When you’re talking with booking agents constantly, says Chris Silva, executive director of the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, you get a steady stream of offers for acts who are passing through the Hudson Valley. But when Carlos Santana’s booking agent called Stephen LaMarca [the Bardavon’s director of production] and said, “You wouldn’t be interested in Santana…would you?” it took LaMarca and Silva back a bit. “He’s much larger than what we usually do – biggest fee, biggest show – but it all fell into place,” Silva explained. “It has emboldened us. Nothing’s really off the plate now – even artists that normally book Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center.”
Carlos Santana brings his soulful guitar and immediately recognizable Latin-tinged music to the Bardavon stage in Poughkeepsie on Sunday evening, April 10, and the concert in the intimate venue is, in fact, just three nights before he plays at Madison Square Garden. “Our Gala has a huge impact on our total operating budget,” says Silva. “It allows us to offer programs for children, seniors and to fund the symphony programs: all things not normally covered by ticket sales. We couldn’t do them otherwise. The Gala is a major deal for us, and its proceeds raise five to ten percent of our entire budget.”
Silva has been at the helm of the Bardavon since 1994, when he first started at the Poughkeepsie theater, and now runs both that venue and the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston, as well as the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, which became part of the Bardavon in 1999. The oldest continuously operating theater in New York State, the Bardavon is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Both theaters are anchors in their respective communities – not only as arts organizations, but also as prime players in the economic revitalizations of their urban neighborhoods. “They would be much sadder places without us. UPAC was like an empty warehouse back in the ’90s. People would drive by and say, ‘What’s that?’ because it was so dilapidated. [Its restoration] is a really positive thing, and it’s paying off for the community,” says Silva.
“The challenge is always fundraising, and 40 percent of our entire operation depends upon charitable giving. UPAC is earning money now, too,” Silva adds, acknowledging that many non-profits find it difficult to maintain their operations. But here, the merger between UPAC and the Bardavon, and the subsequent addition of the Philharmonic, eventually created a stronger foundation for the organization. The operating budget is now about $3.6 million: a dramatic growth from $880,000 about 20 years ago.
This year, work on the air conditioning and ventilation system at UPAC will be finalized, and plans are underway to upgrade the restrooms, too: a $4 million project. There’s only one restroom on the first floor for a 1,000-seat venue, and it was sort of an add-on to begin with, says Silva.
Surprises are part of his daily landscape, and keep things interesting. “We just booked STOMP about ten days ago. It turned out that the producer is someone I worked with in the City 30 years ago,” says Silva, who spent his career working in the arts and booking shows, often as a freelancer, before his tenure began at the Bardavon. Now, he says, compared to the serious responsibilities of fundraising and running the organization, promoting shows is “the fun part.”
Most of the people who work at the two theaters have been with the organization for many years, “and it’s a fun place to work. We laugh a lot. The most amazing part is the excitement about the artists we are able to present,” he says. When we spoke, Silva was about to step onstage to welcome 150 new US citizens who had arrived to attend a naturalization ceremony. “Dylan has been here four times for rehearsals,” he says, with enthusiasm. “I’m a Dylan freak, and I’d clear the decks for him. But what I think, my taste, doesn’t matter as much as, ‘Do we have an audience for a show?’ Sometimes we take chances, and Meat Loaf, for instance, was risky. It was a Monday-night show, and we were all wondering how it would go. But he had a great band, the show sold out and the audience had a great time.”
Carlos Santana has claimed center stage in our collective musical melting pot for more than 40 years, and to say that his appearance on Sunday evening at the Bardavon is eagerly anticipated is an understatement. Since he first gained attention with his Latin rock fusion band in San Francisco, he has earned ten Grammy Awards, three Latin Grammy Awards and shared the stage and the recording studio with renowned musicians of all genres. On April 15, his new recording, Santana IV, will be released; it reunites, for the first time since 1971, the original band that recorded the multi-platinum Santana III.
Santana’s illustrious recording and performing successes have allowed him to devote resources to humanitarian causes and social activism, too. He and his family established the Milagro (“Miracle”) Foundation in 1998, and since then have contributed over $5 million to nonprofit organizations that support underserved children and youth in the arts, education and health.
Following the Santana concert on Sunday evening, Gala guests will join a parade of musicians to the after-show party at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel. There, the salsa of Soñando and the musicians and dancers of Mexican Music Award-winners Jarana Beat will play, along with entertainment from stiltwalkers, acrobats and a contortionist from the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
Definitely the hottest ticket in the Hudson Valley this weekend.
Bardavon Gala 2016: An Evening with Santana, Sunday, April 10, 7 p.m., $225-$275, Bardavon 1869 Opera House, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 473-2072, www.bardavon.org.