SARATOGA SPRINGS – Several dozen David Cassidy fans – some of whom embarked on their journey from a few thousand miles away – descended on the Spa City last weekend to celebrate the life of the late singer who had inspired them with song and for some helped navigate a clear and hope-filled path through a troubled time of adolescence.
Robin Smith, who first watched Cassidy perform onstage in 1972 in Houston when she was a young teenager, came in from Texas. Michael Oliver and Denise Kirth made the trip to the Spa City from Ohio. Marlene Habib brought along copies of her recently penned a 42-page tribute booklet, “David Cassidy: Crazy Over You in Saratoga,” and Annette Trotta-Flynn arrived with an active social media campaign to get Cassidy inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s a labor of love,” she said. “David cared about his fans. We’re continuing his legacy.”
One woman made the cross-Atlantic trip to Saratoga Springs from her home in Belgium. “I saw him in Antwerp in 1973 and it was an extreme experience for me,” related the woman, whose name is Veerle. “I was always a fan, but (as time went on) he wasn’t coming to my country anymore. I wanted to come to the U.S. to see him play, but then the bad news came that he was sick, and then he passed,” she lamented. “I made contact with some of his American fans and learned about this event, so that’s why I wanted to come.”
The event, billed as “A Celebration of David Cassidy’s Life,” was initiated by Samantha Cox from her home in Indiana. After the singer died in November 2017 at the age of 67, Cox said she took on as her New Year’s Resolution a mission to do something to honor Cassidy’s life.
“I chose Saratoga because he was into horse racing and he mentioned it as his favorite place in the world,” says Cox, who previously had never been to the Spa City. Her inquiries led her to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame opposite Saratoga Race Course which Cassidy frequented during the summer meet, and subsequently coordinated a successful social media effort that raised in excess of the $2,500 goal required to permanently place a memorial bench in Cassidy’s honor in the museum courtyard.
Cassidy, who appeared on several TV shows in a non-musical role, gained international stardom after he was cast as “Keith Partridge” on “Partridge Family” sitcom, which was broadcast from 1970 to 1974. He simultaneously launched a solo music career that saw him perform on some of the world’s biggest stages. His passion for equines dates back to the 1970s and frequent visits to Saratoga, where he bought his first yearling and where he eventually purchased a home.
At the same time Cox was mounting her Cassidy campaign, Columbia County based horse owner, breeder and veterinarian Dr. Jerry Bilinski and horse trainer Gary Contessa were also partnering on placing a bench in Cassidy’s honor in the newly named Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard. Last week, both benches were publicly unveiled, and many Cassidy fans made a long weekend of their visit to Saratoga Springs - visiting the museum and then staging a gathering at Spa City Tap and Barrel on Caroline Street Sunday night.
“On November 21, God called David home, but I like to believe he is looking down today on us and smiling,” Cox told the group of fans who gathered at the Celebration of Life event Sunday night.
Fans shared reminiscences of long ago concerts punctuated by deafening screams and blinding flashbulbs, as Cassidy jumped and gyrated in a white jumpsuit across the stage. Members of his band offered pre-recorded commentary via an overhead screen and Cassidy’s music was piped into the venue at varied intervals.
An announcement was also made that a special David Cassidy Tribute Concert – featuring members of Cassidy’s band - will be staged at the Horseshoe Inn on Aug. 14. The concert will act as fundraiser for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s David Cassidy Sanctuary Fund. Cassidy was a supporter of the Saratoga Springs based organization, which was founded in 1983 with a mission to save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter.
Dr. Bilinski, who first met Cassidy when the performer brought his horses to Bilinski’s farm, addressed the crowd and spoke of their longtime friendship.
“When David first visited with us, we went out on the veranda and had a cigar – which we did for many years after that. The next morning, I noticed that the cigar as well as the ashtray were confiscated by (my wife) Darlene. That happened to be among a long list of memorabilia that we collected,” he told the attentive crowd.
Bilinski would go on to purchase Cassidy’s Jaguar for his wife Darlene, swap his snowmobile for Cassidy’s jet boat, take up the singer’s invitation to travel overseas and watch him perform in London, as well as end up with a bounty of signed record albums.
“He came to our farm many times. We sat on the porch discussing life and discussing entertainers: The Stones, The Beatles – some of these were heroes of mine back in the day, and he knew most of these people,” Bilinski said. “We would watch the horses, coming in and out from the fields. It became an important friendship for Darlene and I.”
Darlene Bilinski shared her own memories, which spanned from her childhood to the present day. “When I was a little girl, my girlfriend and I had tea parties. One of us would be Mrs. Cassidy and one of us would be Mrs. Osmond. There was a Bobby Sherman in there once as well, I think, but we would usually fight over David,” she said, with a laugh. “He was a great friend, a great guy. I loved him and miss him. I talked to him just before he died. I asked him: Do you want me to come down? He said, ‘No, I’ll be there next summer.’ We know that didn’t happen, but I feel he is with us, this evening.”
“David just loved it here and I can see now why this was his favorite place,” Cox said. “He was an entertainer and performer, but he was so much more to us, like a friend, there at down moments of our lives with a caring heart…I had an extremely difficult childhood. David’s music lifted my spirits. It inspired me to not give up.”
It would be inaccurate to hear a fan’s appreciation for Cassidy and categorize it simply a walk down memory lane. Many who attended the weekend events in Cassidy’s honor spoke of the music as an inspiration that helped transcend awkward and often difficult times: an escape, perhaps, or a technique more likely to carve of their own a new reality. And it was to the person who had provided this hope, to whom they were paying tribute.
The May 20 event was initially intended to be a one-time gathering, but in its aftermath, Cox expressed the desire to turn May 20 in Saratoga Springs David Cassidy Day into an annual event.
The David Cassidy Tribute Concert concert, featuring members of Cassidy’s band, will be staged Aug. 14 at the Horseshoe Inn. Tickets are $50 and are being made available via the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s web site.