In the opinion of this writer, this moment is in many respects the best time ever in the history of the mid-Hudson Valley music scene: more original acts than ever and of greater variety; more local involvement from the many music professionals who live in these hills; and perhaps most importantly, more committed venues of all shapes, sizes and aesthetics.
Venues come and go. In fact, they “go” so easily, and often at such cost, that one wonders what would make anyone want to get involved in the first place. Must be the love of live music and the temporary, for-tonight-only families that shows engender.
Our big theaters continue to challenge, serve and surprise; our restaurants and cafés privilege music as something more than a digestive aid. Mid-sized national-circuit clubs – which always rely on local talent as well – have staked their claim in several of our cities and towns: Kingston, Hudson, Woodstock, Marlboro and Beacon. And as all manner of cramped-quarters, public and ad hoc performance spaces prove, all it takes to make a space a venue is imagination – and an audience.
Maybe because of our proximity to the big city, or maybe because of some mystical properties in the water supply or in the inhaled dust of Shawangunk rock, the quality of players in our region way exceeds any reasonable demographic expectations. The cats playing jazz at your local wine bar, for example, are, more likely than not, real cats. We tend to take this for granted.
Not to seem alarmist, but this year we have sustained quite a few losses on the regional venuescape and comparatively modest gains. It happens. The terrain is ruled by demographic, economic and cultural factors that are impossible to predict. Young people are more likely to go see live music; older people are far more likely to pay for it. What will work is anyone’s guess. As any self-promoting musician will tell you, you simply can’t guilt an audience into coming out; but take this moment to reflect on what kind of culture you want available to you, and what your part is in making that happen.
1391 Route 9W, Marlboro
The Falcon is environmental scientist/musician Tony Falco’s labor of love, a thriving jazz-and-more club that grew entirely out of the owner’s love of music and his many connections in that world. Heavies on the order of Brad Mehldau and Dave Liebman play here regularly, and the roster is filled out by a hand-picked assortment of local notables, established names and up-and-comers, mostly from the New York City jazz, blues, funk, world and roots music scenes. This by-donation-only listening space and restaurant is one of the Valley’s greatest musical treasures, and certainly its most unlikely. For more information, visit www.liveatthefalcon.com.
Woodstock, Phoenicia & Saugerties
Harmony Café at Wok ‘n’ Roll
52 Mill Street, Woodstock
Harmony Café at Wok ’n’ Roll in Woodstock is all-in for live music, with music six nights a week, scheduled weekly events such as open-mic poetry (Mondays), music open mic (Wednesdays) and a dedicated Bluegrass Night on Thursday. All kinds of bands play on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a small venue with a pass-the-hat flavor, but, being in Woodstock, the folks who come out to play tend to be folks who can really play. Check it out at 52 Mill Street in Woodstock. Call (845) 679-7760.
Byrdcliffe Kleinert/James Center for the Arts
36 Tinker Street Woodstock
Art galleries make natural performance spaces, and performance spaces make natural galleries. One of the more congenial for both purposes is the Byrdcliffe Kleinert/James Center for the Arts. The musical programming here is predictably adventurous: avant-garde jazz, new serious music and some Woodstock-flavored folk and roots sounds as well. The spacious performance area is only one of several galleries on-site, so a show at the Kleinert/James is always an edifying, multisensory experience. Call (845) 679-2079 or visit ulsterpub.staging.wpengineguild.org/performance.
120 Maverick Road in Woodstock
Woodstock’s Maverick Concert Series is celebrating its centennial as one of the most challenging and imaginative serious chamber music programs anywhere. In recent years, it has relaxed the definition of “serious” to include serious jazz and children’s music; but range and outsider, maverick thinking are Maverick’s calling card. Maverick Concerts continue the vision of Hervey White, founder of the Maverick Art Colony. Artists and other volunteers built the hand-hewn “music chapel” in 1916, and the Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. See the full concert schedule at www.maverickconcerts.org.
The Barn at Levon Helm Studios
160 Plochmann Lane, Woodstock
At Levon’s Barn studio, the Rambles roll on, as well as other programs, master classes and, of course, recording sessions. In an area with quite a few boutique small venues, this one might be the crown jewel. The Rambles are legendary both for their celebrity guests, the A-list house band and the intimacy and heightened vibe of the shows. The Ramble team is also to be commended for bringing the cream of the local talent in on the fun. Visit www.levonhelm.com.
The Bearsville Theater
291 Tinker Street, Woodstock
The Bearsville Theater needs no introduction beyond the iconic Elliot Landy photographs that grace its walls: portraits not just of Bob Dylan and the Band, but of Dylan and the Band in Woodstock, in ’69, at the height of their creative powers (and their good looks). Welcome to Woodstock. But the Bearsville is not tyrannized by its own legacy. It is actually two venues in one: the theater proper and the lounge, a comfortably appointed, spacious and vibey club that hosts lots of the best local acts, as well as up-and-coming national performers. The Bearsville received a big jolt recently when the New York City titan Bowery Presents took over the lion’s share of the booking. This has led to an infusion of younger acts and alternative styles, but by no means has it driven out the Bearsville’s bread-and-butter of classic rock, reggae and world music, fusion and blowout tributes and celebrations featuring Woodstock’s incomparable stable of ace players. Visit the Bearsville Theater at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock. For more information, call (845) 679-4406 or visit http://bearsvilletheater.com.
Catskill Mountain Pizza Company
51 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock
Here’s one that has quietly crept into the venue game and made a big splash. Woodstock’s premier pizzeria is now hosting music many nights a week: bluegrass on Tuesdays, jazz on Wednesday and a rock mix on the weekends, featuring the region’s incomparable reserve of great players. Visit www.catskillmountainpizza.com or call (845) 679-7969.
The Empire State Railway Museum
70 Lower High Street, Phoenicia
The Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia is the site of approximately 12 intimate musical performances annually, produced by Flying Cat Music. The series presents national and touring acts in the roots/Americana vein in the acoustically exquisite, dark-wood-paneled passenger waiting room of the Empire State Railway Museum. Built in 1899, the Museum accommodates approximately 50 people for performances. Visit http://flyingcatmusic.com.
136 Partition Street, Saugerties
Cue in Saugerties is proof positive that it’s the commitment to music, not the physical space, that makes a venue. The authentic barbecue joint is a seasonal venue: On summer nights they roll a PA system out onto the gravel of the patio bar and some of the region’s best singer/songwriters play to the often-unsuspecting diners. For more information, call (845) 246-4283 or visit www.cueshack.com.
323 Wall Street, Kingston
If you want to know what kind of perseverance, commitment and competence are required to make a serious alternative music club happen, look no further than the Lounge at Backstage Studio Productions, a/k/a BSP. This Uptown Kingston club has weathered a lot of difficulty to become what it is now – which is to say a stylish, vibey mid-sized venue with one of the best sound systems (and sound guys) around, and one of the most diverse-but-purposeful talent rosters as well: heavy on both the local and the national in perfectly paired bills. It has had a great deal of success luring in the many professional acts who call the region home, from Rebecca Martin and Larry Grenadier to Richard Buckner, the Felice Brothers, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby. BSP taps the indie-rock buzzsphere as well as anyone, booking many giants of the scene on their way up: Lucius, Future Islands, Mac DeMarco, Perfume Genius and many more. Indie rock, alt/country, electronica, primitivist blues and rock, sleaze punk, avant-garde and just about anything but classic rock and mainstream singer/songwriter play here regularly. BSP has quickly established itself as the seat of the Alternative in the Hudson Valley. For more information, call (845) 481-5158 or visit http://bsplounge.com.
744/746 Broadway, Kingston
The Anchor has stabilized things on the site of Kingston’s former hard and wild rock institution, the Basement. This burger restaurant, “gastropub” and event venue is fully committed to live music, featuring some of the punk, metal and devilbilly insanity that was the Basement’s specialty, but branching out widely from there to include all of the top local talents and touring acts as well. Call (845) 853-8124 or visit www.facebook.com/theanchorkingston.
The Anvil Gallery at Tech Smiths
45 North Front Street, Kingston
The very existence of the Anvil Gallery is a testament to the wildly eclectic interests and competencies of its proprietors, the husband-and-wife team of the writer Sari Botton and the computer technician Brian Macaluso. Now they fix computers, curate art shows and host intimate music performances in the stylish front of their computer shop on North Front Street. Botton and Macaluso are active local musicians as well. Call (845) 443-4866 or visit www.tech-smiths.com/anvil-gallery.
20 St. James Street, Kingston
Kingston’s own happening microbrewery is also a well-established music venue that offers mostly good tunes to drink by: original rock and blues, funk and roots and occasional visits from some Woodstock-scene luminaries like Pete Levin or his famous bass-playing brutha. It’s a raucous, generous, peanut-strewn scene with some good beer. Call (845) 331-2739 or visit www.keeganales.com.