SARATOGA SPRINGS – Bolstered by now-classic performances of the songs “Maggie May,” “Mandolin Wind,” the album’s title track, and a moving rendition of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe,” Rod Stewart’s 1971 solo album “Every Picture Tells a Story” will receive the Rochmon treatment at Caffe Lena on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Rochmon Record Club gathers once a month under the guidance of music savant Chuck Vosganian, who selects one ground-breaking rock or pop album to dig deep and wide in creating an entertaining, illuminating program of anecdotes, biographical, technical information and photos.
Stewart, accompanied by Ronnie Wood, was ascending to the height of his powers with “Every Picture Tells a Story”- an album cranky rock scribe Robert Christgau graded with an A-plus with extra credit for Rod the Mod’s ability of being “tawdry enough to revel in stellar pop-and-flash” while able to “refine the rock sensibility without processing the life out of it.”
Doors at 6:30 p.m., presentation begins at 7, and a $5 donation is suggested. Donations go to the restoration funds of Caffe’ Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.
ALBANY – Saratoga Springs native Ashley Bathgate – whose cello stylings have garnered acclaim by everyone from the New York Times (an “eloquent new music interpreter,”) to the Washington Post (“a glorious cellist’), returns to the region for a performance at The Egg, at the Empire State Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Last seen in these parts coaxing ethereal tones from the strings of her cello and slicing the air with resonating vibrations in a 2016 performance at the Tang Museum, Bathgate – a 2002 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School - will perform an entirely new series of reflections inspired by the Unaccompanied Cello Suites of J.S. Bach. The work incorporates extended performance techniques, live electronics, and external media resulting in a radical deconstruction and re-imagination of the original music.
Concert showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28. Students are $14 at the door – and special group rates are also available. For more information on the concert, group sales and a special lecture/demonstration call: THE EGG BOX OFFICE: 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
In addition to the concert, Bathgate will be conducting a cello technique demonstration and master class at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18 at The Egg, where she will provide insight into her approach to playing the cello – both in the traditional manner as well as how she utilizes electronics that comprise “Bach Unwound.” This event is free and open to the public.
Friday, Aug. 25 – matchbox twenty, Counting Crows at SPAC.
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Luke Bryan at SPAC.
Aug. 27 - Caffè Lena at SPAC: Let's Be Leonard (1 p.m.); Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers (2:30 p.m.); Soul Inscribed (4 p.m.) – Gazebo Stage at SPAC, free.
Aug. 30 – Sting at SPAC.
Sept. 2 – Zac Brown Band at SPAC.
Sept. 12 – Boz Scaggs at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
Sept. 15 to 17 – Fresh Grass at Mass Moca featuring Bill Frisell, the Suitcase Junket, The Mammals and others.
Sept. 16 – Irish 2000 Festival at Saratoga County Fairgrounds featuring Hair of the Dog, The McKrells, and others.
Sept. 19 - The Rochmon Record Club presents the classic 1976 album “Hotel California” by the Eagles at Caffe’ Lena.
Sept. 23 – Roger Waters at the Times Union Center, Albany.
Oct. 8 – Psychedelic Furs at Upstate Concert Hall, Clifton Park.
Oct. 8 – Stephen Stills, Judy Collins at The Egg, Albany.
Oct. 13 – Lisa Fischer at The Egg, Albany.
Oct. 28 – Loudon Wainwright III at the Swyer Theatre, Albany.
Oct. 29 – Renaissance at The Egg, Albany.
Nov. 4 – Cowboy Junkies at the Swyer Theatre, Albany.
Nov. 8-9 – King Crimson at the Swyer Theatre, Albany.
Nov. 14 – The Beach Boys at Proctors, Schenectady.
Nov. 17 – David Crosby at The Egg, Albany.
Nov. 18 – Ashley Bathgate at the Swyer Theatre, Albany.
Dec. 1 – Richard Thompson at the Swyer Theatre, Albany.
Dec. 27 – Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Times Union Center, Albany.
*Note: not all shows listed have officially been confirmed.
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 – What was the first song you heard that opened up a whole new world of possibilities? What was the most memorable concert you attended that remains a fond memory to this day?
Come a share an evening of stories celebrating the history of rock and roll in Saratoga and beyond in a free public forum from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9 at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Ever since 1956, when Elvis first shook his hips into the living rooms of America, rock and roll has had a powerful impact in shaping our world.
Where you there the night Phish played at a small club on Caroline Street in 1990? How about that summer night in 1984 when Bruce Springsteen stopped the rain? Were you among the 30,000-plus who saw The Who at SPAC, or in the crowd of 40,000 who partied to the sounds of the Grateful Dead at the venue in 1985? The Allman Brothers at Skidmore College? U2 at the Saratoga Casino?
The Jean Stamm Memorial Event will be held at the H. Dutcher Community Room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library at 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs and will be followed by an open mic featuring any audience members willing to share their own special moments.
The free event will be moderated by journalist Thomas Dimopoulos and will feature George Demers, Joe Deuel, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Greg Haymes, Robert Millis, Larry Wies and other guests.
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.
Where did you grow up and what helped shape you creatively?
I was born in Dallas, Texas, and moved to Saratoga Springs when I was around 10 years old. My earliest memories include my mom taking my brother and I to art museums, and driving around in the front seat of my dad's pickup truck, because the backseat was too full of construction tools. In large ways and small, my mom and dad would always put me at the intersection of inspiration and the possibility to make something... so I was off to a good start.
I couldn't read or write until I was around eight because of a learning disability, and that was incredibly discouraging for me throughout my time in school. As a result, I always gravitated towards expressing myself through art in some capacity.
How does the creative process work for you?
It's incredibly unpredictable. Sometimes things will begin to crystalize after I've been sitting with the guitar for a little while, and other times fully formed choruses will erupt in my head - lyrics and all. I've written songs in the car and in the shower, but many of them were born in the middle of the night on my bedroom floor. Just in case, I always try to carry a notebook with me.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned traveling around the world?
The world is on your side, if you'll let it be. People want to connect with one another and help each other. When I've trusted that, and approached others with kindness, curiosity and enthusiasm, I've heard beautiful stories and had incredible conversations and have made wonderful friends. Even when bad things happened, they only opened up more room for the good in people to flourish and be seen.
On Sunday night, your homecoming will be celebrated with a concert at Caffè Lena. What can people coming to the show expect?
It's been about two years since I've played a proper show in Saratoga, so I want it to be a blast for everyone, and unique. I'll be playing songs new and old. I'm toying with the idea of playing the first song I ever played at Caffè Lena's open mic when I was 17. It might be a little embarrassing, hahaha. I attended the open mics religiously as a teenager. I would sit with other musicians in the greenroom and they would teach me cool things I could try on guitar, or we would talk about a song I was working on. The whole night is going to be really special to me, and I'm hoping everyone feels that.
Folks attending will also be given a CD with an exclusive preview of your next record.
Often we only see the finished product, and Caffè Lena is where I learned to value and fully engage with the process of writing songs. The process of writing was made so special because of the people I met there, and I thought it would be fun and appropriate to share a work "in process."
MaryLeigh Roohan will perform at Caffè Lena at 7 p.m. on Sunday June 25. Tickets are $14 general public, $12 café members and $7 students and kids.
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 – 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.