City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Susan Cox remembers those magical nights, eyes fixed on the television set in her grandparents living room in Indiana, waiting to see what kind of musical mayhem would ensue. On the screen, a single mother of five alternated sitting behind the wheel of the family’s multicolored school bus and “playing” the piano to lead her musically imbued children in song.
It was the eldest sibling, played David Cassidy, who most captured the attention of Cox, as well as millions of others across America.
“I had watched him on TV dramas like “The Mod Squad,” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and he was a dramatic actor of course, but from the first time I heard David Cassidy sing, I thought he was phenomenal. And ‘The Partridge Family’ I watched religiously, every Friday night, with my grandparents. My grandmother used to say: ‘He’s so nice-looking, but he needs a haircut,’” she says with a laugh.
“I was a fan since I was 11 years old. I had an extremely difficult childhood, and my grandparents raised me. David’s music lifted my spirits. It inspired me to not give up,” Cox says. “I’d sit in my room and listen to his music like every other teenage girl at the time. We were all David crazy.”
Cassidy launched a solo music career and following the “Partridge Family” sitcom TV show run, which concluded in 1974, Cassidy also resumed his acting career as well as following his love of horses. His passion for equines frequently brought him to Saratoga, where he bought his first yearling and where in 2001 he purchased a home.
“When David passed away in 2017, I felt the need to do something,” says the 60-year-old Cox, who worked at Notre Dame for 12 years, a handful of them in a fundraising capacity. “He gave so much of his life to his fans. He talked about how he loved us, and he knew we loved him. I chose Saratoga because he was into horse racing and he mentioned it as his favorite place in the world, so I started calling places in Saratoga Springs looking for a place to put a (memorial) bench.”
Her inquiries led her to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which sits on Union Avenue directly across Saratoga Race Course which Cassidy frequented during the summer meet. Honoring Cassidy with a bench – the singer died in November 2017 at the age of 67 - would require Cox raising $2,500.
“It was my New Year’s resolution to do something for David. I opened a public Facebook page on Jan. 15 – the David Cassidy Memorial Bench at The National Museum of Racing. I think the first day it had 300 people liking the page. And it just kept going. Donations have come in I had People from Germany, from Malta, South America – Mexico, Columbia and Brazil – I’ve made so many new friends,” Cox says. “By January 30, all the funds were raised. Donations were still coming as of late April and all the excess goes directly into the annual fund in memory of David. I’m hoping I raised a lot of money for the museum because they were so gracious.” Following Cassidy’s lead, Cox says she has also embraced the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which provides sanctuary to hundreds of horses across the country.
The bench was unveiled Thursday night in the revitalized museum courtyard, which has undergone a winterlong renovation. And in recognition of a $250,000 gift from prominent racehorse owner, philanthropist and Saratoga icon Marylou Whitney, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named its courtyard in honor of Marylou’s late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney – who was among the museum’s founders in 1950 and served as the institution’s first president. The Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard will feature two benches honoring Cassidy. One is the result of a partnering between horse trainer Gary Contessa – who has more than 2,200 winning races under his belt - and Columbia County based horse owner, breeder and veterinarian Dr. Jerry Bilinski. The other Cassidy bench has been dedicated by singer’s fans, who will be flocking to the Spa City during the weekend.
David Cassidy Fans’ Day at Museum on Sunday
“Sunday, May 20 will be our day to see the bench and reflect on his life,” Cox says. The museum has set a 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. window on Sunday specifically to welcome Cassidy’s fans. The courtyard will be open to the public and admission is free.
“David has got fans worldwide and there are people from Germany, from Great Britain and from Canada who are coming to the event,” says Cox, who will be making the 730-mile trek from her home in Indiana. A private Celebration of Life Event, featuring guest speakers and fan reminiscences will take place later Sunday night.
“When I started the campaign, I hoped and prayed that we could get this for David, this permanent memorial tribute to him. He was more than an entertainer, he was a good person with a good heart,” Cox says. “From the moment I reached out to the museum, they have been so gracious. I know that we’ll have an awesome time in Saratoga Springs. Your people up there are really phenomenal.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Spring Street Gallery will host an opening of a new dual exhibition – “Catharsis,” featuring Rebecca Zeh, and “Concrete, Steel and Skin,” depicting the work of Matthew Grandy, 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, May 12.
The gallery is located at 110 Spring Street and is otherwise open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays.
Spring Street Gallery will also host a performance by musician Mike Donovan 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 17. Tickets, on a sliding scale, are $5-$10. Donovan is currently touring through the eastern states before heading to Europe.
The blurb: “Mike D takes busman's holiday on keyboards; the shards and trinkles from this brokedown music-box are slivers of aloneness, echoes of weird scenes and falsetto-hued odes all designed to break…” A music video sample of Donovan’s work may be viewed at: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/mike-donovan/videos/cold-shine.
ROCK CITY FALLS – Six miles from Broadway stands a grand 19th-century estate where a series of Broadway legends and Tony Award notables will soon be showcased in an intimate performance space. It is, says Mansion Inn co-owner Jeffrey Wodicka, one of the area’s best kept secrets.
“We thought it would be fun to bring some top Broadway New York City performers up to the area and have them in a small, intimate setting. So, we decided to put together a supper - where a three-course dinner is served – and have major talent for a 90-minute performance in an intimate room that seats 120 people,” he says.
Wodicka and partner Neil Castro took over the historic Mansion Inn on Route 29 in 2001. Originally built in 1866 as a 23-room Venetian, villa-style estate and recognized by The National Register of Historic Places, the mansion was once the grand home of 19th Century industrialist George West - a renaissance man of sorts who established an art and archaeological museum in Round Lake, served as a member of the New York State Assembly and the House of Representatives, and owned as many as 10 paper mills, which earned him the nickname the “paper bag king.”
The inn has remained virtually unchanged during the past 150 years and hosts about 45 wedding celebrations annually as well as retreats and – for the past few years - a supper club theater.
The 801 Supper Club season opens May 24 with an appearance by Bobby Conte Thornton, who made his Broadway debut as Calogero, the leading role in Robert DeNiro's musical version of "A Bronx Tale.” Thorntown’s show, “Blame It On My Youth,” offers songs written by artists ranging from Irving Berlin to Sting.
TV actor Ryan Raftery performs “The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Martha Stewart” on June 21. Andrea McArdle – who rocketed to stardom as Broadway’s original “Annie” – stages a brand-new show that celebrates The Great American Songbook, Broadway and contemporary music on July 26; Broadway Legend Lillias White, who secured a Tony Award for Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman’s “The Life,“ starred in 2010’s “Fela!,” and starred in "Dream Girls" on Broadway performs at The 801 Supper Club Aug. 23. Singer-songwriters and Carnegie Hall headliners Will and Anthony Nunziata stage their show Sept. 20, and Josh Young - nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” presents an evening of showstoppers comprised of Andrew Lloyd Webber favorites on Oct. 18. The concert includes songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
“These are top, top people – and they love coming here, because they’ll come up in jeans and a piano player for a very intimate performance you wouldn’t normally see,” says Wodicka, who grew up on Long Island and relocated to Saratoga after the completion of his college years.
“A property like the Mansion Inn needs to be used, there are not many like it. In downtown Saratoga Springs there are quite a number of older homes and properties, but they’re not on any land – they’re on postage-stamp size lots and don’t have a lot of space. Here, we can accommodate a lot of people. We’re on acres with a pond and a carriage house and a barn, so we can do all kinds of things,” he says.
The atmosphere during the supper theater, he says, is something special. “It’s intimate. You sit around a table with people you’re probably meeting for the first time, you have the dinner conversation back-and-forth, then the show comes on and you know, it’s electric. There is no bad seat. You really get the effect.”
Tickets are $75 and include a three-course meal and a 90-minute show. For more information about the 801 Supper Club at the Mansion of Saratoga, go to https://www.themansionsaratoga.com/
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A new free monthly music series kicks off May 15 with a performance by The Dylan Perrillo Orchestra at Saratoga Senior Center. The series schedule showcases performances through October.
The concept behind the new series is to provide cultural offerings during midday and mid-week, says series organizer Jonathan Greene.
The series, largely funded by a grant from Saratoga Arts, is free and open to the public. Concerts will start at 12:30 p.m. and are scheduled on the third Tuesday of each month.
May 15 - Dylan Perrillo Orchestra. Ten-piece band that celebrates the beginnings of jazz performing arrangements of tunes from the 1920s to the 1940s. Saratoga Senior Center.
June 19 - Orchard Project. A preeminent engine of new work in the theater world, helping over 200 shows develop and go on to stages as big as Broadway and as small as a basement in Sweden. Orchard Project has made Saratoga Springs their summer home. Ben and Jerry’s (rain location: Saratoga Senior Center).
July 17 - Girl Blue. Girl Blue is the pseudonym of singer and songwriter Arielle O'Keefe. Her first single "Fire Under Water" placed 7th on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, with over 1 million hits the first month. Ben and Jerry’s (rain location: Saratoga Senior Center).
August 21 - Tame Pacific. Featuring members of internationally-noted but locally-based Wild Adriatic. Ben and Jerry’s (rain location: Saratoga Senior Center).
September 18 - Rodeo Barons. Roots rock band with modern alternative influences. Saratoga Senior Center.
October 16 - Heard. Original world music with jazz roots, influences from West Africa, Brazil, places in between and points beyond. Saratoga Senior Center.
For more information on the series, see the Lunchtime Concerts Facebook page: fb.com/lunchtimeconcerts.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city officially counts 59 “zombie” properties throughout Saratoga Springs but acknowledges there could be dozens more abandoned structures across the Spa City landscape.
The vacant and deteriorating homes, often abandoned by owners behind on their mortgage, pose safety risks and can negatively affect property values of entire neighborhoods.
“There are some in almost every neighborhood in the city,” says Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin. “On our vacant property registry list we have 59, but we believe from neighbor reports and our own officers driving around the city that there are probably closer to 80.”
Abandoned properties can attract animals, pose potential structure fire issues, result in injuries to children seeking an unmonitored play space and create all kinds of concerns for the neighborhoods they inhabit, Martin says. “An eyesore that looks dangerous can lower property values, despite how well the neighboring properties are maintained.”
In 2013, the city adopted an ordinance to identify and registering vacant buildings, while imposing reasonable responsibilities for the property owners. Assisted by the awarding of a $150,000 state grant, the city more recently has begun to make a concerted effort to come up with solutions to the zombie properties.
“In part, the grant went to help us staff our code enforcers and in part it helped us to participate in the State Registry (of Vacant Properties),” Martin says. “We were also able hire an attorney on a part-time basis.”
In January, the city issued a call to hire a Special Prosecutor to work 15 to 20 hours per week at a rate of $40 per hour and assist the city attorney in enforcing local law relating to vacant structures. That position was recently filled and is already making a positive impact, Martin says. “The reasons were doing this comes down to safety and security,” he says, explaining that once identified, there are a variety of outcomes that can occur with the properties.
Last week, the city posted a form on its website that enables residents to notify the Public Safety Department of a vacant structure. That form may be accessed at: http://www.saratoga-springs.org/formcenter/vacant-structures-17/report-a-vacant-zombie-property-69
“You hope that you can catch it early enough so that there’s not too much damage to the building, so it can be brought back and made useful again – and in many cases it can be brought back. In some cases, it’s going to take the owner selling it to someone who has more ability to bring the property back, and, in very few cases it will result in the demolition of the property if it’s gone too far,” Martin says. “That’s really not the result we’re looking for - particularly if it’s a historic property - but in some cases it’s deteriorated to the point where that’s the only possible answer. We actually have a couple of those in (the demolition) process right now. “
In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced that New Yorkers can report vacant and abandoned properties in their communities through a hotline at the New York State Department of Financial Services, and signed legislation to prevent foreclosures and curb the threat posed to communities by “zombie properties” across the state.
“For each zombie home that we cure and for each that we prevent with this legislation, we are saving entire neighborhoods from the corrosive effect of blight and neglect,” Cuomo said.
City Offers Help for Homeowners
“Sometimes homeowners, through just bad luck, run into financial straits and are not able to make mortgage payments on a timely basis,” Martin says. “We have sessions where people can come and talk to homeowners about ways to restructure debt so that if they want to maintain the home, sometimes it can be done.”
To that effort, homeowners can contact reach out to the department of Public Safety, which maintains an office on the second floor of City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A charity organization founded by a local reporter to honor his wife has become a popular annual Mother’s Day event to aid families who have suffered a loss due to cancer, as well as those currently engaged in fighting the fight.
Kelly's Angels Incorporated, was conceived by WNYT-TV reporter, Mark Mulholland, in memory of his late wife, Kelly, who lost her battle with cancer in 2007 at the age of 37. On Sunday, May 13, the organization will stage Kelly’s Angels Mother-Lovin’ 5K in the Saratoga Spa State Park, which invites men, women and children of all ages and abilities to participate in the name of helping children who’ve lost a parent or sibling to cancer. The event - Kelly's Angels Inc. big fundraiser of the year -typically attracts hundreds of families and more than 1,000 people overall.
“Being a sole surviving parent, I can empathize with anyone who is going through this,” says Mulholland, whose son Connor just turned 18 and will be graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in June. Daughter McKenna is 16. “Knock on wood they’re good kids. I do feel like I have very special bond with the children, so I feel fortunate in that way. I don’t think there’s a day that they don’t miss their mom, but I think they’re gratified as I am that we’re helping other kids.”
The organization’s “Fun Grants” have helped more than 100 kids in the region under the age of 18 who have lost a parent or sibling to cancer. The donation allows children to do a fun activity of their choosing. Some have made a trip to a Major League Baseball game or had a backyard bouncy house party; others have enjoyed a day at an amusement park, a Rangers’ hockey game in New York City, a Broadway show. One young girl received a puppy that her dad always wanted her to have.
“Our original mission was to help children who have lost a parent or a sibling to cancer by providing ‘fun grants.’ We’ve expanded our mission to include scholarships for children who overcome adversity and were also going to help families who are in a current battle with cancer, who are devastated by an insidious disease,” Mulholland says.
A family in Queensbury were notified just before Christmas that the father was diagnosed with colon cancer and having a very difficult time. “We provided them $1,000 so they could provide Christmas for the kids. That sparked the whole idea of what we call ‘Angel Aid.’ And we’re finding a lot of people who need help,” Mulholland says. “We’re giving aid to families who are in the throes of the battle. Whether it’s because they can’t work, or because of costs associated with medical care, or in need transportation - those sorts of things. We decided not just help families who have suffered a loss, but also those who are fighting the fight.”
This year marks the third time the organization will give scholarships to a boy and a girl, who are graduating seniors at Saratoga Springs City Schools.
“Kelly taught third grade at Saratoga Springs City Schools before she passed. We started with that school and chose a boy and a girl who have overcome adversity, demonstrated a need and demonstrated a commitment to helping other kids and who are going to an institution of higher learning, so, those are our primary criteria. Now we’re expanding that. Our goal is to give scholarships throughout the Capital Region,” Mulholland explains. “It’s a pretty lofty goal, but people have been very generous and very giving to the organization, so maybe we can do it. This year, in addition to Saratoga Springs, we’re adding Queensbury – because Kelly taught there for a time, and Hoosic Valley in Schaghticoke.”
"The scholarship really means a lot specifically coming from his family and knowing what they’ve been through,” said Harry Lazar, a senior at Saratoga Springs High School, who this week was informed he is one of Kelly’s Angels 2018 scholarship recipients.
“Growing up, I lived with my mom. I never knew my dad. My mom, she had a lot of mental issues. She was a great person, but she had a lot of problems. She hit a breaking point and broke down. It made my life pretty difficult, but I always had my grandparents who helped me, and I always had my friends, which was nice, so I got through it because I had a good support group around me,” said Lazar, who will be heading to the University of Virginia where he’s anticipating study either economics or psychology.
“I needed to fix her. My childhood was slipping away… (but) It didn’t work. She was too far gone.” Harry’s mother died when he was in his sophomore year. His anguish, over time, has been transformed into something else. “When stripped at its core, what was once guilt revealed itself as the last gift my mother ever gave me: purpose.”
“I’ve had to work for a lot that I have. I really think I’ve developed a good work ethic and a thick skin to face whatever life has to offer. I know from here on out, going to college, things are just going to get more challenging, but I feel I’ve been given an advantage to have a good shot of doing well.”
What would Kelly Mulholland think?
“I think she would have a huge smile on her face because kids were her passion. The fact that we’re expanding now and giving out scholarships – I think she’d be thrilled,” Mark Mulholland says.
The 6th Kelly’s Angels Mother-Lovin’ 5k Run/Walk takes place Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Race Day Registration/Packet Pickup: 7:30 - 8:30 a.m. Activities step off at 8:45 a.m. with a Kids’ Fun Run, where children under 9 years of age race toward the finish line with moms and dads rooting them on, or running alongside. Online registration is $30. Day of race registration is $35. Awards will be given to the first and second overall male and female winners as well as first, second and third place male and female winners across 8 different age groups. Register HERE.
Donations may also be made and go directly to fund "Fun Grants" for children who have lost a parent or sibling to cancer. Online donations may be made at: http://www.kellysangelsinc.org/donate/. Checks may be sent to Kelly's Angels, Inc., P.O. Box 2034, Wilton, N.Y. 12831.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.
A blood drive will be held 1- 6 p.m. Monday, May 7 at the Saratoga Springs City Center, room M1, at 522 Broadway.
An appointment may be scheduled online HERE, or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Walk-ins are also welcome.
Who can donate blood? Standard “whole blood” donors must be at least 16 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health and feeling well. More on eligibility requirements at redcrossblood.org.
Your blood donation will help patients of all ages, including accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those battling cancer.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Rhianna Stallard was on her way to work Tuesday morning when she caught sight of some activity in Congress Park that prompted her to action.
“I was just driving by, when I saw them taking down this beautiful tree,” she said. “I pulled over and parked, then I ran in the park and went and jumped up, into the tree.” Two workers who were set to cut down the tree were forced to pause their actions as the woman sat high atop a limb of the tree, which is located a few yards from the Congress Park Carousel, for the better part of a half-hour.
“This tree is a staple of this park,” Stallard said. “Brides get their picture with it. Kids get their picture with it. I grew up with it.”
Prevented from cutting the tree, the workers were soon dispatched to another job, in another part of the city.
“The two workers were really nice, and we had a fine conversation,” Stallard said after the workers had gone and she descended from the tree limb. “They told me they’re going to wait, that they’re not going to cut it down today.”
The willow, which is marred by a two to three-foot wide hole in its trunk, will need to be removed for safety reasons, said DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.
“Nobody wants to see a healthy tree get cut down, but there’s nothing healthy about this tree. It’s either take it down, or it will come down by itself,” Scirocco said.
“We have talked about it for some time and we were hesitant. We asked if there was anything we could do to try and make it right, to try and save the tree - but there’s nothing,” Scirocco explained. “We talked about going in and trimming it a little bit, doing different things that might eliminate some of the issues, but in the end, it just kept getting worse and worse. I’ve got pictures from last year until now and the hole just keeps getting bigger.”
The commissioner said he has received complaints about park visitors’ safety from parents whose children play near the tree.
“Apparently some kid got inside of it,” Scirocco said. “We’re thinking: not good. The location is right by the carousel and it’s a dangerous situation. The tree is diseased and it’s in a public place where it could really create serious problems if it were to fall. And eventually it will fall, by itself.”
Scirocco said after the tree is removed, DPW workers will plant another one in its place.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) this week received approval from the New York State Franchise Oversight Board to proceed with construction of a permanent building at the site of the current At the Rail tent at Saratoga Race Course.
The project will replace the seasonal tent and trailers located immediately adjacent to the end of the Clubhouse with a 36,000-square foot, three-story, climate-controlled building featuring differentiated hospitality options and modern amenities. In addition to the three floors of usable space for guests, a basement level will provide space for a fully appointed kitchen to service the building.
NYRA currently plans to break ground on the project at the conclusion of the 2018 summer season and anticipates the new building will welcome guests on opening day of the 2019 meet.
“The new building will address the modern-day needs of Saratoga Race Course while honoring its history,” said NYRA CEO and President Chris Kay, in a statement. “We have taken great care to ensure that the building is historically consistent with the fabled architecture of our grandstand and clubhouse. We look forward to beginning the next steps of this much-anticipated project."
SOSH Architects will continue to oversee design, bid and construction administration services for the building. Matt Hurff, partner at Saratoga Springs-based Frost Hurff Architects, will continue to serve as project consultant to ensure all historic preservation standards are met.
The project has received the endorsement of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, which specifically noted the importance of the new building to the future of Saratoga Race Course.
In recent years, NYRA has placed significant resources behind historic preservation efforts at Saratoga Race Course. In 2015, NYRA began to restore the copper roofing that historically bordered the slate-covered roof on buildings throughout the property. This is visible in a number of locations, including the archway over the Clubhouse escalator, which was installed in 2016; the paddock mutuel building roof, to which copper accents were added in 2017; and the Clubhouse from the Easy Goer to the Club Terrace, which will feature the addition of copper along the roofline for the 2018 season.
In 2017, NYRA unveiled several upgrades to the historic paddock mutuel building, including a new slate roof and rafters. The improvements are intended to ensure the continued preservation of the historically-significant building, which was constructed in 1902 and originally used as a saddling shed during inclement weather.
The Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board also expressed support for the new building.
The new building is the latest in a series of capital improvements at Saratoga Race Course. Since 2013, NYRA has invested more than $30 million at Saratoga in efforts to enhance the guest experience and provide amenities that are consistent with those available at first-class stadiums and arenas.
These efforts are most recently demonstrated through the creation of The Stretch, Saratoga's newest hospitality area located in the grandstand at the Top of the Stretch, which will debut on opening day of the 2018 meet.
The Stretch will feature modern and upscale amenities in a casual environment with breathtaking views of thoroughbreds rounding the final turn as they enter the dramatic stretch drive. Highlights of the area include three types of boxes available in multiple configurations, a dining tier, reserved bar seats, and approximately 200 premium reserved seats.
Additionally, guests now enjoy more than 1,000 new high-definition televisions throughout Saratoga Race Course; 950 picnic tables available for free on a first-come, first-serve basis in the backyard; new high-definition video boards in the backyard and infield; enhanced Wi-Fi and sound systems; a renovated and redesigned Saratoga Family Zone; and new attractions and hospitality areas such as the Saratoga Walk of Fame, Fourstardave Sports Bar and Easy Goer.
The 40-day meet, which includes 69 stakes worth $18.8 million in purses, will run from Friday, July 20, through Labor Day, Monday, Sept.3.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Garage sales. Flea markets. Estate sales. Tony Izzo has rummaged through the past on a scavenger hunt to uncover history for as long as he can remember.
“I go to several of them a week and collecting things since I was a kid,” says the city resident, who works by day as a local attorney. “I especially enjoy collecting audio, and there is a lot of audio history out there - things that sat in someone’s attic or garage - but the problem is when people find this sort of stuff they can’t find anything to play it on, so they throw them out without knowing what they are.”
At one local sale he came upon a slew of boxes filled with audio tapes with no idea what they contained. “Nobody was paying much attention to them. I ended up buying five or six boxes and only paid a few dollars a box,” he recalls. “There were hundreds of tapes - 90 percent of them were re-recordings of commercial albums, but I learned there were also tapes from the estate of a man who was a local radio broadcaster and his collection had things he had accumulated throughout his career.”
The broadcaster was Herb Sabin of the radio station WKAJ AM 900, which was located on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Several hours’ worth of tapes revealed a local historical goldmine.
In the mid-1970s Saratoga Race Course hosted a series of 10-day events during consecutive summers in advance of the racing meet. The festival, called the Saratoga Fair, featured art exhibits and parades, firework shows, live animals, a children’s petting zoo, and nightly performances by some of the biggest entertainers of the day.
“The Saratoga Fair was a significant event in the 1970s for NYRA and for this city,” Izzo says. “I went to a number of them with my folks. For a few bucks you had access to the fair grounds and a major headline entertainer each night.”
A bandstand erected on the dirt track staged appearances by Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and The Smothers Brothers; Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and O.J. Simpson came from the sports world to sign autographs. Each of the festivals drew more than a quarter of a million people over the 10-day gathering.
Sabin’s tapes feature the broadcaster’s rough-cut interviews with dozens of fair-goers, celebrities and local officials. George Bolster talks about his collection of historic Saratoga photographs, Tom McTygue speaks of the festival as being “a real boost for Saratoga,” Edward Villella, introduced by Sabin as “one of the most in-demand dancers in ballet,” is interviewed about the New York City Ballet’s summer season. Bob Hope talks about sustaining patriotism in the era of Watergate, cracks a few jokes about his stay at the Gideon Putnam hotel, and reminisces about his early days of struggle in Chicago during the 1920s.
“To me this is a very comprehensive and thorough audio history of this event that has not been very well documented. Just to hear the sounds of that event. I’m very pleased it’s preserved, instead of it just being thrown away in the trash,” Izzo says.
There are also interviews with singer Donna Fargo – who then had recently had a hit with the song "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA," “Tonight” show bandleader Skitch Henderson, and excerpts from Red Skelton’s live stage show.
Bandleader Mercer Ellington charmingly talks about performing the songbook of his father, Duke Ellington: “mostly the standards, like ‘A Train,’ things that are easily identifiable – we’re not going to get far out and play any modern jazz or anything of that sort. We’re going to play the favorites for the people and the things they know him best for.”
The 1974 and 1975 festivals drew 254,000 and 293,000 people, respectively, and were co-sponsored by NYRA and Harry M. Stevens Inc. – who collectively invested about $1 million in the project each of the years. Joe Dalton, executive vice president of the Greater Saratoga Chamber of Commerce estimated the annual fair brought in to the local community about $3 million. But NYRA and the Stevens company bowed out after two years, citing a loss of $1.3 million. The 1976 fair was sponsored by a non-profit organization comprised of local residents and business owners. That season, too, resulted in a financial loss and in January 1977, the group announced the fair would be no more. Whether it was ultimately financial concerns, the trampled grounds of the race course in advance of the summer meet, or complaints from other area venues that ultimately doomed the fair isn’t clear, but after a three-year run it ceased after the Bicentennial Summer of 1976.
Other Voices, Other Rooms
Through his foraging, Izzo has uncovered a plethora of additional raw goodies on reel-to-reel and cassette tape. Whether they were publicly broadcast, or played once and disposed of, is not known. Among his collection are backstage interviews with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey dating to 1956, and Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett in 1960; Aaron Copland and Helen Hayes in conversation at Skidmore College; talks with Lloyd Bridges - accompanied by his pre-teen son Jeff Bridges, writers Joseph Heller and Frank Sullivan in Saratoga Springs, musician Count Basie in Glens Falls, and actress Jayne Mansfield who talks about her role in a production of “Nature’s Way” in the 1960s as well as how she is required to film two versions of her movies – one for open-minded European audiences, and one for the more conservative American market.
There is also a reel-to-reel tape Izzo possesses of a high-quality live Arlo Guthrie appearance in October 1975 at the Great Saratoga Music Hall, which stood at 106 Spring St. and has long since been converted to condominium apartments. The tape depicts stage announcements by Lena Spencer – the co-founder of Caffe Lena - introducing Guthrie and announcing upcoming concerts at the hall by Tom Paxton and Don McLean.
Guthrie meanwhile is heard joyfully interacting with the audience throughout his show and performing Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Woody Guthrie’s “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” “Do Re Mi,” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and a series of tunes carved from the great American songbook -“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Oh Mary Don't You Weep,” and “Goodnight Irene,” among them.
“Here’s what I learned,” Izzo says, “the lesson is if you come across something and don’t have the means to play it – think twice before throwing it away. It may be something significant. You just never know what you’re going to find.”
A partial list of entertainers performing at the Saratoga Fair.
1974 – Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Glen Campbell, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Smothers Brothers, Mac Davis, Anne Murray, Willie Mays, O.J. Simpson. Admission: $2 adults, $1 kids. Parking: $1.
1975 – Olivia Newton John, Lynn Anderson, Mac Davis, B.J. Thomas, Red Skelton, Tanya Tucker, Roger Miller, the Mills Brothers, Bob Hope, Hudson Bros. Sports clinic, Q&A session with Mickey Mantle, Dave DeBusschere, Craig Morton, Ralph Kiner, Emerson Boozer. Admission: $3 adults, $1.50 kids. Parking: $1.
1976 – Johnny Cash, Fifth Dimension, Tanya Tucker, Donna Fargo, Anson Williams of Happy Days, Charlie Rich, Pat Boone Family. Tickets: $3.50 adults, $1.50 kids. Parking: $1.