At first glance, not much looks different about the new Bearsville Theater eblasts. The line up mixes in Miss Angie’s Karaoke Reunion with a Reggae For Life benefit last weekend, along with upcoming Burnell Pines and Bob Dylan tribute B-Day concerts with record release parties and a Steely Dan tribute night and theatrical renditions of two classic albums.
But then things start to shift with nights given over to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and newer band names like Langhorne Slim, Reptar, Strand of Oaks and Hiss Golden Messenger.
Hello to the new Woodstock Commune version of the old theater, reimagined to the tune of a new booking agreement with New York-based The Bowery Presents.
How did the new partnership with Bowery Presents, who have built up a lineup of clubs that includes New York’s Bowery Ballroom, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Mercury Lounge, Terminal 5 and Rough Trade NYC, as well as sites in Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Portland, Maine, come about?
“My partner Jim Glancy and I have talked over the years about opening a venue upstate someday; after meeting Nicolas [Woodstock Commune’s on-site partner/operator Nicolas Geeraerts] and hearing his vision for Woodstock Commune and how the Theater fits into this, we felt the stars had aligned,” noted Bowery partner John Moore in a recent press release announcing the new partnership. “We are very excited to carry on what Albert Grossman started in the ‘60’s with Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin and so many others who made pilgrimages to Woodstock.”
“We are so excited to partner with Bowery Presents, which plays such an important role in the independent music scene,” added Geeraerts in the same release from the newly renamed Woodstock Commune complex that includes all that Grossman started. “The collaboration is part of a larger revitalization of the property, which not only includes the Theater, but also the historic Bear Café and hip newcomer Commune Saloon with its large bluestone patio.”
In a separate interview, Geeraerts said that studio technician and producer Pete Caigan, who had been working out of the Colony Cafe before being hired to retool the Bearsville Theater and start booking concerts this past January, will be continuing on as the theater’s operations director and sound engineer. Furthermore, he added that he and Caigan would also continue booking “fill in” evenings outside the 100 plus nights a yearthat Bowery Presents is planning to start booking.
“We’ll be running acts four nights each week, Thursday through Sunday,” Geeraerts said.
Booking though Bowery
Not quite so sanguine about it all appears to be WDST, Radio Woodstock 100.1 FM, which had been programming the theater across the alley from its studios for most of its bigger shows in recent years, lending what had been known for years as the Bearsville Complex its home town feel.
“For the past 15 years, Radio Woodstock and Chet 5 Productions have brought memorable concerts, performances and community events to the Bearsville Theatre. So naturally, we were disappointed that the new owners of the Bearsville Theater entered into an exclusive arrangement with NYC based promoter, Bowery Presents, for national bands,” noted Radio Woodstock owner Gary Chetkof in an email about the booking changes. “During our eight months of negotiations we were always assured that they were not interested in an exclusive relationship with anyone, so it took us by surprise when we learned the nature of the deal. That said, we are very proud of our longstanding success and the many great times we had in serving this arts and music loving community.”
Geeraerts noted that WDST could continue booking at the theater…but only through Bowery Presents. “We’ll continue working hand in hand, trying to keep the Bearsville musical legacy alive…” Geeraerts said. “As far as I know everything is on a good keel.”
“We wish the new team much success in their new venture and Radio Woodstock anticipates being a marketing resource to help promote their shows,” said Chetkof in his email. “Looking forward, Radio Woodstock will soon announce details on our new Live Events division and our plans to continue to bring great music and unique entertainment to a range of venues in the Hudson Valley. Up next, the Craft Brew Boogaloo this Saturday, May 23 at Cantine Field in Saugerties and then Mountain Jam Festival, June 4-7 at Hunter Mountain.”
An untapped scene
As for the origins of the new deal, Glancy said that by having kept a home in the area for many years, he had long been aware of Bearsville.
“They wanted to be in the Hudson Valley market and were looking for the right venue. Then we got introduced through a mutual friend,” Geerearts continued. “We found that we both liked the same food, the same music, and knew many of the same people. And we decided we both wanted to bring this back to what Albert [Grossman, who created the complex and is buried on the property] wanted here in the first place, with a strong mix of indie, folkie, jamy kinds of music.”
Doing the actual booking for Bearsville, Bowery Presents has announced, will be Sebastian Freed, “who reps the owners” according to Geerearts.
“I’ve been up there a lot throughout the years, and then went up more completely a few weeks ago. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley,” Freed said of his new venue. “What’s our market? I don’t know exactly but it seems sort of an untapped scene with the only real competition being Helsinki, in Hudson, and maybe BSP in Kingston. It’s basically the same as New York; it won’t get every show but we can bring things to people that they’ve gotten used to seeing down here and we’ll do it partly as a circuit, and partly by seeing who wants a gig out of town somewhere special.”
Freed added that he’s also going to be open to see who he finds upstate that he can bring down to the city.
“There’s definitely a legacy thing there, yes, and over the last five to ten years there’s been enough of a resurgence of Americana stuff that everyone’s feeling a lot of allegiance to Woodstock,” he said. “We’re aiming to please a 25 to 45 crowd that need a different sort of band playing in the area. We’ve got some great things coming together that we plan to start announcing very, very soon.”
Geerearts added that after some try-out bookings this summer, he’s hoping the new Woodstock Comune idea gets into full gear by the fall, by which time the new menu at the theater will be up and moving (they’re looking for a chef to activate the menu at this point), and the set-up at The Bear is in gear.
A new set up at The Bear?
“We’ve brought in Michael Hamilton, one of the best, to work with Eric Mann in the kitchen, and we’re rebuilding the menu as more of a farm to table thing. We’ve even got a forager on staff now,” Geerearts explained. “Peter will remain as maitre d’, and overall we’re working to streamline operations, cut down on costs, and make it successful while maintaining its legacy.”
On other fronts, the Woodstock Commune front man added that a Memorial Day pig roast was being planned, along with a June 12 dance event that promoter Michael Lang’s involved in, along with some top deejays coming in to play special sets.
“We’ve been mulching, we’ve been reseeding,” Geeraerts concluded. “We’ve got the front of our buildings lit and well maintained. We’re ready for a new lease on life.”