New event coordinator, renovations bring music and ambience to Emerson resort

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

Posie Strenz

Sometimes a simple press release can signal big changes. Like the recent one coming out of the Emerson Resort & Spa in Mt. Tremper all about an End of Summer Party featuring the local band Two Dark Birds, at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 2. Or the hiring of a former art gallery owner Posie Strenz to start programming events to draw the local community in to now seeing The Emerson, once known as Catskill Corners, as a new go-to venue for hipster fun.

“The sound of Two Dark Birds’ music incorporates strings, lap steels and finger-picked acoustic guitars and their lyrics depict nature and spirit,” resort marketing and sales director Tamara Murray noted in the press release.  “Two Dark Birds’ message is similar to that of our namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essay Nature was inspired by the serene beauty of the Catskills.”

Strenz, a longtime fixture on the Phoenicia/Woodstock scene, added her reasoning behind the latest event she booked.

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“There was quite a lot of renovation here while we were away and the Great Room, which adjoins the stream-side Woodnotes Grille restaurant, now has open views of the Esopus Creek and Mount Tremper, and is fronted by a beautiful outdoor stream-side area with various seating, ping pong table, giant chess set, and fire pit,” she wrote in a recent email pitch.

I reminded Strenz of a time seven years ago this autumn when Phoenicia Times held its closing party in that same room…partly as a means of closing out years of standoffishness between the local community and the resort that had started off as developer Dean Gitter’s kaleidoscope-centered shopping center before becoming what it is today — largely under the aegis of his investor friend Emily Fisher’s guiding hand.

Later, we talked about those changes with Fisher, Murray and Emerson executive officer Naomi Umhey.

Fisher spoke about how, in the days of the region’s grand hotels of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such venues provided entertainment for local communities, as well as employment.

“Bit by bit, we’ve come to a place where we’re now able to be able to put our creativity into events ranging from our recent car show to this concert,” Umhey said.

Everyone spoke about how important the hiring of Strenz was; an on-site activities director no longer seemed to be an extra for the resort, but a necessity. Major building projects and changes had all been accomplished. Now the idea was more interactivity, both with the Emerson’s location along the Esopus and with the surrounding community. In addition to planning events, Strenz is leading walks along the creek, pointing out the Esopus’ bald eagles, a returning blue heron, “all quite a thrill for people from the City,” as Murray put it.

The Emerson is also increasing its planning of collaborative efforts with the Catskill Center, the Maurice Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center, the Ashokan Center and Festival of the Voice, and local organizations including the Rotary, now meeting there each month.

“We’re working very hard on all of this,” Umhey said. “We’re letting the community know we want them here. We rely on the community; if we don’t have the support of our community we can’t survive.”

We asked Fisher, in particular, how things have changed at the property she was first introduced to over 20 years ago.

“I had no idea where it was going. I came in as an investor; I didn’t really know much about this side of the mountain, having been based in Greene County for years,” she said. “Dean’s idea just grew bit by bit. He brought in the old lodge, the field, the farm; for a while he was going to create a Mt. Pleasant Village, but it turned out he was seeking to build in a flood plain. The Victorian Inn across the street came up for sale; he started a restaurant with theater called The Spotty Dog. It was a mom and pop kind of creation, all of this, but what we ended up with was always very original.”

Fisher, also involved for years with Bard College and its Simon’s Rock campus, paused before summing up.

“I love what this has become,” she added, without mentioning her taking over control of The Emerson within the past decade. “I never expected to be in the hospitality business. I’m a teacher, worked in the healthy industry…I try to be here once a week taking the spa treatments, eating in our restaurants, spending the night. We have such a gay time here with 95 percent of the Emerson’s employees now women. We care about each other.”

As for this weekend’s End of Summer concert: The evening will also feature a screening of the pilot episode of Growing Up Catskills, a planned series of oral history video interviews with local natives, telling the story of what it’s like growing up in the Catskills (featuring Gene Gormley in this episode conceived by Josh Roy Brown and co-produced with Brett Barr).

Two Dark Birds itself includes Steve Koester, Jeff Lipstein, Brown, Marco Benevento, Carrie Bradley, Sibel Finn, Don Piper and Jason Mills and will be releasing its third album, Bow, in October.

Things will start at 8 p.m. and run until 10ish.

The Emerson is at 5340 Route 28, Mount Tremper. For more information see http://www.emersonresort.com or call 845-688-2828.

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