SARATOGA SPRINGS – Rochmon Record Club continues its successful monthly run at Caffe Lena on Tuesday, Dec. 19, this time with a focus on the music and career of Tom Petty.
Some fading notebook scribbles related to live appearances witnessed by this reporter, to get you in the mood:
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, August 2006 --- In the end, Tom Petty finished where he began, completing the circle of a 30-year career with a final stroke on his jangling guitar to the tune of “'American Girl.”
Thirty years ago, the youthful face of the singer stared back from his debut album, donning a black leather motorcycle jacket beneath the logo of a guitar shooting through a heart like a broken arrow. Sunday night, Petty returned as the musical maestro of the timeless verse, adorned in crushed velvet with glitter speckles and caught in the reflection of the floodlights that sprayed the crowd in crimson and lavender neon.
With the word out that this summer's tour may be the band's last large cross-country journey, there was a touch of finality in the air at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where a sell-out crowd of 25,000 cheered Petty and his band of Heartbreakers through a 19-song set celebrating their decades of musical service.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, August 2005 --- Wearing a schoolboy smile and a multi-colored ascot that invoked the mod Carnaby Street pop-isms of his teenage years, Tom Petty clutched the neck of his white tear-shaped guitar and led his band of Heartbreakers through a rousing two-hour set at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Saturday night.
Petty's onstage exuberance was reciprocated by a joyous gathering of nearly 25,000 fans, while breathing new life into 1970s material “Breakdown,” “Listen To Her Heart,” and “Refugee,” revisiting drive-time radio hits “'I Won't Back Down,” and “Free Fallin,'” and ratcheting up the sonic intensity beneath the lighted effects of the white-hot strobes with a hit parade that included “Learning To Fly,” “Mary Jane's Last Dance,” and “Don't Come Around Here No More.”
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 2002 --- For a quarter of a century, Petty has weaved the poetic language of the common man with a sonically jangled surrealism, along the way acquiring star-power leverage to do battle with record labels, concert promoters and music publishers, and championing the rights of fans and fellow musicians.
His name has been engraved on a five-point star on Hollywood Boulevard, and he was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for an insurance salesman's son who grew up in Gainesville, Florida who left high school to pursue his vision of the American dream.
Friday night, performing on the fifth date of a summerlong tour, Petty tore through the set opener ''Runnin' Down A Dream,'' flashing his pearly whites at the mic. “'It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down,'' he sang, amid the arsenal of guitar riffs behind him, ''I felt so good, like anything was possible.''
With the backdrop projecting images of falling snow, Petty sang, ''Please shed some light on the road less traveled,'' in a piece titled ''Lost Children,'' as the stage resembled a scene inside a tumbling Christmas snow globe. Haunting melodies oozed from within during his tune ''It's Good To Be King,” and Petty donned a Rickenbacker guitar for the show-closing ''American Girl,'' giving birth to a jangling resonance which hung in the dense air long enough to inspire one last primal dance from the faithful. Eventually, they filed out to rejoin the rest of the world, taking the vibration of its memory far as they could with them into the night.
Palladium, New York City, July 1978 --- “Breakdown” is a nice song. Moody, like Mink DeVille. “I Need To Know,” from the new album, kicks it well enough for a boy from the sticks, ‘tho not as kicking as, say, The Ramones. A slew of obligatory ‘60s covers dotted the night and the highlight was, of course, “American Girl,” which sounds like a tune Petty lifted from Roger McGuinn’s mojo.
Rick Derringer opened the show. He was fine, though not nearly as entertaining as when he played with Edgar Winter Group a few years back. Ted Nugent came on to play a song or two, which signaled most everyone it was a good time for a bathroom break. Ran into David Johansen in the art-deco bathroom downstairs. His new solo album is great and he’s playing the Bottom Line next weekend with Sylvain. Somebody said Warhol is here, up in the front somewhere.
Tuesday’s event begins at 7 p.m., although if last month’s sold out celebration of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” is any indication, you want to get there early, or you’re likely to get shut out. Doors open at 6:30. Admission: $5 donation, which goes to the restoration funds of Caffe Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.
“I'll feel really good when it's over. I have an image of myself... I'm living on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I'm smiling..." -- David Cassidy, Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972.
There were 20,000 of them, more or less, each seemingly armed with cheap, pocket-sized cameras crowned by four-sided cubes whose white flash burned your retinas with every image attempted to capture the teen idol on stage.
They had watched him, this crowd of mostly young girls, the past 18 months on TV - singing songs, driving the Partridge Family’s Mondrian-inspired bus - and bought millions of his albums, collected his trading cards, and carried to school lunchboxes bedizened with his image. And now here he was: live, in person, and on stage at the world’s most famous arena. It was a Madison Square Garden that had belonged to Ali and Frazier, Giacomin and Gilbert, Willis and Clyde. On this night, however, it was all about David Cassidy.
In 1972, a gallon of gas cost fifty-five cents, the average monthly rent was $165, and the annual household income about $12,000. It was a year that saw Crazy Joe Gallo gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House, five men arrested for breaking in to the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel and the gold medal achievements of Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut overshadowed when 11 Israelis, five guerillas and one police officer were killed in a 20-hour siege at the Munich Games.
Cassidy sang 15 or so songs, his 21-year-old torso coiling and squirming inside a white crepe jumpsuit and sending its fringe adornments reeling. “I’ll meet you halfway/ that’s better than no way,” he crooned. There were others: “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” and “Cherish.” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” At Madison Square Garden, his TV/ real-life mom Shirley Partridge Jones sat in the first row.
My dad - then a youthful man in his thirties whose land of origins had given birth to 300 Spartans who did battle at Thermopylae and who as a child had escaped the Nazi plunder of his village – shook his head in disbelief at the commotion and plugged fingers into his ears to attempt to mute the shrill shrieks of teen-girl idolatry caterwauling down from the blue seats that called David’s name. It was a cacophonous chorus that my sister, six or seven years of age at the time, willingly joined. The sound of the screams rang around in your head for several days after.
Cassidy was a frequent summer visitor to Saratoga Springs. You’d run into him at the racecourse, or coming out of the Wilton Mall cinema, or at Fasig-Tipton - where he bought his first yearling in 1974. In 2001, he purchased a house in Saratoga Springs. It was a Monday night in August seven years later when he stood up in front of 250 people at a fundraising gala for The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council at the Hall of Springs and publicly announced, for the first time, that he was an alcoholic. The revelation, which was unexpected, left some in the audience stunned.
“I was in denial about it, and the problem was getting worse,” said Cassidy, his wife Sue and his son Beau at his side. Cassidy talked about his genetical link to his own father, the actor Jack Cassidy. “Bipolar, manic-depressive, alcoholic and a genius,” he told the audience.
Wife Sue said she was proud of her husband for having the courage to publicly share such a personal experience. “Seeing him up here and telling you all this is one of the greatest things that I could ever hope to be able to be a part of,” said 17-year-old Beau.
Cassidy acknowledged that the location of the Hall of Springs, sitting as it does adjacent to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, created an interesting juxtaposition that merged the past and the present; a time for new beginnings to lead into the future.
“This is my favorite place in the world. ... I played here in '72, '73, '74,” Cassidy remembered. “What was ironic when I drove up, was that I realized this journey has been going on for so many years. And the journey is now. Every day, 24 hours, to stay sober.”
You got the feeling on that August night in 2008 that what stood before you was a person at a the flashpoint of their own existence, burning white-hot as the flash residue of 20,000 cameras all those years ago. You got the feeling, that night in 2008, that things could go either way. It did not go well. What followed was a series of drunken driving charges, a divorce from wife Sue Shifrin after more than 20 years of marriage, and Cassidy’s revelation earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed with dementia and was struggling with memory loss.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, he was admitted to a Florida hospital, reportedly with multiple organ failure. Time was running out. For millions of people who were born, say, between 1960 and 1965, the sadness of confronting their own mortality comingled with the childhood innocence of youthful dreams. “Prayers please,” Sue Shifrin Cassidy wrote Nov. 18 on Twitter. Nov. 19: David is still with us. Keep praying. Nov. 20: Critical but stable. Nov. 22: God was in that room tonight. Point him in the direction of... heaven. RIP.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – It was a year of new things for the most part at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Elizabeth Sobol’s first at the helm of the organization, initiating partnerships with arts-based collaborators in the region, introducing a series of inaugural concert events, and reviving long-dormant pieces of the organization’s past. And more changes are on the way.
At its Oct. 12 meeting, SPAC’s Board of Directors voted to condense the New York City Ballet season to seven performances, down from its 11-day residency in each of the past three seasons - which featured 12 to 14 performances during that period. The 2018 NYCB season will more closely align with 2013 and 2014 models.
Mathematically, 80 percent of New York City Ballet ticket buyers purchase tickets to only one performance, and 11 percent buy tickets to two performances, Sobol said. Only the remaining 9 percent purchase tickets to 3-plus NYCB shows.
“The Board felt that taking on another $1 million-plus shortfall on the New York City Ballet residency, was not prudent,” explained SPAC’s president and CEO.
“A big thrust of our efforts will be towards converting one-time buyers to multiple-performance buyers. Consolidating the audiences into one week will help with that,” Sobol said. “Historically, when we reduce the number of performances, nightly attendance numbers go up. Having fuller houses and the increased energy and excitement which accompanies that helps create more demand for tickets.”
Much as was done in prior years – the National Ballet of China visited the venue in 2015 and the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Bolshoi Ballet staged shows the previous summer - the NYCB dance season will be augmented by additional performances by an international dance company, not yet revealed. Discussions are currently being held with the National Ballet of Cuba for multiple performances in the summer of 2018.
“SPAC certainly remains committed to the residency and our long-term partnership with NYCB,” Sobol said. “Looking ahead to 2018, we will be working to harness that new energy and focus marketing on driving these new audiences to our resident companies. I am hopeful that with this renewed emphasis, we will be able to return to the extended New York City Ballet season in the future.”
SPAC is projected to finish the 2017 fiscal year operationally breaking even. Audience attendance at 2017 classical season performances reached projected levels. The Philadelphia Orchestra is scheduled to return for 12 performances, from Aug. 1 – 18, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will perform at the Spa Little Theatre Aug. 5- 21.
The 2017 Season featured a partnership with Caffè Lena that presented a monthly series of free concerts atop SPAC’s new Charles R. Wood Gazebo stage, as well as a trio of sold-out SPAC at Caffè Lena shows during the spring.
The inaugural “SPAC on Stage” series resulted in three sold-out performances, with nearly one-third of all attendees being first-time SPAC ticket buyers, Sobol said.
A “Live at the Jazz Bar” series was initiated in the Hall of Springs – and brought 300 to 400 people to each of the seven events to hear live jazz following performances by the ballet and orchestra.
SPAC on Stage, Live at the Jazz Bar and the Caffè Lena at SPAC series will all be back for the 2018 season.
In 2017, SPAC’s free education programs reached more than 15,000 young individuals, offered more than 125 classes, presentations, performances, and events, and partnered with more than 70 schools and non-profit organizations across the greater Capital Region.
In the near future, the organization anticipates launching a new user-friendly website, and in December will initiate a pilot program with the Decoda Chamber Ensemble. The group, the first affiliate ensemble of Carnegie Hall, will include a weeklong artist-in-residency for students at the Saratoga Independent School (SIS). A full chamber program will be staged Dec. 15 at the Bethesda Church in downtown Saratoga Springs.
Upcoming SPAC events include a lecture luncheon featuring a discussion titled the “Fascinating Life of Katrina Trask,” at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at SPAC’s Spa Little Theatre; The Sachal Ensemble musicians - known for their extraordinary journey from Lahore to Lincoln Center featured in the “Song of Lahore” film - live and on stage at the Little Theater 7 p.m. Oct. 30, (preceded by two screenings of the film at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. ay Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas a day earlier), and a pair of Nutcracker Teas in the Hall of Springs on Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. For ticket information, go to: spac.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - A special guest appearance by Boston Red Sox baseball legend David Ortiz will be among the highlights of this year’s Saratoga Wine and Food Festival on Sept. 8- 9.
The sports star, known affectionately to his fans as “Big Papi,” will participate in Friday’s Fired Up! event as well as two smaller gatherings on Friday evening, spotlighting his new line of cigars and Arias wine.
“He is not only a baseball hero, he is someone whose life and career have been an inspiration to millions of people.” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “We are proud that such an outstanding and beloved public figure and role model will play a part in this year’s festival and gratified that a portion of the proceeds from his VIP appearances will benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, an organization that supports lifesaving pediatric care for children in need.”
Ortiz recently launched a line of wines with the local Ianniello & DeCrescente families. "Arias" is named after David’s mother, Angela Rosa Arias, who tragically lost her life in a car crash in 2002. The multi-colored wine label illustrates two hands raised with index fingers pointing upwards, a salute Ortiz often made to his mother after hitting a home run and now is a symbol to encourage the human spirit to rise against adversity. The Arias portfolio includes a merlot, chardonnay, cabernet and sauvignon blanc.
He has also introduced a cigar line, "Big Papi David Ortiz Cigars,” crafted by "El Artista Cigars" based out of the Dominican Republic. Its band displays a red silhouette of Big Papi also pointing upward, as in his post-home run stance.
Ortiz will headline a 7 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. meet/greet and photo signing for 100 Fired Up! ticketholders who donate a minimum of $50 or more per person to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund; brief remarks to all Fired Up! guests in the main tent, followed by a video presentation on the Children’s Fund; and a 90-minute “Big Papi’s Arias Wine & Cigar Bar” experience for 100 people that will take place in the Hall of Springs Jazz Bar from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from each event will benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, a charity which funds pediatric services for children in New England and the Dominican Republic.
Presented annually at the end of its classical season, the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival is an epicurean showcase featuring two days of gourmet events showcasing fine international wines, innovative chef-prepared menus, cooking demonstrations and wine seminars, expansive tastings, upscale auctions and a luxury auto show. Held under elegant tents on SPAC’s lawn, the weekend is anchored by three events: an Adirondack Road Tour and Luncheon; Friday’s Fired Up! Grill Competition and Saturday’s Grand Tasting and Concours D’Elegance, the festival centerpiece. Presented in partnership with the Saratoga Automobile Museum, proceeds from the festival benefit education programming at SPAC and the Museum.
A featured event at Saturday’s Grand Tasting will be the final round of SPAC’s “Home Rangers” Amateur Chef Competition, which includes a cook-off between the competition’s amateur chef finalist and BlueStar celebrity chef Melissa Doney. Chef Doney was a competitor on Season 8 of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen hosted by Gordon Ramsey.
Among the judges for the final round will be BlueStar All Star Chef Jay Hajj and Ariana Philips, editor of Food Network magazine. Chef Suvir Saran, an accomplished chef, cookbook author, educator as well as a farmer who specializes in bringing Indian cooking to the American kitchen will be the final judge.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 8: Adirondack Road Tour & Gourmet Luncheon | 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. This spirited 1 ½ hour, professionally-led road rally for auto collectors winds through beautiful Adirondack roads to finish at the historic Lake George Club, where a delicious cocktail reception and three course wine-paired luncheon will be served. Event price: $100.
Fired Up! Grill Competition featuring Special Guest David Ortiz| 7 -10 p.m. Chefs from the Capital Region’s finest restaurants will battle it out for the FIRED UP! title as guests enjoy great music, gourmet food, BBQ, a cold refreshing Stella Artois, wines and spirits. The event is held under an oversized tent on SPAC’s lawn. Event price: $85
David Ortiz Meet and Greet | 7 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. This opportunity will be available to the first 100 people who purchase a specially priced Fired Up! ticket of $135, which includes a $50 donation to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. Event price: $135
“Big Papi’s Arias Wine & Cigar Bar” | 8:30 p.m. -10 p.m. David Ortiz will host a VIP experience for 100 people that will take place in the Hall of Springs Jazz Bar from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event will feature an opportunity to mingle with the baseball legend and other guests while enjoying Arias wines, gourmet hors d’oeuvres and cigars. All of the guests will receive an autographed bottle of Arias. A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. Event price: $175
SATURDAY, SEPT. 9: Grand Tasting and Concours D’Elegance, noon – 4 p.m. All guests will have the opportunity to savor exquisite foods created by more than 20 chefs in the Capital Region; a mystery wall, and cocktails, wine and beer. In addition, The Saratoga Automobile Museum will present a show of luxury collector cars including classes of Shelby Cobra, Porsche, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, among others. Event price: $85. A VIP Grant Tasting ticket, which allows earlier entry to the Grand Tasting and exclusive access to the VIP area, is available for $175.
The Saratoga Wine and Food Festival is Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s primary fundraiser for its educational programming, including Classical Kids, a collaborative program in which SPAC works with local schools to teach elementary and middle school aged children about the classical performing arts.
Tickets to the festival and more information about the complete festival schedule are available at spac.org; by calling 518-584-9330; or in person at the SPAC Box Office.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A few months into her tenure at the helm of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Elizabeth Sobol explored the venue’s historic stage, the jigsaw pieces of a unique concept formulating in her mind.
“One day I was standing out in the amphitheater and looked up at this massive stage while thinking about this crazy idea,” recalled SPAC’s president and CEO. “I wondered: How many people can we seat up there? As it turns out, it’s 300.”
Earlier this week, the fruition of that “crazy idea” went on full display when the venue hosted the first of four SPAC On Stage events, which spins the performers’ podium 180 degrees and places audience members at the back of the stage to face the musicians. A panoramic of the setting sun. the great lawn of SPAC and the columned architecture of the Hall of Springs lazily recline in the distance.
The four-part series will be staged consecutive Monday nights in August. The grand experiment kicked off Aug. 7 and by all measures of sound and vision was a major success.
“We’re making SPAC history tonight!” Sobol told the audience assembled for the series premiere featuring The Hot Sardines. The ensemble, which boasts triple-horns, sassy vocals and a rhythm section that channels the vintage essence of New York speakeasies, Parisian cabarets and New Orleans jazz halls alike, proved to be a perfect choice.
“Tonight, we’re doing this for the first time together, so let’s let our hair down and have a ton of fun,” Sobol announced, the foundation of a rollicking piano punctuated by the brassy horns of The Hot Sardines.
“Tonight, you can take photographs,” Sobol instructed. “Tonight, you can dance.” Some couples did just that, swooning to the sounds of classic jazz interpretations.
The visuals are splendid, with no seat more than a few meters from the stage, and however it was done, the sound on this night is perfect: each musical intonation easily observed, and the volume boosted at an enjoyable level.
The experience is both intimate and surreal. The lawn and amphitheater, absent of patrons, is eerily quiet, and even the venue’s security detail collectively wear perplexed looks. Audience members are directed to their seats via an ascending staircase at stage left, warmly greeted as if entering a gallant eatery, and are directed to their pre-numbered seats by walking across the historic stage where everyone from Jim Morrison to Mikhail Baryshnikov have strutted their stuff.
The U-shape seating configuration cradles the stage, with a half-dozen or so rows flanking the band podium on either side and a bleacher-type fixture housing seats that climbs at its center.
SPAC on Stage takes place Mondays at 8 p.m. in August. Time for Three will perform Monday, Aug. 14, Black Violin on Aug. 21 (tickets for this show are sold out), and three-time Grammy nominated Afro-Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will conclude the series on Aug. 28.
“When the notion of SPAC on Stage was born, there were bands that I wanted to bring in that I thought would do this so perfectly,” Sobol said. “We’re almost sold out of the whole series and 22 percent of our ticket buyers for this series have never been to SPAC before, so that’s huge. I wanted to introduce a type of music we weren’t really touching on at SPAC and this was the way to do it. You’re bringing the audience out of the amphitheater and onto the stage to be with the artists.” Sobol said audiences can expect the series to be revisited in future seasons.
Time for Three will be showcasing a lot of their new material during their SPAC appearance Aug. 14.
“Inviting the audience on stage to get that close to us is going to be awesome,” said Time for Three founding member Nick Kendall. “I think it plays into the unexpected characteristics of Time for Three. You’ll really get to witness the interplay between the three of us. So much of (our sound) seems like it’s being created in the moment and by being a lot closer you’ll be able to see that interplay that sometimes is missed at a big concert hall or a stadium.
“We have played at SPAC before with the orchestra, so iIt’s going to be really cool to turn that on its head, and bring the audience on stage.”
Time for Three and its three classically trained musicians — violinists Nick Kendall and Charles Yang, and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer defy traditional genre classification. The trio performs music from Bach to Brahms and beyond, playing originals and their own arrangements of everything from bluegrass and folk tunes to mash-ups of hits by the Beatles, Brittany Spears, Kanye West, Katy Perry, and others. The group has performed at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, to the ABC TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”
The variety of venues well suits the SPAC on Stage series as well as the ensemble’s performance chops. “It reflects the energy of our band. We love the surprise nature of it. We’re just as comfortable playing on street corners as we are in concert halls,” said Kendall, adding that the group’s three co-creators inspire a fusion of sound that creates a larger symphonic fourth.
“At the root of my desire in music is the appetite to create,” Kendall said. “There’s such a reciprocal energy, especially with my bandmates when we perform; I’ll go out, spark an energy and if the energy comes back – well, that’s what I live for, whether it’s with another musician or with the audience.”
Monday night the energy created in that magical place between audience and band will be given a whole new sea of possibilities in which to flourish.
Audience filing in to the U-shaped seating configuration during first of four SPAC on Stage performances Aug. 7, 2017. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Stéphane Denève was 11 years old when he sat inside a darkened movie theater and watched a young boy try to help a loveable alien find its way home. Thirty-five years later, that moment continues to carry a special emotional significance for Denève, and one that he hopes to share with thousands of others on Saturday when he stands atop the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, flanked by four HD screens showing Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” and leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in a live musical accompaniment of John Williams’ score.
“I was born in ’71 so I saw the movie when I was 11. I loved it so much I cried in the theater. And during my childhood, I had a poster of ET over my bed,” says the conductor.
When it came to his own daughter, Denève and his wife ensured the first time she saw the film was during the staging of a performance accompanied by the screening of the movie with her father conducting the orchestra. “That was very special, being able to share that with her,” he says. “I was very moved by it.”
Conducting the orchestra in real time while the film is screening is not without its challenges.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m piloting a big plane,” Denève laughs. “The movie is moving forward and so you’re moving forward with it. You cannot stop and say: oh, let me do it again.
“There are hundreds of cues through the movie interpreting the score. It’s fun, of course, but it’s also one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my career because you want to be both precise and expressive,” says Denève, who in June was named as the next music director of the St. Louis Symphony.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s August residency, which kicked off Thursday with Tchaikovsky’s famed 1812 Overture, will run through Aug. 19 with a celebratory “A Night at The Opera.”
“It’s an incredible orchestra. It’s home for them, of course. You feel the connection they have with the audience. Some of the musicians even have their private homes in Saratoga,” Denève says. “You put a group together to do something special and I feel we are creating the tension, the rhythm and the dialogue between the instruments.
“When I am conducting I can feel the energy in the room. The energy of the audience, even though I have my back to them, is essential. You really feel when people are listening and the peak of tension, and attention, in the audience. I find that quite magical.”
Elizabeth Sobol, who is spending her first summer guiding SPAC as the organization’s president and CEO, says she is excited about all of it - from the scheduled appearances of Yo-Yo Ma and Marcus Roberts, closing night’s “breathtaking evening with exquisite arias,” and a night set aside to pay tribute to Gershwin.
“At SPAC you want to be presenting the best of all genres. Gershwin was the ultimate composer who brought popular and classical music together on the knife edge that made it such brilliant, amazing, universal music,“ Sobol says.
Saturday, Aug. 5 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (complete with film). Steven Spielberg's cinematic masterpiece “E.T. The Extra—Terrestrial,” will be shown on four HD screens and accompanied by a live performance of John Williams's Academy Award-winning score.
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s return to its summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center features three weeks of performances. The season, Aug. 2 – 19, encompasses wide-ranging classical and contemporary repertoire, world renowned musicians and conductors, family-oriented multi-media offerings and an opera evening. All performances at 8 p.m.
Some highlights: Friday Aug. 4 - Cirque de la Symphonie; Saturday, Aug. 5 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (complete with film); Wednesday, Aug. 9 - American Classics Day 1. An icon of classical music and arguably the world’s greatest living cellist, Yo-Yo Ma will grace the SPAC stage with his unmatched artistry; Thursday, Aug. 10 - American Classics Day 2. Maestro Marin Alsop n conducts an evening dedicated to the music of cherished American composer George Gershwin. Also: The Marcus Roberts Trio; Friday, Aug. 11 - American Classics Day 3. Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba is comprised of several Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays compositions arranged and orchestrated by Principal Percussion Christopher Deviney; Saturday, Aug. 12 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (complete with film). The film that gave the world one of its greatest movie heroes, Indiana Jones, will make its SPAC debut as John Williams's epic score is performed live; Wednesday, Aug. 16 - Sophisticated Ladies; Thursday, Aug. 17 - French Festival Day 1. Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Grammy Award-nominee Yannick Nézet-Séguin returns to Saratoga to lead the final week of programs; Friday, Aug. 18 - French Festival Day 2; Saturday, Aug. 19 - A Night at the Opera. Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will lead singers from The Metropolitan Opera in an evening of glorious arias and sublime ensembles from the opera repertoire.
The full schedule of SPAC’s programming and events is available at spac.org.
Why We Like Him: With his trademark raspy voice and exemplary musical lineage, Rod Stewart is one of the top-selling singers of the 20th century. Of particular note: his run with the Jeff Beck Group in the 1960s and his stint with The Faces, as well as his solo albums, through the mid-1970s.
Heritage: Born of Scottish and English ancestry. Loves soccer. Knighted by Prince William at Buckingham Palace in 2016.
Set List: Twenty songs. Ten originals. Ten covers.
Visually: Sir Rod looks healthy up against the 72 years he has spent on earth: shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest, swatches of blonde zagging across his scalp, and a voice that mostly still manages fine and complemented on stage by a chorus of back-up singers. His shaggy-hair look also inspired more than a few fans to don Rod The Mod hair-wigs, although for the most part the wigs seemed less like the classic rooster-cut of the ‘70s and more like a Long Island housewife’s beehive hair-do that had been violated by a pair of sheep shears.
Memorable songs performed: The Faces’ “Stay With Me” still maintained some of its original joy-filled intensity, and was supplemented by the kicking of several soccer balls into the crowd. Renditions of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” and Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is The Deepest” were emotionally moving during the evening’s five-song acoustic set. “Maggie May” and “Ooh La La” were not.
Stewart name-checked blues legend Muddy Waters before performing the Hambone Willie Newbern song “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” – which dates back to at least 1929 - dedicated “Young Turks” to World War II servicemen, covered Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” and performed a duet with Cyndi Lauper on The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine.”
“You Wear It Well” brought the crowd to its feet, and “You’re In My Heart” had them swaying, arms waving and taking the lead on the choruses.
Ill-advised: The drum solo during “Forever Young,” featuring two drummers no less, making the most boring thing in rock doubly so. Another low moment occurred when the band, sans Rod, played “Proud Mary” Ike & Tina Turner style - likely meant to be a tribute, but mostly just looked like a foolish parody. Coincidentally, both segments were used to occupy time so that Rod could go backstage and change into another outfit.
Overall: Entertaining, but lacking the emotional passion that set him apart from his peers during the early 1970s when he reigned as king. All the sharp edges were removed from the guitars, the band – in their matching suits and neat styles – looked more like Rod’s wait staff than musical foils, and Rod himself seems destined to grab the title of rock’s version of Wayne Newton. Clearly, he misses Ron Wood, who left to join the Rolling Stones in 1975. It doesn’t look like the Stones are going to give him back any time soon.
Most annoyingly is the known talent that Stewart once promised before he began his descent into the maelstrom of mainstream mediocrity. It was what promptedmusic critic Greil Marcus to proclaim decades ago: “Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely.” Not much has changed.
Why We Like Her: Fun, talented, and charming.
Heritage: Born at Astoria General Hospital and grew up in Ozone Park - both neighborhoods in Queens whose surrounding environs also spawned Tony Bennett, Simon and Garfunkel, Marty Scorsese, three New York Dolls, all four of the Ramones, and Steinway Pianos.
Set List: 11 songs, covering a span of recordings from 1983’s “She’s So Unusual,” to “Detour,” which was released in 2006.
Visually: The show began with Lauper swinging around an oversized traveling trunk while teetering atop a pair of high heel shoes, her dancing form framed by massive video screens that depicted Betty Grable days and classic Horror film nights. During her singing of “She Bop,” perhaps most appropriately, she shucked off her oversized top hat and her shoes and performed the balance of the set in bare feet, alternating between song and stand-up shtick, including a joke of sorts about a Nashville hotel that merged Dolly Parton with the Dalai Lama. She also name-checked Captain Lou Albano.
Memorable songs performed: The set began a bit rough – including one off-key tune which was halted and re-started for which a missing stage prop was blamed - but hit stride mid-way through the set and absolutely took off with the turbo-charged fury of “Money Changes Everything,” the joy-filled “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – which also included pertinent social messages - a charming rendition of “Time After Time,” and an emotionally charged “Not My Father’s Son.” “True Colors,” Lauper’s beautifully haunting ode to humanity, provided the show-closer.
Throughout her set Lauper alternately whirled like a dervish, shared center stage with a dulcimer, and serenaded like a chanteuse. “Have a beautiful summer,” she told the crowd as she exited the stage. “Take care of each other and remember: diversity makes us stronger.” As one clearly moved row-mate inside the amphitheater expressed after Lauper’s finale: She really leaves it all up on that stage.
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 – 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.