Even though they’ve lived in the Catskills for a quarter-century, recorded much of their music here and even shot some of their most popular music videos in Phoenicia, Woodstock and Plattekill, among other sites, the B-52s have never played a hometown gig in Ulster County. According to Kate Pierson – who also owns a très chic retro motel by the banks of the Esopus in Mount Tremper – they were set to play Kingston once, until word got out that they were going to be introduced by a drag queen. “This kerfuffle broke out, and it ended up being the only show ever canceled on us in our 35 years on the road,” the peppy singer added.
That just adds an even-more-special air to their upcoming gig at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston this Sunday night, October 2. “Everyone I know is going,” added Pierson, who lives in Woodstock.
We asked how the group that started the whole Athens, Georgia music scene got to be associated with our area, and Pierson talked about a dark time in the history of what’s now touted as the “World’s Greatest Party Band.” It was 1986, and original guitarist Ricky Wilson, whose sister Cindy has shared lead vocals with Pierson and Fred Schneider off and on over the years, had just passed away as an early AIDS victim. Everyone had been living in New York City since driving up from Georgia to play a few party gigs in the late 1970s.
“I really loved living in the country, and our friend Laura Levine [who now owns the Mystery Spot in Phoenicia] invited us up for the weekend,” Pierson remembered. “Keith [Strickland] started looking around for a place, and I happened to see this cabin I fell in love with. I’ve been up here ever since.”
Working up here, Strickland – who had shifted over from drums to guitar after moving high onto the side of a mountain in Wittenberg – started coming up with the music for what would become “Cosmic Thing,” their first major mainstream hit. They shot the video for Channel Z in the area; and then “Love Shack” was put together on the property of two friends, Philip Maberry and Scott Walker, down near Plattekill, in the southern half of Ulster County. The next album, Good Stuff, was written completely in the area, and then partially recorded at Jerry Marotta’s studio in West Hurley. More recently, their last CD, Funplex, was half-recorded at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck.
“I remember running through the woods at Cooper Lake in a wig and high heels, then shooting a crazy circle dance around a bonfire on the Comeau Property in Woodstock, worrying that someone was going to fall into the flames,” Pierson remembered with a fond laugh, “or walking down Main Street in Phoenicia all decked out in silver outfits and huge wigs…I really felt like an alien for that!”
More recently, Pierson came upon an old motel by the Esopus off Route 28 and thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun and great to have my own cool little retreat?” She speaks of the beauty of the property; the goldfinches that flitted about in the lazy meadow for which the place was named; salvaging everything that could be salvaged and then bringing Maberry and Walker and other artist friends in to give the place the perfect retro/fun look, complete with a collection of Airstream trailers.
The decorating of Kate’s Lazy Meadow, Pierson says, was a joy; getting everything in order for occupation, including several outlying properties, was more difficult. And the flooding that has occurred periodically ever since, including the recent ravages of Irene, has been disheartening, she says. For now, the trailers have been moved away to higher ground, and those areas damaged by high waters and debris have been repaired. Several couples, Pierson notes, asked to stay on during the power outages that followed the rain. She adds that, were she and the B-52s not on the road so much just now, she’d want to be doing more benefits locally for those who suffered these recent weeks: those who lost more.
So we ask how it has felt living in the Catskills all these years (Strickland moved to Key West seven years ago), and whether she or her bandmates ever thought that they’d still be touring 35 years after getting their start at a friend’s Valentine’s Day party down in Athens, Georgia. “I thought at the time we might get a gig at a party over in Atlanta,” Person remembers. “We didn’t have a great plan. We just started blazing this trail; our friends came out…” which led to “Rock Lobster,” “52 Girls,” “Strobe Light,” “Private Idaho,” “Give Me Back My Man,” “Summer of Love,” “Roam,” “Deadbeat Club,” “Is That You, Mo-Dean?” and even a remake of the theme to The Flintstones. All are super-fun, upbeat and as full of endless hope as any music made in the last century; all Good Stuff with a nice local edge.
The B-52s play at UPAC this Sunday, October 2 at 7 p.m., with local favorite Big Sister opening. Purchase tickets at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or through TicketMaster at www.ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000. For more information call (845) 473-5288 or visit www.bardavon.org.