Evidently, when a pandemic forces Woodstock cultural treasure Maverick Concerts to cancel a season for the first time in its 105-year history, the creative energies behind the scenes do not cease. On the contrary. Although the mourning is real, and concerns for the future are legit, the wheels within Maverick’s engine spin on, with as much determined steam as ever.
“We’re not going anywhere,” says music director Alexander Platt, eager to give a progress report on the oldest summer chamber-music festival in America. “The Maverick survived the Spanish flu, the Depression, two world wars, 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008. We’re going to survive this.”
Executive director Kitt Potter is equally enthusiastic. “We’re up to the challenge,” she says. “We’re New Yorkers, we’re show people, we get it done. I’m the granddaughter of civil-rights leaders: First you cry, then you pray, then you march. We always come back. We always recover.”
Platt had designed the 2020 season to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. Alec Cumming was to open the proceedings, and attendees were to be treated to a screening of the documentary Behind the Scenes: The Shanghai Quartet. But when Covid 19 hit, the distinguished conductor packed his bags and left his Chicago home for his 88-year-old father’s place in Connecticut, where he remains in lockdown. Undeterred by the profound disruption, he is staying in constant contact with fellow musicians, connecting with purveyors of virtual technology, and curating revered past concerts recorded at Maverick Concert Hall for broadcast on Capital Region-based classical station WMHT-FM. The Maverick Hour will air Sundays at 5 p.m. from June 28 through September 13.
“When this thing first hit,” Platt says, “I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll have a little sabbatical. But in terms of man-hours, I’m actually working harder than ever for my beloved Maverick. I’m learning new skills – with technology and social media. One of the silver linings with this is when we all come out the other side – and we will come out the other side – we’ll be more adept.”
Doing it Maverick
The Maverick Hour is just the beginning of this new phase. Like many venues, Maverick is also exploring the virtual realm. But, as with everything they do, the institution is giving extensive, deep consideration to the prospective rollout. Attention must be paid.
“We’re going to have to do it Maverick,” Potter says. “The New York Council of Nonprofits has told us: don’t be something you’re not. We are renowned, we’re on the National Historic Registry, and we’ve been awarded for outstanding programming. Our A-list performers play huge halls all over the world, but they play here because they want to. And they say Maverick audiences are demanding, educated. So if we’re going virtual, it must be top-notch.”
While Potter sees an opportunity to “build a treasure trove of video, which can go global,” she, like Platt, does not see streaming as a replacement for the concert experience. Not at all. While being schooled by Bard grad Emma Houghton in all things digital, she is simultaneously working toward future performances in the famed venue, plowing through her sense of mourning, fueled by an intensified love for music, for patrons, and for the hall itself.
Kitt Potter likes the adventure
Constructed (remarkably, with no help from architects) of rough-hewn timber, open to the surrounding flora, and sequestered just far enough away from commerce to seem remote, Maverick Hall was built on the outskirts of Woodstock in 1916 by queer socialist-writer-printer Hervey White – referred to as “the first hippie” – an exile from the Byrdcliffe arts colony. The woodland hall, the epicenter of White’s own Maverick arts colony, arguably sparked Woodstock’s enduring reputation as a performing-arts mecca, as a place to revel in a crowd and be enthralled alongside strangers by a show.
Platt says, “Maverick is where the Woodstock ethos began.” Potter is one of many who call it a sacred space. She is ready to accommodate extenuating circumstances so patrons she refers to as “Mavericks” can still attend their holy place in the West Hurley woods.
“People come from all over the world to this most beloved of arts colonies for the music, the art, the nature, the perfect acoustics,” Potter says. “Sixty percent of them are over 65. I’m responsible for them, for the musicians, and our volunteers. So we may move some benches, some seats. We’ll have new manuals for cleaning. I’m taking it very seriously. I’ll be talking to first responders, state police, the Ulster County sheriff’s department, and the health department. I want them all to sign off. And I need to have it ready by the winter. But I’m up for it. I like the adventure.”
Potter will be reaching out to other venues and organizations, fellow show folk, for help. “We’ve been competing, but we need to form a strong alliance in Ulster County,” she says. “Bethel Woods, Tanglewood. We’re not going to be able to do this alone. We need to find ways to exchange what we’re finding. I’ll share what I know with anybody.”
Platt sees light at the end of the tunnel. “I am profoundly hopeful, to the depths of my soul,” he says. “This whole idea that ‘this is the new normal, [Covid-19] will change the concert experience forever’ – that’s total bullshit. There will be some changes, and you know what? We had to do this, anyway. There are always going to be people who will not feel comfortable with a concert experience, and the Maverick needs to find ways to get that experience to them. We all need to get accustomed to new technology, and offer a high-quality experience. But the idea that ‘this is it’? No. We’re going to get back to sitting next to each other, sharing, shaking hands. Between now and then, we need to use this as a growth experience. Our goal, and everyone else’s goal is: how do we use this crisis to our advantage? How do we come out the other side better equipped to deal with the future?”
Another silver lining for Platt is renewed appreciation, for his vocation, and for the experience of making music in front of an audience. “This has made me more grateful than ever to be a musician,” he says. “It’s a more beautiful career than I ever realized. And I know I speak for everyone when I say: when this pandemic is over, whether it is the Maverick, or Tanglewood, or Byrdcliffe, or the Saratoga Jazz Festival, or the club scene in Woodstock, I just know people are going to value it more than ever. People are going to be so desperate to come back together and have these communal experiences, and Woodstock – the whole region – is one of the greatest places to have that. It’s not going to be a comeback. It’s going to be a bacchanal.”