Woodstock’s Colony on Rock City Road is softly reopening as a rethought entity, taking care to quietly walk forward where few musical venues have previously trod.
The venerable structure — built in 1929 as a hotel with ballroom for guests headed to the luxurious Overlook Hotel on the edge of the Catskills high above town – has opened up a new back garden for socially-distanced food and a bit of music.
The Colony has started a series of streaming concert events online, including the latest in a month-long series of events featuring Waxahatchee playing its string of albums, along with Andy Shauf doing a one-hour all-request show from his home in Toronto.
Most of the acts lined up before the pandemic have been rescheduled. The Colony hopes to expand into the autumn.
“We shut it down on March 12,” said Neil Howard, co-owner of The Colony with his wife Lex. “We had had a big weekend, and the state hadn’t announced its quarantine actions yet, but it seemed like things were getting scary. We did the right thing.”
For a short while, the venue tried doing takeout, but then decided to close operations entirely for the safety and protection of staff and patrons.
“This is not the end,” said Howard. “This first chapter in our story of The Colony has been wildly enjoyable and inspiring and exhausting and so many other things. We want to thank every single artist and band and music fan who has come out to support live music for the last three years. We will return stronger than ever with Chapter Twp and will continue to welcome, appreciate, and above all entertain our customers.”
Howard isn’t looking forward to trying to make things work with audiences limited to a quarter, even half capacity. He and talent coordinator Mike Campbell decided that it would be best to simply wipe the slate clean and offer refunds where needed, rebook acts for the coming year, and do what could be done online.
There had been thought about doing drive-in concerts, but the ethics and logistics of serving alcohol for such events didn’t make sense. Enter The Colony’s back garden, as well as the moving of the weekly Woodstock farmers’ market to the parking lot next to the historic venue.
“We produced a virtual concert with Tom Pacheco so his tradition of playing Memorial Day could continue. It did well, and just about broke even,” Howard added. “We decided that The Colony’s main room wouldn’t be our focus for now, except for private events.”
Howard spoke about intimate concerts for 30 to 50 people which would feel ample in The Colony space, which rises several floors with balconies. The music played for those attending such private events, or stopping by The Colony’s back garden five nights a week, will likely be acoustic, with an emphasis on singer-songwriters. :
“It’s all kind of wait-and-see for now. I’m in no hurry to put us at the end of any spear thrusting into the unknown,” he added. He spoke about changes in the music industry, Large venues and the style of music designed to fill them will face problems moving forward. A more intimate form of musical expression seems ripe for the times.
“It’s a time of re-invention. It’s about being reinvigorated,” Neil Howard said. “You have to keep some kind of positivity going. It’s worldwide. Creativity is my think space. It feels right to be repositioning, reprioritizing.”
Howard dubs the new outdoor music events he’s been planning, “Safe Soundouts.”
“We’re playing with the idea of low-power FM transmitters. We don’t want a whole crowd of people, so our soft opening is going to be really slow and really soft.”
As Howard wrote when closing, three and a half months ago, “Live music is not going away. Please write and sing and play and perform in your homes, in the woods, in your hearts and in your souls. Live music can be, should be, and is everywhere. Please keep making music …. See you on the other side.”
For information on The Colony’s reopening over the coming months, and now, visit its website at colonywoodstock.com or on Facebook.