What has Paul Green been doing since he stumbled into the idea that made him the Jack Black character from Richard Linklater’s now-classic movie School of Rock? He started various versions of the school concept illustrated in the film. He worked with Michael Lang, producer of the Woodstock Festivals in 1969, 1994 and 1999, on several ventures, including some concert versions of the proverbial school idea. Perhaps most importantly, Green moved to Woodstock and has gotten involved in the local community and its arts scene. This weekend, his first big fruits ripen when the century-plus-old Byrdcliffe Colony holds its first-ever three-day Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts.
Of course, we’re saying “first-ever” only in terms of the 21st century and present day, as well as in terms of a festival proper (as if the regular offerings Byrdcliffe presents year-in and year-out don’t count for bupkis). In its initial years, from 1904 through the 1920s, Byrdcliffe hosted some of our nation’s top artists, who read and performed regularly: Think Isadora Duncan, or Thornton Wilder of Our Town fame. Much later, from the 1950s into the 1970s, there was an opera company in residence in the Byrdcliffe Theater, and Bob Dylan lived just off-campus, as it were.
More recently, there have been flamenco and other dance festivals, more theater, music recordings by top new artists and plenty of esoteric works being hatched and often performed on-site – but not the way that Green has worked it for the Byrdcliffe Festival that is set to unfold this Friday through Sunday, July 13 to 15.
“I’ve spent my life in the arts. From playing in bands as a young man to founding School of Rock, my primary aim has been to create and teach music. At School of Rock, I enjoyed wonderful opportunities to participate in so many artistic pursuits: music festivals, motion pictures, magazines, records and more. All of this eventually led me to Woodstock, a place that I am immensely proud to call home,” Green said. “We have come together in harmony to build an event emblematic of our little corner of the world, and I am tremendously excited to share it with all of you.”
The idea, as seems only natural, is quite simple, really: to showcase local arts organizations and their artists. The result? Seventeen separate events featuring collaborative, solo and group presentations by Clyde Forth Visual Theater, Garry Kvistad’s Drum Boogie Festival, Happy Traum, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, VOICETheatre, the Woodstock Film Festival, the Woodstock Players, the Woodstock Writers’ Festival and others at the Byrdcliffe Theater, the Byrdcliffe Barn, the Kleinert/James Arts Center, the Colony Cafe and other locales around town.
There will be an interactive opera soiree with Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice organizers Maria Todaro, Louis Otey and Kerry Henderson; a Happy Traum concert celebrating the birthday of Woody Guthrie, featuring lots of special surprise guests; and a repeat performance of the fabulous new Carey Harrison play, starring Ulster Publishing’s own Violet Snow, that wowed audiences at Byrdcliffe in a Woodstock Players performance just weeks ago. There will be a “Memoir à Go-Go” panel with four New York Times best-selling authors and a social media how-to workshop from the Woodstock Writers’ Festival.
Have you seen Clyde Forth’s troupe yet, or heard legendary percussionist Garry Kvistad’s Drum Boogie (he of Steve Reich Drumming and Woodstock Percussion fame)? The Woodstock Film Festival is hosting a special screening of local screenwriting legend Ron Nyswaner’s Why Stop Now, starring Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo, as well as Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan, with writer/director Phil Dorling on hand for questions and answers.
Storyteller and novelist Gioia Timpanelli will weave her special magic. Tracey Bonham is doing a concert, and teenage mentalist extraordinaire Lucas Handwerker will play with audience minds. Green himself is playing guitar with a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar, whose original stage director hatched a lot of his creative ideas in Woodstock some 40-plus years ago.
“This initiative sprang from a stated but undefined desire on our part to organize some kind of arts festival that would exemplify the spirit of Byrdcliffe in a contemporary way,” says Byrdcliffe executive director Matthew Leaycraft, in between updates on the continuing arts colony’s filled-to-capacity summer season of residents, along with a full schedule of events, self-produced and hosted, in the organization’s various venues this summer. “This incubated over a year or so and then sprang to life as a group of extraordinarily talented people spontaneously came together in a creative field of energy that has characterized Byrdcliffe from its founding in 1902. It is our hope that the Festival will offer an artistically rich and varied experience for the public through works both contemporary and traditional, and it’s been a true pleasure and a real honor to bring together the talents of all of our participants.”
The first-ever three-day Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts will be held this Friday through Sunday, July 13 to 15. A full listing of the events calendar, pricing, locales and times can be viewed at the website https://byrdcliffefestival.org. For further information, call Byrdcliffe at its Woodstock village offices at (845) 679-2079, or just head through town and up to the colony on Mount Guardian.