend Warrior World Tour which officially debuted Thursday night at SPAC and will travel across North America and touch down in Norway and Sweden before concluding in late September.
Wednesday night’s “dress rehearsal” came with the issuance of an invitation to hundreds of high school seniors at Saratoga Springs and Averill Park. Many were thrilled to attend the free preview.
“Oh. My. God. I’m so excited. Me and my dad listen to him all the time, but this is my first time seeing him,” gushed Saratoga Springs High School senior Cheyanne Mattison, who alongside fellow classmates Marisa Pantoja, Larissa Benton and Alyssa Concho secured elbow space at the front of the stage on a May night that boasted temperatures near 90 degrees.
The West Virginia born singer-songwriter strolled the catwalk, took selfies, and showcased his guitar skills, mixing strains of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” into a slew of tunes for more than one hour, as the band tweaked its sound and technicians tested the pulsating lights and flashy screen graphics, all to the joy of the kids who gathered to witness the event.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” Paisley explained, casually dressed in black jeans, a T-shirt, street sneakers. A baseball cap rested atop his head.
The musical presentation was combined with casual back-and-forth banter with students which effectively gave the large amphitheater the feel of an intimate living room. When informed that the Blue Streaks had just secured a Section II title in tennis, Paisley offered his congratulations alongside some advice.
“It’s great you won. Tennis is good, but make sure you guys get a back-up career,” he instructed, before sharing his thoughts with the assembly of 17 and 18-year-olds of something to look forward to.
“You know, people will tell you high school is the best part of your life. That’s bull-crap. It’s not,” Paisley said. “But, now college…” he said with a smile.
Paisley made his musical debut in 1999. He has released nearly one dozen studio albums and topped the country music singles charts numerous times. His new release, “Love And War,” features appearances by Mick Jagger and John Fogerty, among others.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Every morning, Elizabeth Sobol begins her day driving down the Avenue of the Pines. Since taking over the reins in October at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Sobol has been forming a vision in her mind’s eye of a park for the arts.
“When I saw the reflecting pool, the Victoria Pool, the beautiful porticos and the baths, the Jazz Bar downstairs, the Hall of Springs and all sorts of these other nooks and crannies, I was like: wow. I started thinking about all sorts of site-specific work,” SPAC’s president and CEO said.
She asked about the jazz bar, and was surprised to learn no live music is played there; When she saw the reflecting pool, she was reminded of John Luther Adams’ 2014 piece “Become Ocean,” which was performed at Lincoln Center around that venue’s reflecting pool.
“I see the park filled with art-making. Music. Maybe some outdoor sculpture and interactive experiences. I think of the park as this magnificent convergence of man-made beauty and natural beauty.”
Sobol said she wants to eliminate any preconceived barriers that may exist separating the SPAC amphitheater – where the arts are staged – and the surrounding grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park.
“I’m all about no boundaries. Let people experience art in unexpected places where it catches them off-guard,” Sobol said. “I feel like this is a park for the arts, with so many spectacular places we can do performances.”
The other thing she wants to dispel is the bipolar notion that SPAC is either pop music, or classical music. “I think SPAC is one organism. It’s a world-class venue, and as long as everything that appears on the stage is world-class, it belongs without respect to genre.”
Teaming-up with other organizations is key, and already collaborations have been struck with Caffè Lena for a six-concert series, Skidmore College – for a performance that will be staged in June - and with UPH and Proctors for a yet-to-be announced event that will take place in the fall. There are also ongoing conversations with the nearby National Museum of Dance, and Saratoga Auto Museum regarding a potential Cuban festival that would feature live music, dance classes and a curated show of classic cars that would involve all three venues in their respective area of expertise.
“You’d walk in here and have this immersive experience, pulling it all together for you rather than a kind of silo experience,” Sobol said. “I think the more you feel art connects with basic human experiences, then it touches you in different ways.” The idea is to host year-round events that would fan out beyond SPAC’s geographical borders and into the Saratoga Spa State Park, “giving people these sublime experiences out in nature.”
“Some of it would be formal collaboration, some of it would be ‘pop-up,’ but I’m also imagining a poet’s corner here, where people can come and read their work,” Sobol said. “I want people to learn they can just come here in the same way they can go to a fair and entertain themselves, there’s food and rides and animals there’s all sorts of stuff – but with a proliferation of artistic experiences they can have here.”
“I’m also imagining having this whole day based on science and music that would end with Holst – ‘The Planets’ - performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with massive screens of NASA space footage and hundreds of telescopes placed down in the football field, so kids could go from not just being taught these connections between astronomy and music, but seeing and hearing and feeling it,” Sobol said.
Saratoga’s Arts Ranking
On April 24, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research released its third annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.
The “arts vibrancy” is measured by nonprofit cultural institutions, organizations and venues particularly attractive to artists or tourists, levels of government support, and being robust in a variety of arts sectors.
The cities of Bennington, Vermont, and Hudson, and Oneonta, N.Y. placed high on the list. As a county, Saratoga placed in the 92nd percentile, meaning of the 3,144 counties across the country, Saratoga County ranks higher than 92 percent of the rest of the country, according to the report, which may be viewed at: https://sites.smu.edu/meadows/heatmap/index.html
Saratoga Springs Arts Commission Involvement
City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who in 2015 appointed members to the city’s first Arts Commission, is in the process of attempting to strike a collaborative partnership with the city of Nashville, Tennessee.
“We’re identifying what that exchange and partnership will look like,” Yepsen said. “The first step will be sending an invitation to their arts commission to invite some performers, musicians to Saratoga Springs to begin the partnership and we’re hoping to do this in August or September. It might even turn into a mini-festival of national performers, so we’re going to move forward as an Arts Commission.” The creative pipeline could also result in the Spa City hosting music workshops featuring performers from “Music City.”
How It’s Done in Music City
Nashville with a population about 678,000, is more than 20 times the size of Saratoga Springs.
Overseeing things in the “Music City” is the 15-member Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, which was formed in 1978. The arts commission has an approximate $3 million annual operating budget, promotes and supports that city’s visual, performing and literary arts. The commission has autonomy from the council, meaning the granting process – while going through a transparent public process, don’t have to return to the City Council for approval, said Jennifer Cole, director of Nashville’s arts commission. Of the $3 million budget, $2.3 million is awarded to civic and nonprofit civic and charitable organizations that assist the commission in its goals, with the balance of monies used to fund special projects and administrative costs.
The arts commission in Nashville also receives separate funding for public art, through the city’s Capital Budget. In 2000, the council adopted a measure that ensures 1 percent of all city-issued bonds for public city buildings is targeted for public art projects. Potential public art projects are subsequently scored by “citizen panelists” - members of a seven-member Public Art Committee - and taxpayers are also permitted to weigh in regarding the art projects that will be placed in public areas, Cole said.
A separate group, the all-volunteer Music City Music Council was started in 2009, which doesn’t have governing powers but works as an advisory group to the mayor . They are an association of business leaders charged with developing strategies toward heightening the awareness and development of Nashville’s world-wide reputation as Music City. Music is to Nashville as horses is to Saratoga, with core employment in the music industry in Nashville per 1,000 population exceeding all other U.S. cities by large margins and New York and Los Angeles by 2.5 to 4 times.
Recently, the Saratoga Springs Arts Commission has held discussions recently regarding the impending loss of the 300-seat Saratoga Music Hall when converted to a court room. Yepsen said to compensate, there are plans underway to potentially enlarge and enhance the Dee Sarno Theater at the Saratoga Arts building on Broadway. Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, said with some interior re-configuration, the theater could double its capacity from 100 to 200 people.
New Incubator Opens in Saratoga Springs
“There’s an opportunity for the city of Saratoga Springs with an incubator right here, through SEDC’s (Saratoga Economic Development Corporation) good work,” said Yepsen, referencing other existing regional incubators at the Center For the Gravity in Troy and The Albany Barn. “It could be a space for people to create inventions, or art, or a combination.”
By its own definition, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy cultivates a community of makers, innovators and entrepreneurs to initiate creative collisions resulting in economic and personal growth. In Albany, that City, its Housing Authority, and the Barn partnered to redevelop the St. Joseph’s Academy building into 22 low-cost live/work residences for artists, and a multi-tenant creative arts incubator, enterprise and program space that includes work and rehearsal suites, a dance studio, and digital media lab.
Ryan Van Amburgh, Economic Development Specialist with SEDC, met with the city Arts Commission during its monthly meeting in April, shortly after launching SPARK Saratoga to empower locally based entrepreneurs. On Wednesday, the non-profit consulting firm announced a collaborative agreement with Saratoga CoWorks to site a new business incubator on Regent Street. Van Amburgh said discussions with the city’s Arts Commission are ongoing regarding a potential arts component, and that SEDC is engaged in a willingness to play a role in the city’s creative economy.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is launching a new programming series this summer that seats audiences directly on the stage of the iconic amphitheater.
The onstage seating capacity in the unique format is 300. The entire audience will sit onstage with the artists and no other seats will be sold for the four-concert series.
“Positioning audiences onstage for this series will offer them a unique, visceral experience – a connection with the performance unlike anything they have experienced previously,” SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement.
The series takes place on four consecutive evenings in August. New York City jazz band The Hot Sardines perform on Aug.7; Time for Three, and its three classically trained musicians — violinists Nicholas Kendall and Charles Yang, and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer – perform Aug. 14; Classical, hip-hop and R&B fused ensemble Black Violin – whose members have appeared at President Obama's Inaugural and three Super Bowls – perform Aug. 21, and three-time Grammy Award nominated Afro-Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will perform on Aug. 28.
Tickets to SPAC on Stage are limited and are $40 to $50, and available at spac.org beginning May 3. And check out this video clip about the series:
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This weekend’s concert by The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will mark the second of six concerts brought to Saratoga Springs this year born of a newly forged partnership between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The collaboration between the two venues, each which has staged more than a half-century of performances, will encompass jointly curated and presented programs at both venues, with the location varying by season.
The Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of Americas foremost chamber orchestras, will make a first-ever appearance in the Capital Region on April 25 in an exclusive performance at Lena’s café.
“I was in New York in January talking with some friends over coffee when they mentioned they had this program of baroque chamber music they were doing,” recalled SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “It was written by Bach to be performed at Café Zimmerman - a coffeehouse in Leipzig where all the artists and intellectuals would gather at the time Bach was living there. When I heard it was at a coffeehouse, I thought: Oh my God, that has got to come to Caffè Lena. It’s a perfect collaboration between SPAC and Caffè Lena.”
And while this weekend’s show is sold out, tickets are still available for the third spring program, which will be staged at Caffè Lena May 4 and features Louisville, Kentucky-based folk band Harpeth Rising. Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2910973.
In June, the series shifts to SPAC, where three free Sunday afternoon concerts, one each in June, July, and August will be staged at the new gazebo.
“Very soon we’ll be announcing the summer component to the partnership which will include a monthly Caffè Lena Day at SPAC,” Sobol explained. “It’ll be the whole afternoon, from 12 to 5, and families will be able to come and hang and make music a real part of the afternoon in the park.” The three summer concerts are being curated by the café’s executive director, Sarah Craig.
“When we sat down and started talking about artists, every band Sarah mentioned to me I flipped over. Everything she mentioned I love,” Sobol said.
“I looked for artists that have a huge energy and a rich intensity that can hold up well in an outdoor environment,” said Craig, adding that the schedule of musicians, when solidified, could number as many as three performers on each of the three days. And while the teaming-up of the two Saratoga Springs powerhouses marks the first official collaboration between the venues, there is a long list of artists – from Bob Dylan to Melanie to Don McLean – who have performed at both, as well as a synergy historically fostered by Lena Spencer, who invited musicians appearing on the SPAC stage to come and perform after-hour concerts at her Phila Street café.
With six months under her belt as the new leader at SPAC, Sobol said one goal is creating new ventures while maintaining the venue’s time-honored traditions.
“I was being very conservative until I got the lay of the land. I haven’t touched the big resident companies because they’re so important to the DNA of SPAC, but we’ve been making some enhancements – like this Caffè Lena partnership, and within the next couple of weeks we’re going to be announcing all sorts of partnerships with some of our other cultural family members,” Sobol said. “There are so many organizations here, my feeling is the more we all work together the more we raise Saratoga up.“
SARATOGA SPRINGS - ''Every time I sing something, I try to sound just like Paul Rodgers,'' declared Joe Bonamassa during an interview with this reporter many moons ago, while preparing to go onstage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in support of Bad Company and Foreigner.
His solo debut, ''A New Day Yesterday,'' had been released a year or two earlier, and the blues-rock guitarist, who grew up in Utica a musical child prodigy, came to Saratoga with a career full of promise.
This week, Bonamassa announced a new US summer tour in support of his latest studio album, “Blues of Desperation,” which kicks off Aug. 4 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and pulls in to SPAC on August 15. Tickets are $66 to $156 and go on sale Friday, March 10.
Bonamassa’s musical talents were first recognized at the age of four - when his father bought a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, the young man said he was hooked on the sound for life – and began touring at the age of 12. He received mighty praise from none other than B.B. King and up to that point shared that his grandest musical moment came when he’d been joined onstage by members of the band Jethro Tull.
Fifteen years later, it’s safe to say Bonamassa has created some new career highlights; he’s been nominated for a Grammy Award – twice – and has been featured on the cover of virtually every guitar magazine multiple times. Bonamassa has secured 16 number 1 Billboard blues album hits, performed everywhere from Radio City music Hall to Royal Albert Hall, and has sold more than 3 million albums worldwide.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Four months into her new job, SPAC President Elizabeth Sobol says she is learning the Saratoga Performing Arts Center has a uniqueness all its own.
One factor is the location of the venue - nestled among 2,200 acres in the state park sitting on the cusp of a culturally vibrant city, she says. Another is the relationship forged with other performing arts organizations during the venue’s 50-year existence which continue to deliver everything from the whirring pirouette of the ballet dancer, to the delicate air strike of the conductor’s baton and the amplified clamor of an electric guitar.
“Having traveled all over the world, all over the United States, all over North America and having seen festivals of all kinds, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like this anywhere in the world,” says Sobol, a classically trained pianist. She relocated to Saratoga Springs from Miami Beach last fall and will mark her first season at SPAC this year.
“Thinking about the programming, I listened to community voices about what they wanted to see this summer.”
The spectrum of responses offered an array of varied opinions. “Part of my job has been listening to those voices and creating something cohesive that would speak to different aesthetic desires and visions,” Sobol says.
This year, the New York City Ballet will stage 18 ballets by six different choreographers during their residency, from July 5 to 15. The Philadelphia Orchestra season, from Aug. 2 to Aug. 19, will feature a balance between the new and the traditional and include one piece not performed at SPAC since the 1960s. And the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will return to the Spa Little Theater with six concerts, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 22. The schedule of performers and performance pieces will be publicly released Sunday.
“One thing I wanted to do was also create mini-festivals within a festival. It immerses you in a sound, a narrative and a concept. In dialogue with the Philadelphia Orchestra, we created a mini-Russian festival, a mini-American festival and a mini-French festival. So, if you look across all our programming – the New York City Ballet, the Chamber Music Society and the Philadelphia Orchestra - you’ll see some of the same themes arising.”
Sobol also noted a new series titled “SPAC on Stage” to target young, musical genre-crossing fans and featuring several hundred audience members seated onstage. “What we’re envisioning is an experience that is intimate and extremely visceral and will feature artists unique and different than anything else that has appeared on the SPAC stage."
With pop concert promoter Live Nation, Sobol says there is an ongoing dialogue to maintain the delicate balancing act of scheduling dates at the venue between the pop and classical worlds. A variety of pop concerts have already been announced: Dave Matthews (two solo shows in June, sans band), Train, Nickelback, Dead & Company, and classic rock bills such as Foreigner/Cheap Trick, Rod Stewart/Cyndi Lauper, and Chicago/Doobie Brothers, among them. Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be staged June 24-25 and will feature headliners Chaka Khan and the Gipsy Kings, returning artists Jean-Luc Ponty, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, a musical tribute to Ray Charles and more than one dozen other artists.
Responding to recent reports that President Donald Trump may severely cut or altogether eliminate cultural programs that receive federal funding such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Sobol says while concerned about potential cuts to NEA funding for the national well-being, it’s not something that will greatly affect SPAC. “We are being much more strategic about arts funding, but it’s not something that, if it goes away, it’s going to put us in a compromising position.”
*Note, an initial version of this story misstated the number of acres in the Saratoga Spa State Park. The correct number of acres is 2,200.