The erection of the San Severia spiegeltent, a picturesque relic of turn-of-the-20th-century Belgium, on the site of the Midtown Kingston Farmers’ Market in mid-May has instantly transformed a lackluster area of the city into a vibrant happening of musical performances. Noteworthy performers are scheduled every Thursday through Sunday through the summer. Kerry Henderson, a professional opera singer and talented arts organizer – he co-founded the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice four years ago – is planning a Festival of the Arts in Kingston on August 24, and he has gotten a huge running start with the programming that he’s doing for the tent, which is located on Broadway between Henry and Cedar Streets.
Coming up July 7 are Thomas Bong and Joakin, who play world music; cabaret singer Nancy Tierney and “the boys” on July 11; Trio Loco on July 12; and improvisational jazz group Mr. Gone, with pianist Neil Alexander, on July 13. Also planned are worldbeat dance parties.
On August 24, the day of the citywide arts festival, Bon Appetit, an opera by Lee Hoiby in which Julia Child bakes a chocolate cake, will be performed in the tent, accompanied by a chocolate cake bakeoff and judging by a panel that includes mayor Shayne Gallo and Lisa Jablow, an opera singer who performs with the New York City Opera and will star as Julia Child.
Planners, concerned citizens and the city politicians have been meeting for years now to try to figure out how to beautify and energize the depressing Broadway “corridor,” as it’s called. But in one stroke, Bob Airhart, owner of Spiegeltent Productions, accomplished a minor miracle by putting up one of his company’s tents. With its hand-carved and painted wooden façade and walls, beveled mirrors (spiegeltent is Dutch for “mirrored tent”) and red velvet-canopied booths, San Severia is a destination in itself.
Airhart works closely with the Belgian family that owns the tents, Liliane and Rik Klessens, to promote their use in America. (He oversees three tents, including the spiegeltent at Bard College, where he worked for 11 years before starting his own company.) San Severia was built by Rik’s grandfather in Ghent, Belgium, back in 1890; all of the woodwork, mirrors and paintings are original.
Airhart, who lives in Kingston with his family, decided to donate a tent for the summer out of his own pocket as a labor of love for Midtown. He met Henderson, who had rented a gallery on Wall Street as an exhibition space and headquarters for his Festival for the Arts, at a Kingston Uptown Business Association. It was a meeting of like minds, and Henderson now had a venue in which he could program performances. He put out a call to artists right away, and in a week or two was up and running.