City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For 40 seconds, most everyone in the crowd of nearly 5,000 people inside the SPAC pavilion and several thousand more seated outside on the lawn kept their eyes closed in an exercise in the expression of gratitude led by Oprah Winfrey.
“Serve the calling of your soul,” the popular former television talk show host instructed. “Use more of YOU, to bring forth the light.”
Winfrey, author and scholar Wes Moore, and journalist and education advocate Ann Rubenstein Tisch were each awarded a doctorate of letters, and the achievements of more than 600 graduates were celebrated during Skidmore College’s 2017 Commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
Winfrey spoke for nearly 30 minutes and stressed each individual find their way through life’s varied stages by following the instinct of their own truth. Mohau Mazibuko – one of three students enrolled at Skidmore this year who came from Oprah's Leadership Academy for Girls in Africa – was a member of the graduating Class of 2017.
“Every decision I ever made that led me to the right space and place in life, I got there because I relied on my inner voice – the truth of me,” explained Winfrey, urging attendees to develop their spiritual muscle by practicing gratitude – something she said she does every day.
Among the graduating class were Pete Donnelly – who returned to school 25 years after taking a leave of absence to spend full-time as a member of the band The Figgs – and Lulu Simon, whose parents Edie Brickell and Paul Simon joyfully watched the day’s ceremonies from their seats in the front row.
Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach offered congratulatory remarks to students, noted their graduation gowns were composed of recyclable materials – “symbolic of Skidmore’s commitment to sustainability,” he said – and appointed them “ambassadors for liberal learning” in their future endeavors as they crossed the divide into the real world.
Moore jokingly apologized that his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” was required reading at the college, and Tisch urged graduates to prepare for life’s inevitable challenges by seeking the opportunities wrapped within them. “Learn to re-define failure as part of the process of success,” she said.
Perhaps the day’s most passionate words were spoken by graduating student Abude Al-Asaad. The co-chair of the Senior Gift campaign dutifully thanked teachers and trustees, jokingly welcomed affluent parents now broke because of tuition costs and “people who show up at random such events,” and shared the emotional journey from his upbringing in a Syrian refugee camp to the day’s celebration of his graduation, even as his family was not permitted to enter the country to witness their son’s graduation.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Call it SoBro.
Plans are underway to revitalize the entrance to the city via the South Broadway gateway with the proposed development of a contemporary four-story mixed-use building on an under-utilized lot currently occupied by the Saratoga Diner. The diner closed in 2012.
The three-acre project includes 110 single and two-bedroom apartment units, two floors of commercial space, and a new business incubator collaboratively partnered by Saratoga Economic Development Corporation and Saratoga CoWorks.
The proposal is currently making its way through the city application process, and expectations are that the project is in compliance with existing zoning and height ordinances. Should the process go well, it is anticipated the diner could be demolished and new construction begun next spring. The structure could be fully operational by the summer of 2019.
Plans call for 46 one-bedroom units - monthly rent will start at about $750 per month - and 64 two-bedroom units – which will rent for approximately $1,650 per month, translating overall to a rate of approximately $1 to $1.35 per square-foot. The apartments will be marketed to local workers in the service and hospitality industries, police and fire department members, teachers, hospital workers, young professionals and downsizing empty nesters. A long-term lease of the parcel, owned by the family who operated the diner for several decades, is being contracted with KCG Development of Indianapolis.
The ground floor will feature 7,000 square feet of retail space, 4,000 square feet of service establishment space – such as what would house a salon or barber shop - and a 7,500 square-foot food beverage or brew pub, which will act as a visible anchor on South Broadway. Streetscape improvements include street lamps, landscaping, and a total of 273 parking spaces for resident and commercial parking uses.
The second floor will house 17,000 square feet of commercial space where two new tenants are expected to join SEDC’s 10,000 square foot “incubator,” a flexible co-working space to be inhabited by a rotating group of entrepreneurs and early-stage growth business teams.
“We already have more than a dozen project teams at all different stages going through the incubator right now from a virtual standpoint,” said Ryan Van Amburgh, economic development specialist at SEDC. “We will spearhead this initiative – these 10,000 square feet – and that’s why we brought on Saratoga Co Works, because they have a proven model from an operation standpoint. There will be a mixed-use of private office space, co-working office space, programs, seminars, and workshops.”
The environment also provides the opportunity for cross-collaboration between working groups to occur. “It allows us to take people literally from the ‘I have an idea’ stage all the way through commercialization, and then accelerate beyond,” Van Amburgh explained.
“People can come in at different stages. We’ll have teams that came in and say: I’m a serial entrepreneur and I need an investor, what can I do? Or, somebody has a manufacturing product, but needs help with distribution,” he said. “It really allows any entrepreneur to come in at any stage. Even at that napkin stage where they’re literally writing in a coffee shop: Here’s my idea. And we take them right through the platform, through commercialization. The companies that come in and just want to accelerate beyond that we help through our mentorship pool, through an advisory team and the community.”
Featuring a residential component, a commercial component, and a component to both nurture and launch entrepreneurship, the goal of the overall project is to inspire new businesses to grow and subsequently set up their own businesses in the local community, as well as to provide housing opportunities otherwise not readily available.
“We’re a membership based organization and it’s made up of the business leaders that drive the economy now. So, they are there to mentor the next generation. That’s how it works,” Van Amburgh said. “This project will be transformative for that area. It will spark more development.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Singer-songwriter Howard Fishman will lead a troupe of performers in a street-side serenade on Sunday in Saratoga Springs.
BUSK! - a free public event presented by The Orchard Project - will incorporate circus performers, theater companies, live music and local food vendors in an event to be held in and around the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center on Broadway from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 4.
Billed as “a spontaneous, outrageous, family-friendly event” that promises to “elevate the form of busking” by creating designated performance spaces and stages, BUSK! will culminate in an evening cabaret at Putnam Den featuring artists who performed throughout the day, kicking off at 8 p.m.
Visiting performers include musical performances by Howard Fishman, Jimy Graham, Katie Louise, Mike Campese, Nightmare River Band, Ramblin’ Jug Stompers, Shane Guerrette, and A World For You. Additional performs include: Atlas Circus Theatre (circus productions), LubDub Theater Co. (a hybrid physical theatre company), The Red Trouser Show (acrobats, comedians, and jugglers), and. Local participants include Balloon Gal Jenny, traveling puppetry by Heldeberg Marionettes, face painting by Jojo's Fabulous Faces.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – City police seek the public’s help in connection with the vandalizing of horse statue that was located in front of the Adirondack Trust Company’s main branch on Broadway.
The horse, known as “Horse of a Different Color,” had been knocked over and punctured several times. Police were informed of the incident Sunday morning, and Tuesday afternoon issued a statement to say the matter is being openly investigated and that the damages are believed to have taken place around 4 a.m. Sunday.
The statue has since been removed.
Police ask anyone with information regarding the damaged piece to call the police department at 584-1800 or, to via the anonymous tip-line, at 584-TIPS.
Pictured below:the vacant spot where the horse statue was sited, on Tuesday.
Posters of White Supremacy Flyers: “Pathetically Insecure Individuals We Should Pity, Not Fear”
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said no direct threats to the local community were made and apparently no laws were violated in the placing of white supremacy propaganda flyers on a number of vehicle on the city’s west side last week.
“It’s very disturbing some people may harbor such sentiments, but it’s not surprising,” Mathiesen said. “We have a long history in our country of white males exerting their sense of superiority over people of color, females, Jews, Catholic, immigrants.”
Mathiesen said while those views have drastically diminished over time, there continues to be “a small fringe on the far right of our political spectrum” who continue to hold on to those convictions.
“These are pathetically insecure individuals who we should pity, not fear. I caution against over-reacting to these poorly-executed recruiting efforts and instead suggest we focus more on education and equal opportunity,” he said. “This is a movement that continues to decline as people of the world fully accept that we’re all in this together.”
Discussions Continue Regarding SPA Zoning Ordinance
A public hearing was held Tuesday night regarding a proposed plan that would mandate all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city include as much as 20 percent of their units designated as “affordable” to people with moderate incomes. The Inclusionary Zoning ordinance, or IZ, would create “workforce housing” residences with rental rates targeting approximately $45,000 to $70,000 income households, and purchase rates targeting households earning approximately $55,000 to $85,000 annually.
Two people spoke during Tuesday night’s hearing. City resident Dave Morris argued that the plan is more “exclusionary” than “inclusionary,” because it excludes lower income residents who need it most, disagreeing with some council members’ position that there is adequate help available to lower income residents. The ordinance is in the drafting phase and is anticipated to be brought to the City Council for vote in the near future. Initially, the council hoped to vote on the matter this month. The council next meets on June 6.
Public Safety: Close to Decision on Third City Fire/EMS Station
Eastern ridge resident David Bronner reminded the council about the need to decrease emergency vehicle response times to the city’s east side. “This is a super serious issue that has been going on for years,” he said. “The situation we have now is unacceptable. We’re playing Russian Roulette with anybody who may have a serious or life-threatening medical issue anywhere in the city, but most especially on the east ridge where distance is a big factor,” Bronner said, suggesting the city place a ‘Fly Car’ in one of its stations that would respond solely to emergency medical situations. The city’s two fire/EMS stations are located near the center of the city, and on the west side. Long-time efforts to place a third station on the east side have thus far been unsuccessful.
Commissioner Mathiesen responded that having a “Fly Car” would not be an acceptable solution, since the vehicle, while capable of going high speeds, would not be able to do so as it navigates through the city’s many 30 mph speed zones. In lieu of having a third fire/ems station, which would be sited on the east side, Mathiesen said the department is currently evaluating shift changes that would make available as many as three engine crews and two ambulances at any one time, should multiple events occur simultaneously.
“We continue to look at locations for a third fire/EMS station that would serve the entire city and make it possible to significantly cut down response times to the eastern ridge,” Mathiesen said. “We feel we’re very close to making some decisions along those lines.”
Resident Urges Community Support of Child Victim Act
A city business owner who identified herself as Mary Ellen asked the council and the public for their support in the passage of the Child Victims Act. “New York State is one of the worst in the Union for child abuse victims,” she said, explaining that alleged victims currently have until the age of 23 to be able to prosecute suspects, while the average age of disclosure for most victims is 42. The majority of council members said they are interested in learning more and would likely adopt a resolution in favor of the passage of the Child Victim Act. The public was asked to contact Sen. Kathy Marchione’s Albany office, at 518-455-2381, to urge its passage.
A Human Rights town hall will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 22 at Saratoga Music Hall, located on the third floor of City Hall. Mayor Joanne Yepsen will introduce members Saratoga Springs Human Rights Task Force, and will be joined by Angelica Morris, executive director of the Human Rights Commission in Schenectady.
A Planning Board workshop will be held 5 p.m. Monday, May 22 and a full meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, May 25 at City Hall.
A Zoning Board of Appeals meeting will be held 7 p.m. Monday, May 22 at City Hall.
Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Technical Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) meeting will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23 at Saratoga Music Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Three Sundays of free music, a new gazebo, and nearly three weeks of film screenings highlight some of the new amenities at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this season, the organization announced Wednesday at the Hall of Springs, during its annual meeting.
A “Caffè Lena @ SPAC” Concert Series – in reciprocity of the recent “SPAC at Caffè Lena” series will take place on SPAC’s gazebo stage from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, June 11, July 9 and Aug. 27.
“We look forward to bringing people from all corners of our community together to experience the exhilaration of live music performances, without the barrier of cost,” said SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol.
The musical lineup, thus far, features Birds of Chicago, The Pines on June 11; The Steel Wheels, Twisted Pine, Honeysuckle and Western Den on July 9, and Soul Inscribed, Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers, and Let's Be Leonard on Aug. 27. Fans are welcome to bring in food, drink, blankets and lawn chairs for the concerts. Food concessions will also be available. In the event of rain on the day of performance, the concert location will shift to Caffè Lena, on Phila Street.
Also new this year: SPAC will host the Saratoga Film Forum at the Spa Little Theatre from July 20 – Aug. 2, and Aug. 23 - 28. Many of the films screened during the series will feature subjects with connections to artists, composers, choreographers or works that are part of SPAC’s summer programming. The film schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.
The venue’s new gazebo, which will feature an increase in square footage of 133 percent over the current one, will be named after the late Charles R. Wood – who in addition to his other regional accomplishments was a member of SPAC’s board during the ‘90s. The Charles R. Wood Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to SPAC that will underwrite the cost of replacing SPAC’s aging gazebo stage.
According to SPAC’s 2016 Revenue Statement issued Wednesday, $10 million in operating revenues topped approximately $9.85 million in operating expenses, resulting in a net surplus of approximately $152,000.
Who: Joe Deuel, photographer, sound man.
Where: Caffè Lena.
You’re a native Saratogian. How long has your family been here? What did they do?
I’m the fifth generation. And everyone in town knew my dad. He was a pro bowler in the ‘50s and had a photo studio on Phila Street. Later, he ended up being the manager of Saratoga Bowl and Hi-Roc Lanes. I kind of grew up in bowling alleys.
How long have you been interested in photography?
I always had a camera in my hand, from the time I was eight. It was a cheap little thing and I was always shooting pictures. Later, they had a photo club when I was in junior high – it’s the Lake Avenue School now - and the first time I saw a print develop, that was it.
Do you remember the first time you came to the café?
I was in 12th grade and came here with two friends from high school. This was late ’72 or early ’73. Utah Philipps was recording his album called “Good Though!” That was my introduction to Caffè Lena. Utah turned out to be a real influence, a real teacher.
You have been the sound man at Caffè Lena for several decades. How did that start?
I came here to do the dishes one night and got wrapped up in the place. Someone asked me to do the sound one night for Peppino D’Agostino, the Italian guitar wizard. I helped him turn a few knobs, then Lena kind of stuck me on it and there was no getting out.
What are your lasting impressions of Lena, who died in 1989?
Lena was pretty complicated and fascinating in a lot of ways. I remember I’d go out on Thursdays and buy all the groceries for the weekend and come in and do sound and wait tables at the same time. On the days I wasn’t here I’d asked her, “Why don’t you call me, so I know you’re OK, or if you need anything.” So, she’d call me every morning. She was like my alarm clock. The first thing I did every morning was get a phone call from Lena, and we’d chat. It was sad when that stopped.
You have probably had many a-brush with fame?
This town’s crazy because with SPAC here. You can be sitting in Desperate Annie’s and the guy sitting next to you is Donovan. A friend of mine was sitting in the Parting Glass once, and Tom Waits walked in - still wearing his bum clothes from (filming the movie) “Ironweed,” and they were about to boot him out of there. Robert Plant came in one night. This town’s full of funny things. The first time the Talking Heads played at SPAC, the band showed up at the Bijou where we were watching Fear of Strangers, who were a great Albany band. I was wearing my Harley jacket and my Ramones T-shirt and Jerry Harrison walked up to me, laughed and said: Nice shirt. That cracked me up. We ended up chatting for a little while.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Saratoga Springs during your lifetime?
The bottom line for me is that I can’t afford to live here anymore. One thing I always looked for in apartments was how far the walk was from the café, because I was here all the time. Now it’s a 10-mile drive for me. It was such a threadbare, defunct town in the ‘70s. The stores on Caroline and Phila were pretty much shut down. There were some old stores on Broadway that had been there forever, then the mall came and that made it worse downtown. There were some great places I miss to this day, like Mabbett’s and Farmers Hardware. Even though the town now is gleaming and successful it’s gotten a little too precious. I think the ‘80s, when things started to come around, was a wonderful time here.
The harsh facts are these: someone is diagnosed in this country with a blood cancer every 3 minutes, and an estimated 1.2 million people are either living with, or are in remission from leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma - which will take the lives of more than 58,000 Americans in one calendar year. But, there are signs of positive progress.
The five-year relative survival rate has more than doubled for people with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and more than quadrupled for those with myeloma and leukemia since the early 1960s, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. LLS is the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and ensuring access to treatments for blood cancer patients.
Saratoga Springs resident Joe Kakaty believes it is possible eradicate blood cancer in our lifetime.
“Cancer affects everybody, from the spectrum of a survivor to being a friend or having a family member who has cancer. Leukemia is in my family,” Kakaty said. “We felt: let’s do something.”
Enlisting the help of his wife, Josey, and the couple’s three children - Bella, Joey and Kenny – the family embarked on a 10-week fundraising campaign which secured more than $58,000 via more than 500 different donors for LLS and resulted in Kakaty being named the Upstate New York/Vermont Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2017 Man of the Year.
The family’s 10-week campaign included a dozen fundraising events at a variety of Saratoga Springs restaurants, a house event – catered pro bono by Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant – and an online social media strategy. A website remains active for those interested in making donations at: http://www.mwoy.org/pages/uny/alb17/jkakaty.
Staging 12 events in 10 weeks can be grueling work for anyone, but Kakaty said the family grew closer to one another in pulling together to make the campaign a success.
“We were invigorated. Whenever we felt a little tired it was easy to overcome, because we thought of what the families have to go through,” he said.
Kakaty was one of nine candidates who signed on to participate in the 10-week campaign. In all, the nine candidates raised more than $311,000 and Kakaty said he was touched by the generosity and humanity of donors, whose online contributions poured in from across the country, often with an attached note that shared their own personal story.
The three Kakaty kids recorded a song for the campaign and will continue to dobate a percentage of proceeds earned through the music to the leukemia society. The video may be viewed on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grvkObff1l4.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Brad Paisley stood atop the stage surrounded by hundreds of local high school seniors and asked for the details of their school mascot.
“Blue Streaks!” came the shouted reply.
“Blue Streak? What is a Blue Streak?” he pondered. “You guys are a streak of lightning,” he said, finally. “That’s very cool!”
And so it went Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where Paisley put the finishing touches on the stage show for his Weekend Warrior World Tour which officially debuted Thursday night at SPAC and will travel across North America and touch down in Norway and Sweden before concluding in late September.
Wednesday night’s “dress rehearsal” came with the issuance of an invitation to hundreds of high school seniors at Saratoga Springs and Averill Park. Many were thrilled to attend the free preview.
“Oh. My. God. I’m so excited. Me and my dad listen to him all the time, but this is my first time seeing him,” gushed Saratoga Springs High School senior Cheyanne Mattison, who alongside fellow classmates Marisa Pantoja, Larissa Benton and Alyssa Concho secured elbow space at the front of the stage on a May night that boasted temperatures near 90 degrees.
The West Virginia born singer-songwriter strolled the catwalk, took selfies, and showcased his guitar skills, mixing strains of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” into a slew of tunes for more than one hour, as the band tweaked its sound and technicians tested the pulsating lights and flashy screen graphics, all to the joy of the kids who gathered to witness the event.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” Paisley explained, casually dressed in black jeans, a T-shirt, street sneakers. A baseball cap rested atop his head.
The musical presentation was combined with casual back-and-forth banter with students which effectively gave the large amphitheater the feel of an intimate living room. When informed that the Blue Streaks had just secured a Section II title in tennis, Paisley offered his congratulations alongside some advice.
“It’s great you won. Tennis is good, but make sure you guys get a back-up career,” he instructed, before sharing his thoughts with the assembly of 17 and 18-year-olds of something to look forward to.
“You know, people will tell you high school is the best part of your life. That’s bull-crap. It’s not,” Paisley said. “But, now college…” he said with a smile.
Paisley made his musical debut in 1999. He has released nearly one dozen studio albums and topped the country music singles charts numerous times. His new release, “Love And War,” features appearances by Mick Jagger and John Fogerty, among others.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Susan Hale strolled the streets of her ancestors, one recent weekday afternoon.
“My family originally came from Boston, and it goes pretty far back,” she said, tracing a lineage from 20th century Union College Professor Edward Everett Hale Jr. to 19th century artists Susan Hale and Philip Leslie Hale; 18th century American patriot Nathan Hale – who famously said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," just prior to being executed for spying on British troops - to Massachusetts minister John Hale, whom the history books remember for his involvement during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. More than 250 years later, his fictional portrayal appear in Arthur Miller's play “The Crucible.”
It was at some of Saratoga Springs’ most prominent venues – most gone, some still in existence – where her great-great grandfather, Rev. Edward Everett Hale, delivered popular sermons in the late 19th century during biennialUnitarian Conferences that drew attendees from across the northeast.
It is Hale’s own talents, which stretch across a broad spectrum of the arts, that brings her to Saratoga Springs on this day. One project in particular – a children’s book she wrote and illustrated titled “Follow Your Dreams!” – Hale hopes will inspire an audience with Oprah Winfrey. The media giant is slated to speak at Skidmore College’s commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on May 20.
“I want to give a box of books to Oprah’s school in Africa. How do you do that? When I heard that she was coming to Saratoga…I don’t know, it would be a dream to get my books to Oprah, because the story is about positivity, and persisting in spite of bullies,” Hale said.
In 2007, Oprah opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a competitive boarding school in Johannesburg, South Africa, that offers education to disadvantaged students from across the country, Skidmore College will recognize Winfrey's commitment to education through her academy. One of the graduates of Winfrey’s school will also be receiving a Skidmore degree.
The protagonist of Hales’ illustrated book is “Pickles,” a real-life pot-bellied pig who the author took in, in 1997.
“I always wanted a pig - since I was a little kid, like Arnold on ‘Green Acres.’ She was a perfect house pet. She rode in the car with me across the country, from here to L.A., and after the book got done Pickles would come with me to school assemblies and book store signings,” said Hale, who received a bachelor of music degree in classical organ performance from Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Pickles is the neglected one who no one ever hears and who struggles to be heard. She sees a Fairy Pig Mother, who says to her: don’t let them get you down, just follow your dreams,” explained Hale, whose own markers of a lifetime of achievement spill out from the confines of her oversized briefcase. They include flyers promoting “The Pickles Power TV Show” that broadcast on Schenectady’s cable access, clippings from Los Angeles newspapers about her potbellied pig trying to make it big in Hollywood, images from Pickles’ media photoshoots, and prototype T-shirts emblazoned with the words: Dare To Dream - Pickle Power!
“I dream big,” offered Hale, whose oil paintings have been exhibited and classical concerts performed from the South American country of Ecuador to the northern climes of Saratoga Springs. (A clip of her performance at The Grove last summer of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor” may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36LEhH7-NKg). In October, she is slated to perform at Carnegie Hall. “That’s been a longtime dream,” Hale enthused.
After Pickles passed away, the book project went on the back-burner, but Hale said she has a renewed interest in updating the illustrations and re-issuing the book.
Pickles’ dream is to be a singer and the book illustrated the challenges she faces and overcomes to reach her goal. Hale also sings a narration in an accompanying CD. “Follow your dreams,” Hale asserted.” I’m living proof.”