Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 09 June 2022 15:57

Yaddo Gardens Reopen to the Public

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Gardens at Yaddo have re-opened for public use following the closure of the gardens due to the pandemic more than two years ago. 

Spencer Trask gave the Gardens at Yaddo as a gift to his wife Katrina in 1899, and the corporation of Yaddo founded one year later. The estate opened its doors to its first group of guests in 1926, and resident artists were welcomed by George Foster Peabody. 

The Yaddo grounds shut down altogether and temporarily suspended its residency for artists during the early days of the pandemic. “While Yaddo has never seen an interruption of this length in its nearly 100 years of service to artists, it has now become apparent that closing altogether is the responsible course of action from a public health standpoint,” Yaddo President Elaina Richardson said on March 13, 2020. 

The private portion of the estate, which houses artists-in-residence, reopened in February 2021. The public portion – which includes the gardens, will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during weekends. 

Limited parking is available at the entrance to the gardens. Typically, the gardens are among the most popular attractions in Saratoga Springs and receive over 60,000 visits annually.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - their collaboration fittingly born at a Leadbelly tribute concert in 2004, staged the second show of their summerlong tour, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center last week. 

They performed 20 songs, the majority culled from the duo’s two albums together – 2007’s “Raising Sand,” and the more recently issued “Raise The Roof,” which dropped in the age of the pandemic sequester. This year’s stagings presented the first opportunity to perform the songs in front of a live audience. 

“It’s a big deal for us. We’re very thrilled to be back on the circuit and thrilled to be in this great room that has seen so many magnificent people…like The Dead!” Plant announced from the stage, eliciting a roar of approval from the crowd, a smattering of whom wore T-shirts emblazoned with Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song décor.    

More than a half-century has rambled on since Robert Plant first performed in the region. Back then, it was a newly formed Led Zeppelin that played the Aerodrome nightclub on State Street in Schenectady on an August night in 1969 - two days after Jimi Hendrix had famously wrung the notes of the Star-Spangled Banner from his guitar atop the Woodstock Festival stage. 

Plant and Krauss came onstage at SPAC with little advance fanfare and arrived from different entry points. Krauss dressed in florals and entered from stage right; Plant from stage left, an oversized shirt draped over his pleatherette trousers.  A backlit swatch of classy draperies, swooping and beveled in looping arcs illuminated like an ever-changing mood ring, conditioning the atmosphere with an art deco hue. 

In addition to their own collaborative songbook, the duo performed a trio of Everly Brothers tunes, and an assortment of rhythm & blues odes to Little Milton and Allen Toussaint, Plant cultivating the roots of his bluesy garden, Krauss providing sympatico vocals and displaying her fiddling talents as reigning bluegrass queen. 

They also dipped into the Led Zeppelin songbook. “The Battle of Evermore” fit perfectly into the ensemble’s overall presentation, and a tastefully ominous “When The Levve Breaks” (covering Led Zeppelin who covered the chilling 1920s song), had Plant throttling maracas and Krauss unsheathing her bow across the strings of her fiddle. 

A reworked rendition of “Rock and Roll” – think skiffling up-tempo Marc Bolanesque riffs, maraca percussion and a fiddle solo – was an early crowd favorite. Plant grooved with physical economy, snapping fingers here, clapping and giving the thumbs-up there, as an ever-present breeze tousled his long silver-blond mane. 

“I got a few moves from Elvis and one or two from Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf and threw them together,” he once laughingly explained his stage moves to the New York Times’ Neil Strauss. 

In some ways the event was not dissimilar to Bruce Springsteen’s showcase at the same venue, when Springsteen came to town during the Seeger Sessions Band Tour: well-known tunes offered up for a different way of hearing. 

A quintet of musicians supported the duo on stage. They included multi-instrumentalists Viktor Krauss and Stuart Duncan, a rhythm section comprised of Jay Bellerose (drums) and Dennis Crouch (upright bass), and guitarist J.D. McPherson. 

McPherson performed double duty, delivering a lean and clean set of twang-a-billy as the night’s opening act, which included a stripped-raw rendition of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” that reminded you how just much fun that song is when distanced from the overplay of commercial TV, as well as just how weird Iggy’s lyrics can be.   

On a night that largely celebrated the music of 20th Century Middle America, there existed also a memorable nod to the nostalgia that was Robert Plant’s earlier offerings, particularly in those moments when his voice climbed to the aspirations of classic upper-register screams. Ringing familiar bells, the crowd loved it.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A roundtable community discussion will take place at the Saratoga Springs City Center at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8 regarding homelessness and panhandling in the city. 

The event is hosted by the Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness and will include Opening Remarks by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, an introduction of Roundtable Speakers by city Mayor Ron Kim.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) details four criteria for defining homeless. They are: Literally Homeless (such as a primary nighttime residence not meant for human habitation); Imminent Risk of Homelessness (Individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence); Homeless Under Other Federal Statutes, and any individual or family fleeing domestic violence with no other residence or the resources to obtain permanent housing. 

More than 200 people in the Saratoga region are homeless on any given night, and over 33% of families in Saratoga County are experiencing financial hardship and at-risk of homelessness, according to Shelters of Saratoga.   

During the roundtable community discussion on June 8, Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness cochair Andy Gilpin will discuss Saratoga Springs homelessness demographics and a strategic plan. 

Open questions from the public in attendance will be facilitated by Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino. 

The community is invited to fill out a survey in advance, so that panelists may address questions directly from the Community. A link to that survey is at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/homelessnesscommunitysurvey 

Local Human Service Organizations represented on the panel include: CAPTAIN Community Human Services; The Community Health Center; The Prevention Council; RISE Housing and Support Services; Salvation Army; Shelters of Saratoga. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was 11:30 on a Friday morning in December and the children were in the school playground making believe they were monsters, or earth men, or chasing each other around in a game of tag. Daniel Insetta, the school guard on duty, heard the pops – first one, then another, then two quick shots - and called police.

The stores on Broadway and inside the Pyramid Mall in the mid-1970s were preparing for the holiday season. For residents in and around the city, there was a lot going on. There was a local screening premier of Diana Ross’ “Mahogany” at the Saratoga Cinema at 7 p.m. and Louis and Sally Killen were staging their style of British folk-singing downtown at Lena’s café. Some simply decided to cash their paychecks and set the four bucks aside it would take to purchase the tickets to see Asleep at the Wheel at the Great Saratoga Music Hall later in the month.

In the apartment complex across the street from the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School, building super Jim Rodgers visited George McCode in his second-floor apartment to discuss a $102 rent bill that was due. McCode told the super he thought his wife had already paid the bill, paid it before she left with the couple’s young daughter and headed for Georgia. She had not, the super informed the 32-year-old McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after serving at the Kesselring site in West Milton. 

As McCode called his wife on the telephone from his residence inside the Gaslight apartment complex, third-grade teacher Lillian Pratt led 40 students to the playground outside, where they joined their younger elementary schoolmates shortly before noon. McCode hung up the telephone after talking with his wife. 

A demolition crew tore through the Empire and Brooklyn hotels north of his apartment on Hamilton Street. The Saratoga Springs Urban Renewal Spring Valley North Project was leveling land to make way for a city center. On South Broadway, Natale American hosted a used car sale in a lot parked with Camaros and Gremlins, Hornets and Torinos. A ’69 Volkswagen Bus could be got for $1,595. Realtors offered four-bedroom Victorian-style colonial homes fitted with fireplaces for $29,900, financing available. At City Hall, the council voted to cut $7,500 in appropriations to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, sending venue general manager Craig Hankenson to embark on a grass-roots fundraising drive to meet budget demands.

Shortly before noon, in the playground at St. Peter’s, third-grade teacher Lillian Pratt heard what she thought were fireworks, coming from the Gaslight Apartments across the street. Second-grade teacher Judy Vetrano heard four pops and when she looked across the schoolyard she saw a little girl lying down in the corner of the playground, blood streaming from her foot.The children were hustled back inside the classrooms of the elementary school building. Some were crying. Two 7-year-old girls were injured. 

Kim Bemis was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove the bullet from the heel of her foot. Moira D’Andrea returned to her classroom with a slight wound from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.

When police arrived and sealed off the area, they headed for the housing complex that overlooked the schoolyard across the street. Forcing their way through the barricaded door of McCode’s second-floor apartment, they found four spent 22-cal. shells next to an open living room window. A fifth shell was located next to the 32-year-old man, who was discovered lying on his bedroom floor, bleeding. He died early the next morning at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.

“Every time somebody acts like, hey, it can’t happen in Saratoga Springs, I say, it already has happened in Saratoga Springs,” Police Chief Greg Veitch said about the incident, decades later.

Forty-five minutes after the shooting the building superintendent received a money-telegram from the man’s wife with payment for the rent bill that was due. Kimberly Bemis recovered from the bullet wound, graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1987 and later relocated to Stillwater. Moira D’Andrea became a three-time Olympian speed skater in the 1980s and 90s, relocated to Canada, and became an instructor, teaching others in the sport. 

Originally published as “Sniper Takes Aim: It Can’t Happen Here? It Already Has,” in the book “Saratoga Stories: Magic And Loss,” by Thomas Dimopoulos, 2015, Shires Press. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Eight legends of the local music scene will be honored in an induction ceremony for The Capital Region Thomas Edison Music Hall of Fame class of 2022.  The event will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7 at Universal Preservation Hall.

Inductees include ambient music artist Sara Ayers; music promoter Greg Bell; the late Brooks Brown, founder of independent radio station WEQX; Michael Eck, poet, solo artist, member of several musical acts, and a producer and music critic; the late Greg Haymes, longtime TU music writer, founder of the publication Nippertown and lead vocalist of the band Blotto; Grammy- and Academy Awarding-winning music producer and Spa City resident Joel Moss; solo artist Rich Ortiz; and the Troy rock trio Super 400.

Haymes, who passed away in 2019, was one of the first people I met in the region when moving here in the 1990s. 

Supreme master of musical knowledgeable and grand enthusiast as an A&E music scribe, Haymes shined a light on the region’s activities where it ought be shined, for all to see, and offered thoughtful encouragement for musical ensembles of all kinds, including my own. He also helped get me my earliest writing gigs at the TU, don’t you know. The memories are plentiful: standing together awaiting the stage arrival of Neil Young at SPAC; gossiping back-and-forth between readings at Bob Dylan’s birthday celebration gathering at the Old Chapel at Union College in Schenectady; sharing a patch of Shepard Park grass as David Amram wonderfully navigated a collaboration between the T.S. Monk Sextet and Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra during the Lake George Jazz Festival. That last one, in mid-September 2001, was the first time many of us had mustered the courage to gather together in a public space during those twitchy, nerve-frazzled days immediately following the attacks of 9/11. 

In 2017, I had hosted an event at Saratoga Springs Public Library – “The History of Rock and Roll: Saratoga and Beyond,” which featured a panel of talented and gifted luminaries from across the region – Greg Haymes, among them. 

Published for the first time, here is a partial transcript of what he said: 

“August 10 is the anniversary of the first gig I played in Saratoga. It was with the Star-Spangled Washboard band. We went on an played a couple of more shows, at Caffe Lena, and within a year we played at SPAC, opening for Sha Na  Na. A year after that, 1974, we played at the Saratoga Fair. Remember the Saratoga Fair? It was at the racetrack, a 10-day fair in June.  It was Mac Davis, Anne Murray, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Red Skeleton – who is the one I remember most because we played that same day. I remember him sitting in front of this little booth where he was selling his paintings for clowns that he did. How cool is that? Tickets were $2.50 a day. $1 parking charge. Not too bad,” Haymes remembered. 

“Star-Spangled Washboard Band lasted through about September ’78 and everybody went their separate ways and got ‘Real Jobs.’ I worked at a record store – not a real job! And our bass player, Cheese Blotto, got a job bartending at his friends who had just opened a bar that was called 17 Maple Avenue. 

“The Washboard band had broken up, but we were still around. One Friday on Saturday, one or two of us would show up. You never knew who was going to show up. We would play and whoever would show up would play. Eventually it coalesced into a group and we needed a name. We came up with the name Blotto. We came up with these little cardboard convention badges that would say: Hello My Name Is. That became the title of our first record: Hello My Name is Blotto. 

“Like I said, anybody would get up and play with us. There was a night, late in the evening, we’re doing our third set or something. We did mostly ‘60s covers, off the wall stuff: Freddie & The Dreamers, Ballad of the Green Beret, Mother’s Little Helper – I’d bring out a medicine chest in the middle of the song and everybody would be throwing pills all over the place. That’s the kind of band it was.  So, one night there’s a group of gentlemen who come in and stand in the back. Big poodle hair. Satin baseball jackets with the sleeves pushed up. This was like ’79. So naturally we started making fun of them. They’re a band? ahaha, it’s a Friday night and they’re not playing anywhere. 

“Hey, you wanna come up and jam? So we did “House of the Rising Sun,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” because everybody does “Johnny B. Goode,” and I think we also did “We Gotta Get Outta This Place.” I think it was maybe four guys came in, the drummer came up, the guitar player. And they were pretty good! We were very impressed. After our set it was time to say thank you, wrap up the night and we asked them who they are. The guitar player’s Neil, the drummer’s Steve…it was Journey, who had just finished playing at SPAC earlier that evening. They were pretty cool about it. 

“Two years later I was in Colonie Center, somebody said ‘Have you seen the poster?’ We had to go to Spencer’s Gifts and in the back there were these racks of posters and there’s a Journey poster. They’re just kinda standing there. There are some green trees and some white pillars and I’m looking at it, and… hanging from Steve Smith’s belt-loop is a cardboard tag that says: “Hello! My Name is Blotto. What’s Yours?’’

The ceremony will feature live music, a presentation of a brief video about each artist, and acceptance speeches. Tickets are $50 and are on sale at universalpreservationhall.org. Admission includes complimentary hors d’oeuvres. A bronze plaque is placed on the Hall of Fame wall at UPH for each inductee, and a video about each inductee will play there in a loop with past, present, and future recipients.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Washington Street building that housed the Saratoga Candy Company for nearly a quarter of a century was demolished last week.  A new, multi-story mixed-use hotel/residential development is targeted for the space. 

“It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to my O. G. baby store after 23 years,” says Saratoga Candy Co. owner Dawn Oesch. ”I spent more time there than anywhere I have ever lived. Baking stuff at 2 in the morning, showing up at 5 in the morning to get ready for something.” 

The neighborhood candy store has been relocated to 353 Broadway, lower level, around the corner from the former spot, and in a similarly sized space, and may also be found online at: www.saratogasweets.com. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A longtime West Avenue building may soon be demolished. 

The city’s Land Use Boards are this slated this week to determine the existence of any potential architectural or historic significance of the building that once housed D’Andrea’s Liquor Store on West Avenue, with a potential review of demolishing the structure. 

The single-story 2,200 square foot building stands on the northwest corner of Washington Street/Route 29 and West Avenue, and is perhaps most noticeable to passing motorists for its exterior letter design exhibiting Spanish and Greek, Italian, German and other languages in color-filled period script. 

It has previously served as a restaurant, and then a liquor store. In the summer of 2016, shortly after the liquor store closed, Faust D’Andrea sold the lot to David Mohr - president of 81 West Realty Inc., who acquired the property for $1.5 million, according to the Albany Business Review. 

81 West Realty Inc. is the applicant to the city asking for the architectural/historic review, citing that  the building “has been classified as an ‘unsafe structure.’  We are proposing to demolish this building and clear the lot.” 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In an 11th hour change to his draft map that would have shifted Saratoga Springs voters into the 21st congressional voting district, court-appointed special master Jonathan Cervas on May 21 released his final map, setting district boundaries along Saratoga County lines. 

Previously, the draft map split Saratoga County in a jagged west-to-east manner and placed Spa City voters in a district alongside those in Plattsburgh, Potsdam and other North Country municipalities along the Canadian border. Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik currently represents the 21st district. 

The final map places all of Saratoga County into district 20, alongside Capital Region municipalities Albany, Schenectady and Troy, currently represented by Democrat Congressman Paul Tonko. 

The draft map was released Monday May 16 and requested public input. Many did. Saratoga Springs City Mayor Ron Kim gathered with the respective mayors of Albany, Amsterdam, Schenectady and Troy to call upon Cervas to keep Saratoga Springs in NY-20 as it had been for the last 10 years.

The city of Amsterdam, Tonko’s home district was not included and will instead be in Stefanik’s NY-21 district. 

In re-setting all of Saratoga County into NY-20, Stefanik’s home district of the town of Saratoga - previously been in NY-21, was shifted to Tonko’s NY-20 district. 

The Constitution requires members of the House live in the state they represent, though not necessarily in the same district.   

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A new draft mapping the state’s Congressional Districts for the next decade shifts a greater number of Saratoga voters from District 20 to District 21.    

The proposed maps, drawn by court-appointed special master Jonathan R. Cervas, would specifically shift a larger number of Saratoga Springs residents into the 21st District, effectively placing Spa City voters in a district alongside those in Plattsburgh, Potsdam and other municipalities along the Canadian border. Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik currently represents the 21st district. 

The map, from court-appointed special master Jonathan Cervas, splits Saratoga County in a jagged west-to-east manner. The proposed new District 21 begins at the Kayderosserass Creek line at South Broadway, and includes most of Saratoga Spa State Park and points north – including Saratoga Race Course, Yaddo, downtown Saratoga Springs, west to Greenfield and east to Schuylerville, and includes Wilton, Warren and Washington Counties and extends north to the Canadian border. 

 “I look forward to running for re-election in NY-21 where I have been honored and humbled to earn historic support every election cycle. I will always work my very hardest to deliver real results for the hardworking families in Upstate New York and the North Country,” Stefanik said, in a statement. The town of Saratoga, where Stefanik maintains her home, would remain in her 21st district. 

Democrat Congressman Paul Tonko, who lives in Amsterdam, would see his home district carved away from the 20th Congressional District he currently represents. The draft map for District 20 includes: Ballston Spa, Malta, Milton – and the Saratoga County Airport, Round Lake, Malta, and most of Saratoga Lake, Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Mechanicville, as well as Albany, Schenectady, Troy and their surrounding communities. 

“I stand with our residents who loudly voiced that Albany, Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Troy must remain in the same district so we can continue to speak with a unified voice in Washington. I urge the (special master) to listen to the voters in the Capital District in his final maps. Anything less hamstrings our ability to get things done for our communities,” Tonko said in a statement. 

Representatives are not required to reside in the districts they represent. “If today’s maps are finalized, I intend to run for reelection in New York’s 20th Congressional District,” Tonko said. 

By The Numbers

District 21 – Saratoga County and points north and southwest, is one of only three of the state’s 26 Districts that lean Republican, with a 56.6% to 43.5% split, according to the Cervas special master proposal.  Current officeholder: Elise Stefanik (R). 

District 20 – Saratoga County and points south shows a 57.3% - 42.7% split favoring Democrats. Current officeholder; Paul Tonko (D).

Overall, there are 26 districts in New York with 3 districts leaning Republican, 15 leaning Democratic, and eight that fall in the 45-55% competitive range. 

The last Congressional races were held in 2020. In District 20, nearly 360,000 votes were counted. Democrat Paul Tonko defeated Republican challenger Elizabeth Joy by about 80,000 votes, with Tonko gaining 9,000 votes in that margin of victory in Saratoga County from about 81,000 overall county voters. 

In District 21, about 320,000 voted. Republican Elise Stefanik defeated Democrat challenger Tedra Cobb by about 56,000 votes. In the smaller segment of Saratoga County residents, about 52,000 voted, with Stefanik posting a 7,000 vote advantage difference.    

The maps are anticipated to be finalized May 20. 

Thursday, 19 May 2022 14:07

Coming June 1: Gas Relief for Motorists

BALLSTON SPA — The county Board of Supervisors staged a 30-minute special meeting May 11 and approved a pump savings cost for motorists in Saratoga of about .06 per gallon, which will go into effect on June 1. 

The tax savings at the pump was approved by the majority of the board, although some expressed concern that the reduction may ultimately lead to less tax revenue for county municipalities.    

The move dovetails with a previously announced state measure, also going into effect June 1, that will provide motorists across the state with a savings of about .16 per gallon. 

“New York State recently vested New York counties with the authority to cap their sales tax that is paid on fuel at the pump,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz said during the May 11 meeting.  “I can tell you on my way down here I fueled up in northern Saratoga County and the price was $4.69 per gallon. And the price of diesel is even higher than that,” he said.  “We don’t want the residents of Saratoga County to have to choose between buying food, buying prescriptions and putting fuel in their tanks.”

On April 9, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state will suspend the state sales tax on motor fuels and called on counties to do the same. The special meeting of the county board was called to get in under a time deadline.   

Kusnierz said the reductions would equal about .06 cents savings per gallon for Saratoga County consumers. A separate state reduction - about .16 cents per gallon - would be added, totaling approximately .22 cents per gallon in overall savings. “We anticipate the savings may be as high as $4 million during this period.”      

Supervisors Joe Grasso and Jean Raymond expressed concern that the savings at-the-pump may later adversely affect municipalities dependent on the sales tax revenue, and Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Tara Gaston cast the lone vote against the measure. 

“I have real reservations that this is going to be as effective as we would like it to be because we have absolutely no way of monitoring this in any way,” Supervisor Raymond said. 

“I was in the business directly and indirectly for probably 30 years so I’m more than passingly familiar with how this works. On the other hand, if we can do anything to help people, I think that’s important, so I am reluctantly going to support it,” said Raymond, adding of the estimated $4 million tax savings “$2 million is going to come out of the pockets of all the towns and cities and villages when we come to the sales tax.”      

The measure, which goes into effect June 1, switches from an overall percentage of total sales tax to taxing only the first two dollars of each gallon of gas that is sold, according to the county attorney. 

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