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 – 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 —Drawing inspiration from everyone from Bob Dylan to Raymond Chandler, Tom Waits has merged song and monologue into a distorted vaudevillian kaleidoscope for the past 40 years.
This weekend, Michael Eck hosts an evening of Waits’ songs performed by Capital District artists. Show headliner Sean Rowe - known internationally for his powerful original songs and raw baritone voice – will be joined by blues man Mark Tolstrup, literary word-slinger Thomas Dimopoulos, and Elrod, Motherjudge, McWatters - a powerhouse trio assembled specifically for The Heart of Saturday Night. Also performing is Girl Blue - the latest breakout from Albany’s fertile new music scene – who will stage her Caffè Lena debut in advance of her show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom.
Host Michael Eck will join in with the beautiful maladies, singing between acts. Waits’ gruff voice imagery and roots rock catalog has inspired generations of musicians.
The Waits bio: “By turns tender and poignant, to strange and twisted, his songs tend to explore the dark underbelly of society as he gives his uniquely human voice to adventurers both romantic and mercenary, drifters, con artists and those forgotten characters on the fringe and in the fray.”
The Heart of Saturday Night: Songs of Tom Waits will be staged 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at Caffè Lena. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime. Desserts, light fare, FTO coffee, beer & wine will be offered. General Admission is $20, café members: $18, and student/ child: $10. Call 518-583-0022, or go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2724524
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Check, one. Check, two. Check. Check. Check.
If Bobby Carlton was trying to confuse the wait staff inside the redbrick bistro that boasts creative food, craft drinks and live music, it clearly wasn’t working.
Armed with their three Fender instruments – two guitars and a bass, their boxes of special effects – seven soundwave bending foot-pedals, and the back-beat thwomps of a drummer gluing it all together, Dryer celebrated the release of their new five-song EP at One Caroline last weekend, showcasing the harmonious weavings of punk-driven power chords and melodious hooks that the band has brought to the nation’s stages the past 24 years.
“We’re still a dirty bar venue kind of band playing loud rock music,” said Carlton, who co-founded Dryer with bassist Rachael Sunday in 1992, soon after she had left Skidmore College and was working at Strawberries record shop on Broadway. Drummer Joel Lilley joined the group in 1993.
“It’s really crazy. I didn’t know a band could go that long,” the guitar player said, laughing. “We did what we could do in the time we were a touring band, and we had some great experiences. We were able to tour the U.S. several times and we slept on a lot of floors, played a lot of clubs and got to meet some shady people.”
After a decade of touring and recording, the threesome broke up in 2002. The owner of a New Jersey-based record label convinced them to reform for what was to be a one-off show at Putnam Den in 2010. “At that time it meant calling Rachael, who I hadn’t talked to in eight years, and asking if she’d be into it. So, I threw it out there and surprisingly Joel and Rachael were both on board to do the show. The turnout was so huge that we were like: Oh, people really do enjoy Dryer. So we just started playing together again.”
In 2014, the band added guitar player Brian Akey, who had played with the Massachusetts based band Winterpills. “They were the darlings of the New York Times for a while. Brian moved to Saratoga Springs and someone introduced us,” recalled Carlton. “He just came up one night and expressed interest in playing with Dryer. We’d been a three-piece band for 20 years and never strayed from that, but when Brian came in I was excited about the idea of having another guitar player,” Carlton explained. “Here’s the thing: I know exactly what kind of guitar player I am. I’m not real proficient, but I know about power chords, so I like the idea of having this whole other layer of guitars – and it really works.” The showcase of sound blends raw riffs, sweet vocals and an underlay of melody-laced guitaristry. “The moment Brian came in it opened things up quite a bit and changed the landscape. It makes it more fun.”
The band’s four-member interplay is evident in both their live sets and the new five-song EP. “Bright Moon, Bright Sun,” which marks Dryer’s first issue as a quartet and its first overall release of new music since 2002. Now nearing the quarter-century mark since the band’s formation means finding a new way for the creative mind. “You have to adjust. For me, I cut my teeth on punk rock music coming out of the city – basement shows and CBGB’s in the early days and the whole D.C. scene, so that part still is there for me. I think if I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t want to be playing music anymore in this capacity,” Carlton said. “I might stay at home, Instagram a photo here and there of me playing a song. But, I’m still playing shows, I’m still traveling to clubs and I think that comes from the fact that I grew up in that era of punk rock music. The Ramones and The Descendants were huge inspirations for me. They had that ‘Get out and do it, no matter how old you are’ attitude.
“You know you can choose to sit home and do nothing – which is fine – but that’s not me. We’re still doing it at a capacity that’s good for us,” he said. “When I was in my twenties and Dryer was touring, I was sleeping on a dirty floor and thinking: oh man, I’m in Michigan, playing a rock show. I made it! But now, I’m still being creative and I’m sleeping in my own bed at night. That to me is making it.”
“Bright Moon, Bright Sun” is available on a variety of digital streaming sites, and the band has plans to release the tracks on a vinyl format in the future. For more information, visit: https://dryerrockmusic.com/