Most important New Paltz band of all time? I don’t know, probably some group of amateur chamber-music aficionados led by a Mrs. Terwilliger née Crispell under the advisement of the bachelor choirmaster Mr. Paradies, sawing away, mostly in tune, in the early 1900s, risking shame and censure to sneak some Amy Beach And Lili Boulanger in among all the Mozart and von Weber, or so I’d like to imagine.
One might look next to the Nineties, when the long-running ska-funk-sober-party band with the huge alumni count Perfect Thyroid ruled a vibrant local scene. They had an excellent national run in-genre. They were, in my humble opinion, far more musically interesting than most of their third-wave ska mates. Having the likes of Shane Kirsch and Dean Jones blowing the horn solos didn’t hurt, and Chris Hansen — the other Chris Hansen — was a maniac. Thyroid’s legacy has lived on in the many lively projects of Chris Snykus, a genuine music director from the drum-throne type.
It would be hard to argue with a selection from this millennium and even from this decade, for much of which New Paltz hit its peak in variety and quality of original bands. Breakfast in Fur comes to mind, the first real indie rock band to rise out of jam town USA and prove that it could happen here. This much-missed band released two records, the second on Hoboken’s historic Bar None Records.
Since then, rising from the soil that BiF helped fertilize, the exuberant and irresistible pop/punk duo Diet Cig has gone on to legitimate national fame. Based in Richmond, Virginia now, they were born in the village basement show scene and are the flagship band of Salvation Recording, the storied studio and former label hidden right in the heart of the village.
Diet Cig would be a pretty obvious choice. But I am going with the Whippets, a band that bridged the Seventies and Eighties. They were, on paper, a fusion band with violin as a lead instrument in the mode of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jean Luc Ponty. Their energy was savage compared to most of what got called fusion at the time.
And when a nationally known fusion band called Dry Jack settled in New Paltz for a spell in the Eighties, the difference was made plain. Dry Jack was exquisite, china-fine; the Whippets, a Dionysian madness, a Hendrixian, Coltranian chaos principally embodied in their half-on half-off-the-rails lead guitarist. It was so New Paltz: wild, hedonistic, skewed, inconstant, a little dark, mostly free, this close to intellectual, this close to important, and this close to legitimate danger. And the name!
Man, I thrilled to that band. They were cutting heads off in the bars. I’m happy to declare the Whippets the most important New Paltz band of all time.