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Where the Music Never Died
SARATOGA SPRINGS — It wasn’t prompted by a premonition of a global shutdown of live music due to a deadly pandemic, but the fact that the timely, existential refurb of the venerable Caffè Lena included a better-than-needed(?) audio upgrade and multi-camera video installation was, nonetheless, prophetic.
At this writing, fourteen months from the onset, we’re not out of the woods, but we have started to let small, pre-screened patrons into the rarified air, (literally), that has, even in the throes of COVID-19, continuously echoed with live music for more than 60 years. The streaming, the suddenly commonplace connection that allowed our gregarious nature to find digital refuge, will continue.
Purists may argue that the experience, the visceral, touchy/feely, sing-along, chocolate chip, in-person version is diminished by being teased out over the internet. I prefer to think that the two, very unique, experiences form a complimentary new hybrid.
Being physically present has layers of sensory stimuli that we are still unable to produce remotely; the natural sound, of course and the aromas and the lights, the clamor and the camaraderie, the exchange of energy between audience and performer, the afterglow and the merch… did I mention the cookies? But the music, the words, the melody and harmony, the pluck of a string and beat of a drum, the poetic truth that stirs our souls and imaginations and taps our toes cannot complete its journey from thought to pen to paper until its performance reaches some ears, and the more ears, the better.
From coast to coast, Canada to South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, Caffè Lena’s concert streams are broadening the outreach of the venue’s dedication to the art while expanding the fan base of some of the world’s finest musicians. And…in a more perfect world…when it’s safe, perhaps some of those new, streamer fans in Brazil or Senegal or Kuala Lumpur will find their way to Phila St. We have cookies.
Joel Moss is a Grammy Award-winning record producer, Saratoga Springs resident and the Caffè Lena streaming producer and archivist.
Artist Returns to Spa City for Major Art Show at Tang
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Tim Davis roams the corridors of the Tang Museum, surveying the gallery landscape where the work is ongoing in preparation of this weekend’s opening of his new show.
“This is the first time I’ve ever really done a show on this scale of things - things that aren’t just pictures that I took on a wall,” he says, the sonic echo of swinging hammers and buzzing drills flowing all around him. “This has a lot more going on.”
There are photographs – which he calls cartoons, selfies captured in the South Sea, videos of radios that he filmed in Tunisia; There is a self-portrait sculpture composed of multiple copies of Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait” album, and a multitude of grave rubbings of people with funny names. “I can’t believe that I spent all this time in the summer doing these grave-rubbings,” Davis says, with a laugh. “It just seems insane.”
“While I’m out there making photographs about the immediate moment, I’m also collecting stuff all the time,” he explains, posing for a photograph in front of his Library of Ideas. Here, the book shelves are lined with titles that boast the word “Idea.”
"It all started with the sheet music of the song ‘(When We Are Dancing) I get ideas,’ Davis says. “I started collecting printed matter that has the word IDEAS in it, thinking that if I ever needed more ideas…”
Davis had staged solo exhibitions in Italy and France, Belgium and Canada. He has been involved in group exhibitions in spaces like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “When We Are Dancing (I Get Ideas),” - which opens on Saturday at the Tang Museum - marks the first large-scale exhibit in Saratoga Springs for the artist who spent his childhood here.
Davis grew up in Saratoga where at a young age he went around town with his friends making home movies with a Super 8 camera. He played in local bands. He created handwritten stories that were published in a homemade newspaper created by his friends. The TV news was their inspiration. “We were all obsessed with this weekend news anchor in Albany named Joe Moskowitz,” he recalls. “We got his 8x10 glossy, signed. We were in his fan club…”
The artist’s father, longtime Saratogian Peter Davis, was the program director of the Flurry Festival and plays a variety of instruments with numerous bands in the region, from Annie and the Hedonists to Saratoga Race Course house band Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers. Music also plays a prominent rule in the exhibition. A monitor inside the museum displays music videos the younger Davis created for each of the 11 songs that he wrote for an album titled “It’s OK to Hate Yourself.”
“It’s got many of Saratoga’s finest musicians on it,” says the artist who spent many years writing lyrics for his brother’s band, Cuddle Magic. On Dec. 6, Tim Davis will perform all new material with his all new band. “We’re called Severely Brothers. not THE. Just called Severely Brothers, OK?”
He is an artist, writer and a musician who makes photographs, video, drawings, sound, and installations. Humor plays a vital role.
One of his earlier videos - “The Upstate New York Olympics” - depicts Davis leap-frogging over lawn jockeys. Sixteen different lawn jockeys in fact and some of which would be readily recognizable to residents of the Spa City.
“On my 40th birthday, I said: I’m going to go out and just make something that’s super fun, something I enjoy. My birthday is Nov. 5 and it’s always cold and miserable and I came up with idea of making new sports. And I love playing sports, so I was like: Can I make art as fun as playing sports? For a year I made this thing – The Upstate New York Olympics - and I went all around upstate scanning the landscape,” says Davis, who is 48. “The lawn jockey leapfrog seemed logical. I get a rush out of doing something I’m not supposed to do. I never really got in trouble,” he says. “And I only went to the hospital once.”
Another early video features 12 minutes of various Dollar General stores that accompany the lonesome traveler on a journey across the upstate landscape.
“I was visiting a friend in Chenango County, out near Binghamton. You’re driving around an realize there are these Dollar General stores in like every town, these amazing glowing things where they leave the lights on really late at night. You’re like: Oh, there goes another one. He fixed his camera to the side window of his car and continued on his journey. ”I enjoy being out in the world and being dedicated to capturing something about the immediacy of the moment.”
In the Tang Museum exhibition, two fixed walls play moving images that showcase, respectively, the formative beginnings of the hope-filled power of creativity - called “Counting In” - and its successful conclusion, called “Curtain Calls.”
“This is all footage I shot. Counting In took a year of going to band practices and waiting for them to say: one, two, three, four. Filmed in their rehearsal spaces, I just take the part where they go: one, two, three, four and string all of those together, before the song even starts. Curtain Calls are of amateur theatrical plays. It’s the ecstasy of the thing being over. Different plays from all over the country, shot from the same vantage point,” Davis says.
“A curtain call is what everyone is aiming for in a play - especially an amateur play that’s three hours long. Everyone’s like: can we get it there without messing it up? And Counting In is something that’s necessary to make music happen. I feel these two pieces are the real American Dream – which is playing in a band in your basement and doing an elaborate theater production. It’s not making a million dollars on Wall Street. “
Another music-meets-culture depiction - Un-Easy Listening - takes up a glass housed section of the museum’s second-floor space.
“There are about seven or eight hundred easy listening record in here - records you pick up when you go digging through the Salvation Army,” Davis says. “Elevator music. Music meant to be in the background in a suburban house in the ‘50s, when people moved from urban ethnic-type apartment tenements to the suburbs, where they created all this music to fill up that space. That happened at the same time of the invention of the long-playing record and hi-fi stereo. So, it was the perfect storm of blandness.” A trio of record players simultaneously spin three different easy listening selections. “It’s interactive. People can come in and take records, put them on, change them out, take them home if they want. I would be grateful to get rid of them.”
Davis lives in Tivoli, N.Y., near Kingston and teaches photography at Bard College. He previously taught a different generation of students at Yale, from 2001 to 2004. It was an era before Google, before Facebook and prior to Instagram. The technological changes of the past 15 years have been massive.
“One thing that’s harder and harder is going out into the world (for a new generation of students). Computers and the Internet are things that make us… we know where we can go to get answers. Every question can be answered in one place. The idea of moving through the world randomly may lead you to your answers, and unexpected answers, but it’s harder for them to do that. So, I give an assignment that’s called ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and the idea is you have to be completely lost before you can take any pictures, and you can’t have a phone with you. For me, the idea is that there’s a heightened attention when we’re lost, a feeling of being hyper-aware,” Davis explains.
“On the other hand, the idea of their lives being something they want to share with other people is something that’s totally familiar to them. It’s easier for them to make work that’s more personal, that’s more connected, because they’re used to it. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives. Not only making art about their whole lives - but publishing it, for all to see.”
The exhibition reflects the wide variety of the artist’s works. “I’m paying attention all the time,” Davis says. “The thing is, we may run out of a lot of things, but we’re never going to run out of significance. We’re never going to run out of something to say. As long as there are human beings, there is going to be significance in a sense that: this is really important, let me tell you this. And that’s what I’m here for.”
(photo: the artist in the spotlight, at the Tang Museum, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo: Thomas Dimopoulos)
Tim Davis - When We Are Dancing (I Get Ideas), a solo exhibition opens Saturday. Oct. 20 at
The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. Opening reception is at 5 p.m.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, Davis hosts an evening at the museum of storytelling about how and why people collect things. he will also stage a musical performance on Dec. 6. For more information, go to: tang.skidmore.edu.
City Hits World Stage as Arts Destination
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Health, history, horses. And The Arts.
With the awarding of a $14,000 economic development grant this week, the city took the first step to promote Saratoga Springs as a worldwide destination for arts and culture. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan calls it “having some skin in the game.” And that game has proven to bring in a notable return on the investment in other communities.
“Saratoga Springs is a fabulous brand. We’re over 100 years old and so is ‘health, history and horses.’ These are strong brands that you don’t want to get away from, but we need to add to it with arts and culture,” Madigan says.
The funds will support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the hiring of a public relations firm to promote the city as a thriving arts community to journalists and media beyond the Capital Region. The goal is to showcase all of Saratoga as a cultural hot-spot and entice visitors to journey to the region.
“Cultural tourism – the cultural tourist spends 60 percent more when they go someplace than the average leisure tourist does. Sixty percent more. We want culture to be an economic driver here the same way the track is, and there’s no reason why it can’t be that, and a lot more,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“I know there are many, many people out there looking for a place like Saratoga as their summer or winter destination who would just be up here all the time, if they just knew what was here,” Sobol says. “This is one of the most incredible places in the world for someone who cares about the arts and literature and green space. I go back to the perfect confluence of nature and art, man-made beauty and natural beauty, there’s nothing like this in all of North America. “
From Caffe Lena to SPAC, the Tang Museum, Yaddo, the future home of the Universal Preservation Hall and other amenities, the community has much to offer, Sobol says. “All this art just one beautiful trip up the Hudson River from Manhattan. That’s a big selling point to New Yorkers who want to get out of town.”
Commissioner Madigan says she sees the awarding of the funds as one piece of a larger plan. “When you think Saratoga Springs, what do most people think of? They think horses. And that’s great, but we also really want to attract the cultural tourist by putting the arts and culture focus on that same level as horses,” Madigan says. “Right now. I see this as first step. I have a bigger vision where we start getting stakeholders and key members of the community in a room to talk about who we are as a region, to start coming together as a whole as an arts and culture community and to market ourselves that way, to add to the health, history and horses brand. The Berkshires know who they are. Tanglewood is well marketed as a global venue. From a global, international tourist destination, we don’t really know who we are when it comes to arts and culture.”
Recently, the local arts took a hit with the announcement of the cancellation of the annual Hats Off and Final Stretch music festivals. And promoting the arts in Saratoga Springs is not always an easy thing.
Saratoga Springs resident Robert Millis first launched the American Music Festival in Lake George in September 2014. Facilitated through his 398 Group – which stresses the arts as a driver of economic development and community building – the idea was to bring thousands of people into the community and extend the tourist season. Lake George is located in Warren County and financial support for the festival was provided via monies collected in the North Country for the tax on the rental of rooms. It proved to be a success.
This summer, the festival – which has featured performers such as Blue Öyster Cult, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Sawyer Fredericks in the past – returns for its two-day stint, and based on the success of the music-as-economic development initiative, the village and town of Lake George have contributed $45,000 in grant funding via the “bed tax” to Millis’ group.
“Their philosophy is bed tax funds events, which in turn feeds the bed tax,” Millis says. The village of Lake George is providing funding for a couple of events. “It’s a big boost,” said village Mayor Robert Blais. “It’s helped us to extend the season.”
Like other Warren County municipalities, the village of Lake George and the town of Lake George each receive $30,000 annually to promote special events in their communities with the idea of bringing in people that will spend money in local businesses and stay at local hotels, says Blais, who also serves as chairman of joint village and town occupancy tax committee. And the return on the investment has been strong. After the events take place, receipts and taxes received are then distributed back to the communities in addition to the $30,000 flat fee to promote a new cycle of events. In the village of Lake George that return was about $185,000, Blais said; the town of Lake George received approximately $240,000.
Millis’ attempts to create a two-day music-based festival in his Saratoga hometown has proven to be more difficult. The proposed event and conference would be designed to help boost tourism and build a music ecosystem to enhance the local scene. “I’ve been floating that idea in Saratoga a for over a year, but nobody has jumped on board with me,” Millis says.
“Our (bed tax) money has already been sliced and diced and it happened long before I got here, but it’s an interesting concept,” Madigan says. “Our occupancy tax right now is split. We only get one percent. Two percent from occupancy tax goes to the City Center and two percent goes to convention and tourism. It goes directly to them. We get less than City Center and convention and tourism. The city gets $600,000, they’re getting $1.2 million each. So, I’m trying to get them on board with helping with the arts. Look, the city’s got some skin in the game so let’s get the chamber and convention and tourism also involved.
“To me, the arts is a huge part of economic development,” Madigan explained. “It’s untapped. This I think is economic development, under the guise of arts and culture. This is a first step. I look forward to coming forward with additional recommendations to support economic development and arts and culture as an aspect of that. “
Death of a Teen Idol
“I'll feel really good when it's over. I have an image of myself... I'm living on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I'm smiling..." -- David Cassidy, Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972.
There were 20,000 of them, more or less, each seemingly armed with cheap, pocket-sized cameras crowned by four-sided cubes whose white flash burned your retinas with every image attempted to capture the teen idol on stage.
They had watched him, this crowd of mostly young girls, the past 18 months on TV - singing songs, driving the Partridge Family’s Mondrian-inspired bus - and bought millions of his albums, collected his trading cards, and carried to school lunchboxes bedizened with his image. And now here he was: live, in person, and on stage at the world’s most famous arena. It was a Madison Square Garden that had belonged to Ali and Frazier, Giacomin and Gilbert, Willis and Clyde. On this night, however, it was all about David Cassidy.
In 1972, a gallon of gas cost fifty-five cents, the average monthly rent was $165, and the annual household income about $12,000. It was a year that saw Crazy Joe Gallo gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House, five men arrested for breaking in to the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel and the gold medal achievements of Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut overshadowed when 11 Israelis, five guerillas and one police officer were killed in a 20-hour siege at the Munich Games.
Cassidy sang 15 or so songs, his 21-year-old torso coiling and squirming inside a white crepe jumpsuit and sending its fringe adornments reeling. “I’ll meet you halfway/ that’s better than no way,” he crooned. There were others: “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” and “Cherish.” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” At Madison Square Garden, his TV/ real-life mom Shirley Partridge Jones sat in the first row.
My dad - then a youthful man in his thirties whose land of origins had given birth to 300 Spartans who did battle at Thermopylae and who as a child had escaped the Nazi plunder of his village – shook his head in disbelief at the commotion and plugged fingers into his ears to attempt to mute the shrill shrieks of teen-girl idolatry caterwauling down from the blue seats that called David’s name. It was a cacophonous chorus that my sister, six or seven years of age at the time, willingly joined. The sound of the screams rang around in your head for several days after.
Cassidy was a frequent summer visitor to Saratoga Springs. You’d run into him at the racecourse, or coming out of the Wilton Mall cinema, or at Fasig-Tipton - where he bought his first yearling in 1974. In 2001, he purchased a house in Saratoga Springs. It was a Monday night in August seven years later when he stood up in front of 250 people at a fundraising gala for The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council at the Hall of Springs and publicly announced, for the first time, that he was an alcoholic. The revelation, which was unexpected, left some in the audience stunned.
“I was in denial about it, and the problem was getting worse,” said Cassidy, his wife Sue and his son Beau at his side. Cassidy talked about his genetical link to his own father, the actor Jack Cassidy. “Bipolar, manic-depressive, alcoholic and a genius,” he told the audience.
Wife Sue said she was proud of her husband for having the courage to publicly share such a personal experience. “Seeing him up here and telling you all this is one of the greatest things that I could ever hope to be able to be a part of,” said 17-year-old Beau.
Cassidy acknowledged that the location of the Hall of Springs, sitting as it does adjacent to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, created an interesting juxtaposition that merged the past and the present; a time for new beginnings to lead into the future.
“This is my favorite place in the world. ... I played here in '72, '73, '74,” Cassidy remembered. “What was ironic when I drove up, was that I realized this journey has been going on for so many years. And the journey is now. Every day, 24 hours, to stay sober.”
You got the feeling on that August night in 2008 that what stood before you was a person at a the flashpoint of their own existence, burning white-hot as the flash residue of 20,000 cameras all those years ago. You got the feeling, that night in 2008, that things could go either way. It did not go well. What followed was a series of drunken driving charges, a divorce from wife Sue Shifrin after more than 20 years of marriage, and Cassidy’s revelation earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed with dementia and was struggling with memory loss.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, he was admitted to a Florida hospital, reportedly with multiple organ failure. Time was running out. For millions of people who were born, say, between 1960 and 1965, the sadness of confronting their own mortality comingled with the childhood innocence of youthful dreams. “Prayers please,” Sue Shifrin Cassidy wrote Nov. 18 on Twitter. Nov. 19: David is still with us. Keep praying. Nov. 20: Critical but stable. Nov. 22: God was in that room tonight. Point him in the direction of... heaven. RIP.
Meet Delphino! Those in the Know Already Know
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the ol’ music talent evaluation game, certain rules of thumb apply. Of course, you learn to trust your own instincts, but beyond that – I don’t care how good you tell me you are, even though you are nice, clean cut and polite.
And I certainly don’t care what your parents say! Even though I know most of them in this case, and they are solid citizens all.
No, I care about what these guys say: “The first thing that impresses me about the members of Delphino is that they are very smart,” said Jeffrey Halstead, musician and music teacher extraordinaire at Saratoga High School. Jeff has had most of the six members of Delphino – all now going into their senior blue streak year - as students in his various classes. “They all have a keen awareness of music history – both rock and pop,” Halstead continued, “I expect that they will continue to work hard and be creative.” Jeff said he expects to attend Delphino’s Album release party at Lake Local (details below) next Thursday.
That alone is good enough for me, and should be for you too. Jeff is about as close to the Underwriter’s Laboratory seal of approval as it gets on the local music scene. But wait, there’s more:
“Awww, Delphino. Now this is a pretty cool thing to see,” said Rick Bolton, local music legend and esteemed host of Gaffney’s open mic on Tuesdays for more years then he cares to admit. “They first came to the open mic, two or three years ago, with a smaller configuration,” Bolton continued. “They waltzed in like they had been there before. I remember getting them up right away because they were so young. They came back again last spring, and you could see a lot of progress.” “But even that first time - the stuff that they were putting out was structured and creative. Moreover, they approached and presented their original music very seriously. Another thing I like is how they get support from their families to reach for more – the best thing in the world is to have the opportunity for talent to flower at a young age,” Rick concluded.
That’s hitting the daily double, but let’s go for the trifecta. For my part, the members of Delphino (we’re on a first name basis, meaning: Max, Emma, Adam, Sam, Jeff and Aaron) all bring a unique level of talent to the table – but the synergy is much greater than the individual parts. You can see they enjoy each other, and it’s reflected in the music.
I asked each of them one of my “pick your favorite parent” questions, in this case – tell me your ONE top musical influence – only one. Here was the scoreboard:
- 2 for Velvet Underground – Adam and Aaron
- 2 for Cage the Elephant – Sam and Jeff
- 2 for The Strokes – Emma and Max
And the mix works. Photographer Mark said he heard They Might Be Giants, which got knowing nods from most. Me: I said I hear The Kinks in some numbers – which got some smiles, though I think Emma was just being nice to me. In any event, Jeff Halstead is right for giving them an A in music history. This may be one to follow – and not just for the music. They took great pains to acknowledge the recording engineering efforts of Brian Miller of the Capital Area Music Project (and also the head of Cutting Edge Martial Arts), thanked him for his donation of time and effort on Delphino’s album. That says a lot about the quality of the young adults we are dealing with here.
It may be overkill, but we end with my intern - and recent Blue Streak graduate Allie Capasso, who said. “Oh, Delphino! Yeah, I know those guys… you’re doing a story on them – cool!” That, my friends, is a cold pick six.
Album Release Party
Thursday, July 7 at 4 p.m.
550 Union Avenue at Saratoga Lake
Role Model: Local Youth Raises Funds and Awareness
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In March of 2007, Adam Marino began to return home from school day after day with a seemingly unquenchable thirst. He would arrive home and tell his mom, Janette Kaddo Marino, how he refilled four bottles of water at school and was still thirsty.