In December, as Flying Cat Music closed its tenth year of presenting concerts by singer-songwriters at the Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia, the future of the well-attended concert series was in doubt. Tom Rinaldo and Janet Klugiewicz, who founded Flying Cat and do the vast majority of the work required, have announced that the performances will continue, with an energetic board of directors to share the effort, and a shift in venue to the larger but equally esthetic United Methodist Church in Phoenicia.
Holly George-Warren, a member of the new board, commented, “I’ve been a fan of the series for years, and I’ve seen them give some of the most magical performances ever. I’m speaking as someone who’s seen thousands of concerts as a music journalist and a huge music fan. The combination of their choice of performers, with intimate, warm settings, is a rare mix that’s difficult to achieve.”
Flying Cat is a labor of love, with Klugiewicz and Rinaldo making no money from the shows but passing all the ticket receipts on to the artists, whom they recruit by scouting at events such as Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and conferences held by NERFA, the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance. Over the years, the more than 125 concerts have featured performers from as far away as Canada and Wales. The only local musician has been Woodstocker Tom Pacheco, who plays two shows every Labor Day weekend. Other artists have included the Grammy-nominated Mary Gauthier, former Clancy Brothers members Robbie O’Connell and Aoife Clancy, Tracy Grammer, Archie Fisher, Garnet Rogers, and Malcolm Holcomb.
Although the railway museum, a former train station, seated only about 60 people, musicians loved the intimacy, the historic nature of the century-old building, and the excellent acoustics of the wood-lined walls and ceiling. The Methodist Church sanctuary, built in 1883, has the same qualities, including a burnished wood interior, but seats as many as 120. It also has pews, so Klugiewicz and Rinaldo will no longer have to store folding chairs in their garage, lug them all to the venue, then set them up and break them down, along with equipment that could not be stored at the train station.
The change came as the Flying Cat couple realized that “as much as we loved doing the concert series and knew it was appreciated, the way we were doing it couldn’t go on forever,” said Rinaldo. “That venue involved a lot of physical work. We wanted to think about what we could do now to make sure it’s still happening ten years from now.”
In addition, the railway museum board had changed, and there was a new emphasis on the preservation of the space and its role in presenting railroad history. As the museum sought to stabilize its finances, bookings became more complicated. Although Flying Cat was invited to continue using the space, it turned out the church had a more flexible schedule. “We hope our community of fans continues to support the railway museum,” said Rinaldo. “We are indebted to the museum and to Dakin Morehouse, who was chairman of their board 10 years ago when we approached them. He was involved in a picking circle of musicians who met there. Dakin helped us with getting ready for shows, came to virtually every show, made a little stage, and hung up temporary lighting.”
As Flying Cat was seeking to make changes, Morehouse offered to bring the concerts under the umbrella of his non-profit, Phoenicia Forge Art Center, Ltd., which long ago had spearheaded art projects in town. Flying Cat advisors were invited to join the Forge board, the company status making it possible to apply for grants, take tax-deductible contributions, and open a bank account for the first time. Money from the sale of refreshments, to be used for equipment and fees, has been transferred from a tin can to the bank.
Last fall, Klugiewicz and Rinaldo invited a group of friends and Flying Cat fans to help them brainstorm options for the future. “It had become an organizing principle of our lives,” Rinaldo noted. “We didn’t know if others would do it without a salary.” About 10 people from that diverse group have stayed on as board members. They include musicians, people who have experience with non-profits, and others with website development and marketing skills. Flying Cat’s sound engineer, David Congdon, is a former corporate project manager. “He keeps us on track and makes flow charts, tracking all the details,” said Rinaldo.
George-Warren, author of biographies of Gene Autry, Alex Chilton of Big Star, and Janis Joplin (forthcoming), provides contacts thanks to her involvement in the music industry. She will join Rinaldo and Klugiewicz in the task of booking artists. “If we should back out or reduce our involvement two or three years from now,” said Rinaldo, “Holly will be established. She knows a lot of agents and musicians personally. It’s an organic way to expand our presence.”
“When I first moved to Phoenicia 16 years ago,” said George-Warren, “my biggest fear was not getting to see enough live music. When I lived in the East Village and worked for Rolling Stone, I went out five or six nights a week. I knew club promoters from Tramps and the Village Underground, and I thought maybe I could make an annex for bands coming through on their way to New York. But I got busy, and I never pursued it. Now I’m honored Tommy and Janet asked me to collaborate. I’m so thankful to the trustees at the church who have opened their doors to a new artistic venue.”
A new website is being designed that will allow fans to purchase tickets in advance, simplifying the waitlist, which was a major headache when shows sold out. Volunteers Amy Knoth and John Stobaeus, who have helped consistently with the physical labor and refreshment sales, will continue to assist at concerts.
The next step is fundraising. To cover front end expenses, such as a temporary floor covering, new lighting, new cables, rental and other fees, Flying Cat will be reaching out to their fan base for donations.
They haven’t yet booked artists for 2019, but look for the year’s first concert in early spring. The cat is still flying.
Donations to prepare for Flying Cat’s forthcoming season may be made out to Phoenicia Forge Art Center, Ltd. In the memo field, write “Flying Cat Music.” Mail to Flying Cat Music, PO Box 324, Phoenicia NY 12464. For updates, check https://flyingcatmusic.com.