Last summer’s Celebration of the Arts concert in Midtown Kingston was memorable because it turned out to be the last local performance by longtime Kingston resident Pauline Oliveros, a world-famous electronic music pioneer, sound composer, digital accordion performer and teacher. Despite her wide-ranging travels and projects, Oliveros was a dedicated proponent of the arts in Kingston and helped form the Midtown Arts District (MAD), which is building community and otherwise transforming the area by harnessing the district’s existing creative energies and attracting new talent through such initiatives as the summer concert (which MAD sponsors). Oliveros passed away last Thanksgiving Day, but the spirit of her legacy will be very much alive at this year’s Celebration of the Arts concert, curated by Kingston-based composer and musician Peter Wetzler.
The concert, held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 3, will take place in a large tent, called the Collective, on the site formerly occupied by the Kings Inn motel. (The tent is owned by Robert Airhart, who pays the city $1 a month for erecting it on the city-owned property and has offered it to the MAD event for free.) The site will be forever associated with Oliveros, following the passage of a resolution by Kingston’s Common Council to name the site Deep Listening Plaza in Honor of Pauline Oliveros. (Deep Listening refers to the institute that Oliveros founded to foster meditative listening, of which she was a passionate proponent.) A plaque will be erected on the site.
Wetzler will perform a composition for accordion and gamelan that he wrote in homage to Oliveros. One of 85 composers commissioned to write an 85-second piece for a surprise 85th birthday celebration planned for Oliveros last May, he has subsequently expanded the piece, which will be performed on August 3 by himself and other members of the Catskill Mountain Gamelan. Besides gamelan, the award-winning composer/musician/music director – known for his film, theater and television scores for PBS, National Geographic and other distinguished organizations – has played in avant-garde ensembles and produced two CDs of his acoustic piano solos.
In addition, Oliveros’ longtime partner and fellow performer and local arts activist Ione will participate in the concert. Ione, who just returned from Athens, Greece, where she attended the Documenta 24 Conference, presenting and lecturing on Oliveros’ work as well as presenting her own piece and workshop, will show a video, made by Daniel Weintraub, previewing The Nubian Word for Flowers: A Phantom Opera. The piece, which will debut on November 30 at Roulette in New York City and features a libretto by Ione and music written by Oliveros, describes the encounter between lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener, British secretary of state for war during World War I, and phantoms representing the displaced Nubian people when he mysteriously lands on the Nubian Island of Flowers, which he himself cultivated as a younger commander under Queen Victoria. Ione and Lisa Barnard Kelley will also perform an improvisation incorporating text and singing that evokes the opera as well as commemorates the new Deep Listening Plaza.
Wetzler has drawn upon the region’s multiple veins of talent to compile a program of musicmaking that crosses generations and genres. “I have a unique vantage point, having been here for many decades,” said the composer, who moved to Kingston from New York City in 1987 with his wife, artist Julie Hedrick. Besides drawing on his longtime connections, Wetzler also has added to the mix “amazing people hiding in the woodwork,” including within Midtown itself, whom he recently discovered.
The popular, high-energy percussive group, the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK), along with POOK’s sister organization, the hip-hop Energy Dance Company, will be joined by singer Yungchen Lhamo, a refugee from Tibet who was introduced to Peter Gabriel by the Dalai Lama and came to the mid-Hudson Valley to work with Natalie Merchant. Gabriel produced a number of her albums on his Real World label. Lhamo, who was introduced to Wetzler by former mayor Shayne Gallo (Wetzler in turn introduced Lhamo to Oliveros), gave a memorable concert at City Hall under the former administration. “I’m hoping that she will sing these mantras without accompaniment,” Wetzler said, noting that Lhamo’s traditional singing utilizes microtonal scales that defy Western-style accompaniment.
Two other singers on the program are native Kingstonians: Eleni Reyes, who has performed regularly accompanied by Wetzler on the piano (her powerful rendering of the title song written by Wetzler for the Kingston documentary Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Removal won kudos from audiences, as did Wetzler’s original score) and the rap and hip-hop artist Donny Mapes, who is the son of Kingston alderwoman Nina Dawson. Another homegrown talent is the funk and R & B band Room Service, which Wetzler discovered playing in a barbershop on Broadway.
In contrast, singer/songwriter Sandrine, who lives in Kingston with her husband, producer Malcolm Burn, hails from Australia; she has a sizable fanbase both Down Under and in France. Sandrine will perform solo, and Burn – who has produced Emmylou Harris, Canadian group Blue Rodeo (Burn is from Canada), Bob Dylan, the Meters and the Neville Brothers, among many others – will be playing bass with Future350 NU Bossa, a band led by Stephen Johnson.
Johnson, another foreign-born Kingston transplant, came to America at the invitation of Peter Gabriel, who was his teacher and mentor. (“Kingston has this odd footprint of Peter Gabriel,” said Wetzler, noting that the pop singer’s bassist, Tony Levin, lives in Kingston; his wife, Andi Turco-Levin, is a former alderwoman and chair of the Kingston Land Trust.) The singer/songwriter will perform with Burn, percussionist Pablo Cruz, drummer Ruperto Ifil and Wetzler on accordion. Haitian poet Jerrice Baptiste, host of the radio show Women of Note and a resident of Saugerties, will recite her poetry or read excerpts from her children’s stories.
The Millennial generation will be represented by Eli Winograd, a resident of the Lace Mill, a complex of artists’ lofts in Midtown, who, following years of touring and performing, now is a music producer, with a studio off Greenkill Avenue. “I’m a local, but I’m also a Brooklyn expat,” said Winograd, explaining that he was born in Kingston but left upon graduating from high school, was an itinerant musician and performer for over a decade and was living in Brooklyn with his girlfriend (now wife; the couple have a three-year-old son) until changing family circumstances enabled them to move into a house in Town of Ulster that was spacious and rent-free, before they relocated to the Lace Mill.
Winograd describes his musical milieu as “super-underground, very fringe music…ranging from challenging progressive art-rock to straight noise-free improvisation to long-form Minimalist psychedelic improvisation…I was in a worldwide network of freaks.” He plays guitar and bass and has handpicked the musicians who will play as the Lone Pine All Stars for the August 3 concert: guitar-player Colin Langenus, from Queens, “my longtime collaborator and musical brother”; drummer Will Berney, from western Massachusetts; Ross Goldstein, from Catskill, who will play synthesizer; and fellow Lace Mill resident Juma Sultan, who played congas with Jimi Hendrix. Besides percussion, Sultan also plays bass and flute. Accompanying the band will be costumed performers Anna Hafner and her collaborator, Molly Riddle. (Hafner and Winograd both work at the puppet theater company Arm-of-the-Sea: Winograd performs and oversees the improvised music and Haffner is a puppeteer. The company, based in Saugerties, performs socially conscious narratives rooted in the area’s history.)
One of the showstoppers at the concert will be gospel singer Rene Bailey, who was born in Georgia, where she began touring with an organist, drummer and pianist while still a teenager. For the past 43 years she has lived with her husband in Kerhonkson. Bailey will sing a capella at the concert, Winograd said.
Bailey toured with Sam Cooke and “other serious cats,” he said. She met Louis Armstrong in the 1960s while she was performing at a club in the Waldorf-Astoria. “He said I ‘sounded like a corn-fed gal,’” recalled Bailey, who was accompanied by organist Doc Bagby and subsequently did a number with Armstrong. She moved to Kerhonkson in 1972 after she was hired by Peg Leg Bates to perform at his Catskills resort. She also sang at the Nevele and Granit until the resorts closed in the early 1990s. Bailey performs with the Saints of Swing and regularly sings at the United Methodist Church in Samsonville, where she is the choir director.
Winograd, who is producing a record for Bailey, met her through his dad, David Winograd, a professional bass and tuba player who also performed at the Catskill resorts. “She is so humble and spiritual. She is the real deal,” said Eli. “She’s a really wise and powerful spiritual being, and singing is the vehicle that she uses to drive that being.”
That kind of heartfelt, primal energy, rooted in love, not the profit motive, will infuse the evening. “Having been part of the downtown [New York] avant-garde New Music scene, I can say that creativity and energy have now moved up here,” said Wetzler – an opinion that Winograd seconded: “I was working with people from other places, who would come and stay with me. But now much of the talent is coming from here,” he said, adding that his studio “is getting busier, and word is spreading.”