City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Donation Boxes Paying Off
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The nine boxes have stood their ground, mounted atop posts up-and-down Broadway, since the fall of 2016.
Placed in strategically deliberate locations, the program designed to aid the homeless is the brainchild of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Assessment District. Its purpose is to provide pedestrians a means of making monetary donations directly to services that benefit the local homeless community, as opposed to randomly handing money to someone panhandling on the street, where the end result of the donation wouldn’t be easily known. By all accounts, the caretakers of the program say it has been a success.
One hundred percent of the funds collected by the boxes are forwarded by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce to Shelters of Saratoga, which provides assistance to people facing homelessness.
“It helps with our outreach program and we’re also able to get items and supplies we need,” says Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, which provides care via through the Code Blue emergency shelter, its outreach program, drop-in centers, case managed shelter and affordable housing. “There’s also been a huge change downtown on Broadway. People aren’t hanging out like they did. They don’t have to sit downtown with a cup when we can get something for them.”
Twelve boxes were made, each decorated by a different artist via Saratoga Arts, and depict everything from a leaf-laden autumnal landscape, to a hamburger atop a classic red-and-white checkerboard tabletop and a long winding road zagging through a contemporary terrain. Nine were installed. The other three are still looking for a home where the collections could be easily managed.
In the first year of implementation, the boxes collected approximately $7,500, says Harvey Fox, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Assessment District, and one of the initiators of the donation box plan.
“We’ve collected twenties and fifties and donations of up to $100. The point is to help the less fortunate, to help provide opportunities through S.O.S. for safe shelter, training, and jobs. That’s what it’s all about,” says Fox, who adds he has seen the good the project does first-hand, having met folks who have been directly helped since the program was initiated. “It is working and when you talk to people and listen to their stories, it really is moving.”
The “tamper-proof” boxes have lived up to their security expectations. Fox said there have been no incidents reported of attempts to burglarize the boxes. Other communities have not been as fortunate.
In May 2015, The Positive Change Donation Program was implemented by the Downtown Berkeley Association in California. Donation boxes were installed throughout downtown Berkeley to encourage residents to give their spare change to those in need, with donations targeted to help fund social services that reduce homelessness.
“It was great in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we had to discontinue the program because people were using crowbars and breaking into them,” explains John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “Perhaps in Saratoga Springs you don’t have those kinds of issues. Here, it was very sad when we had to end it, because it was working.”
Locally, S.O.S. receives the funds on a quarterly basis and re-distributes it as is deemed most appropriate at that time. “We also started donating money back to other agencies that are dealing with same population,” says Finocchi, noting organizations such as the Franklin Community Center, Wellspring, and the Giving Circle – who operate a Thursday night program that provides a hot meal for the homeless population outside the Presbyterian Church – as being among local agencies whose programs have directly benefited from community donations.
School Threat Hits Home: Schools, Officials Talking Increased Security Plans
SARATOGA SPRINGS – One of the after-effects of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida is the staggering increase of school-based threats and incidents since the tragedy occurred.
Research conducted by Educator's School Safety Network - a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering educators with education-based school safety training and resources - typically finds approximately 10 school-based threats and incidents occur daily. Since Feb. 15, the organization says those numbers have spiked to more than 70 per day - the majority involving gun threats and the most common method of threat delivery being via social media.
Even before the events in Florida, the data specifically pointed to New York State as having experienced a dramatic increase in the number of threats and/or incidents during the first half of the 2017-2018 school year – up by 33.3 percent over the previous year – and ranking third nationally, behind only California and Pennsylvania as a “state of concern.”
The Florida incident has demonstrated substantially longer staying power in the public consciousness than displayed in the aftermath of previous incidents, says Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo,
“This has really hit home, across the country and locally,” Zurlo says. “It’s been two weeks since Florida and usually when something happens (the attention) goes a day or two after and then everybody gets back to their normal business. But this has absolutely lasted longer than other instances. I’m getting calls and emails from parents who are asking: What do we do? How are you going to protect our kids?”
Saratoga County is home nearly 220,000 residents. There are 51 public schools, 33,000 students, 2,500 teachers and approximately 100 principals across the 815 square miles of the county.
“We’re doing a little bit of everything. I have a team of four deputies assigned to schools throughout the county who interact with students and touch base with the principals and superintendents,” Zurlo explained. “What I’ve also done now is, during day-shift and afternoon patrols, we’ll get out and do a walk-through at schools. In the mornings, when classes start, I’ve had patrols at the schools. And we’re going to continue having that presence.”
In Saratoga Springs, city police regularly conduct active shooter trainings. The department also has a school resource officer assigned to the Saratoga Springs School District.
Not all county schools have assigned SRO’s, however, and conversations have recently been initiated about the feasibility of making that happen.
“I’ve been approached by three (public) schools in the county that want more information about School Resource Officers, who do not currently have them. I’m also talking to county officials to see if we can come up with a plan for the school year, starting next year,” Zurlo said. “We’re in preliminary talks. It all comes down to money and we’re trying to work some different things out.” The amount of time involved in training practice would also play a role in the potential implementation of such a practice, he added.
On Feb. 26, the county Sheriff’s Department responded to a threatening text message allegedly made by a 14-year-old student at Corinth High School directed at a 13-year-old student as well as the school, and involved the threatened use of a firearm. The suspected author of the threat was subsequently charged with making a terroristic threat, and aggravated harassment and referred to Saratoga County Family Court for further action, according to authorities.
“These threats need to be looked into and I take them seriously. It’s our job to make sure the students and staff are well protected. If these threats are criminal in nature, then these people are going to be arrested,” Zurlo said.
Earlier this week, city School District Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton penned a letter to school parents to reassure them that protocols are in place.
“Safety is an underlying theme in everything we do (and) we have continued to make improvements over the past several years,” Patton said.
Some of those improvements include having retired and current law enforcement on staff and surveillance cameras at all school buildings, secured entryways with double locked doors, ongoing training with district and school emergency response teams, and lockdown, lockout, shelter in place, and evacuation and relocation drills.
The Saratoga Springs City School District consists of 11 facilities in and around Saratoga Springs, including the high school, the middle school and six elementary schools. Building Emergency Response Teams are also assigned to each of the district’s buildings.
School Shooting Can’t Happen Here? It Already Has
Shortly before noon on a Friday in December 1975, 32-year-old George McCode fired four shots from his 22-cal. handgun into the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School.
McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, lived in the Gaslight apartment complex directly across the street from the playground.
Two 7-year-old girls were injured as a result of the gunfire; one was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove a bullet from the heel of her foot, and the second wounded from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.
Local Students May Take Part in National School Walkout on March 14
In response to gun violence and in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, a 17-minute-long national school walkout effort initiated by Women's March Youth EMPOWER is slated to take place at 10 a.m. on March 14.
This week, Skidmore College issued a statement asserting that it values freedom of expression and encourages civic engagement and promised students they would not face any disciplinary action from the college should they choose to participate in a peaceful protest.
The Saratoga Springs School District is currently formulating a strategy regarding students who choose to participate in the March 14 walkout.
“We met this week with leaders of student government and we’re starting to develop a plan,” said Michael Patton, Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent of Schools. “We think it’s an opportunity for students to be involved in civic engagement and that it’s a teachable moment, not anything politically, but something done respectfully and in a safe and orderly manner.”
Little Steven Coming to Capital Region
ALBANY - Steven Van Zandt - aka Little Steven, aka Miami Steve - best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, will perform with the Disciples of Soul on May 4 at the Palace Theatre.
Renowned for both his own substantial body of work and for his ongoing role as a touring and recording member of Springsteen’s band, Van Zandt has also worked as an actor on “The Sopranos” as well as serving as host, historian and rock’n’roll advocate on Sirius XM’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage – where he showcases the work of everyone from the New York Dolls to the Raveonettes.
His latest album, “Soulfire,” Van Zandt’s first solo record in close to two decades, “hearkens back to Van Zandt’s classic first album of gritty, greasy, horn-accented ‘60s-style rock and soul,” notes Billboard magazine.
Tickets go on sale Friday and are $74.50, $59.50, $49.50, $39.50 & $29.50 and available at the Palace Theatre Box Office, 19 Clinton Ave., via Ticketmaster Charge-by-Phone at 800-745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com.
Discover Saratoga President Leaving To Pursue Other Interests
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, on Thursday announced his departure from the organization after eight years. Garofano is leaving to pursue other interests outside of the industry, according to the organization. His last day will be Friday, April 6.
During Garofano’s time at Discover Saratoga, sales have grown almost 125 percent with over 98,000 in contracted room nights signed in 2017 compared to just over 43,000 in 2010, according to a statement released by the organization. Discover Saratoga serviced over 640 groups in 2017 - an increase of nearly 280 percent since 2010 - accounting for nearly 100,000 room nights and $67.5m in estimated economic impact.
In 2015, Garofano successfully negotiated a management agreement contract with the city of Saratoga Springs for Discover Saratoga to take over the operations and programs for the Heritage Area Visitor Center, topped by a record attendance in 2017 with more than 40,000 visitors.
“We are grateful to have someone of Todd’s caliber at the helm for such an extended time. Not only did he grow our convention business by leaps and bounds,” said Cindy Hollowood, in a statement. Hollowood is general manager of the Holiday Inn and chairperson of the Board of Directors of the convention bureau. “He has a terrific sales team in place to ensure continued prosperity. He is well known and regarded throughout the Northeast in meetings and convention circles and undoubtedly will be a hard act to follow. On behalf of the board, we wish him every success.”
A Search Committee for Garofano’s replacement is led by Megan Hennessey, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott and At-Large Executive Committee member of the Board of Directors.
See and Be Seen: Saratoga Arts Fest Kicks off ArtsFestFriday 2018 with La Dolce Vita
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Saratoga Arts Fest kicks off the ArtsFestFriday 2018 season with its “La Dolce Vita Remix” event, featuring a screening of Fellini’s classic 1960 film, as well as live paparazzi and mingling Contessas, hobnobbing with guests during the interactive cocktail hour.
The cocktail hour — which promises to be full of surprises — takes place 6 – 7 p.m., followed by a full-film screening of “La Dolce Vita,” to cap off the fantastic evening of glamour. Musical pop-up performances will take place during the screening, bringing the film to life.
“Movies do not change, but their viewers do,” noted film critic Roger Ebert in his four-star review of the film in 1997. “When I saw ‘La Dolce Vita’ in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom "the sweet life" represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman… when I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found.”
The film’s character of Paparazzo, a news photographer, inspired the use of the word “paparazzi” to be placed into the cultural dictionary.
The free event will take place 6 – 10 p.m. Friday, March 9 at The Spa Little Theatre. The first 100 guests will receive sunglasses to wear as a celebrity disguise.
To register for “La Dolce Vita Remix,” go to: www.saratogaartsfest.org. Children under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Charter Vote May Return in November
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Three times in the past 12 years, voters have cast ballots that challenge the city’s long-held form of government, with each successive referendum resulting in an ever-narrowing margin of difference to maintain the status quo. A group of residents advocating for charter change are considering a move to put the issue back in front of voters in November in the hope the fourth time will be the charm.
Last November, the proposition was defeated by a 4,458 - 4,448 margin, a difference of 10 votes out of the nearly 9,000 ballots cast.
“Everybody we have talked to since November said this was a dead heat, that the community should get another shot at it - and as soon as possible,” Gordon Boyd said this week. Boyd is a former member of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission, which disbanded on Election Day, as well as a contributor It's Time Saratoga! – a group that has advocated for charter change.
“Our core leadership group is investigating the legal, procedural and campaign dynamics of getting a petition drive going as allowed under the law, and how we can put the same exact proposal (as 2017) on the petition and placed on the ballot this coming November.”
The current Commission form of governing, the only type of governing the city of Saratoga Springs has known in its near 103-year history, relies on five elected part-time council members, each of whom are responsible for administering their own department, as well as serving as legislators. The proposed Council-Manager form of governing would see that the council hires a non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out city policies, starting in January 2020.
“If we put it up again this year, all of the transition timetables would pretty much stay the same,” Boyd explained. “This would be the same proposal, word-for-word. Who are we to fuss with it?”
Richard Sellers, a spokesman for the SUCCESS group opposed to charter change, argues that the city’s current commission form of governing ensures a better future.
“We have five citizens who were elected by voters and who are working together for the good of the city. The city government accomplished a great deal in 2017 and has excellent plans for 2018,” Sellers said. “Five heads looking out for the city are better than one appointed administrator (and) while we do not know exactly what may be put on the ballot, we would obviously oppose any change in the form of government.”
While city elections were resolved in 2017, this year’s Election Day ballot will include races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and statewide races for Governor, Senate and Assembly seats. Boyd said he believes the increased turnout of a Gubernatorial election year would work in his group’s favor.
According to financial disclosure reports, the SUCCESS group shows a January 2018 balance of just over $3,000. It’s Time Saratoga – a ballot committee created in favor of charter change showed a balance of about $2,300 in early December – the most recent filing available via the state Board of Elections website.
One lingering event which may factor in to the city’s 2017 referendum, Boyd says, is a pending Appellate Division ruling of a “very similar” Essex County case involving a very close election. A previous move by Boyd to re-canvass city ballots in the 2017 referendum on charter change was struck down by State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan earlier this month. The ruling on the Essex County vote may affect whether an appeal is filed related to the razor-thin margin of the city’s 2017 referendum.
“We’re just a group of citizens at this point and it would require us getting a minimum number of signatures - and we would also have to fundraise to support the campaign, but we don’t see any difficulty reaching those goals to put it on the ballot,” Boyd said. “We have had a lot of dedicated individuals who put a lot of time into this and I think they’re going to be fired up to resolve it once and for all. The best thing is for us to keep it the same, to give the people another shot at it. It was essentially a dead heat. So, let’s run the race again. “
Boyd said more specific plans regarding the matter will be forthcoming in early April.
Paid Parking: City to Explore Downtown Options
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A request for proposals was issued by the city this week seeking a management company to study, design, implement and manage a paid parking system in downtown Saratoga Springs.
Proposals received by potential bidders are slated to be opened March 14. The awarding of a project is anticipated to take place in April and the installation of parking management equipment by late summer. The goal is to secure a parking management company to implement and manage a paid parking system downtown that will “net the maximum financial benefit to the city balanced with downtown business vitality and efficient traffic management,” according to the RFP.
Proposals are to include a detailed outline of the system that includes time limits, hourly rates - with the ability to fluctuate rates based on seasonal demand, merchant/employee parking specs and a permit system for residents and employees of the downtown core.
The approximate boundaries of on-street paid parking covers the length of Broadway – from the entrance of Congress Park to the City Center - as well as parking areas west of Broadway to Railroad Place, and east of Broadway to Maple Avenue. The study area includes multi-level parking decks on Putnam Street, Woodlawn Avenue, and Long Alley, large surface lots at High Rock – located behind the City Center and just off Spring Street; the so-called Collamer lot; the public library lot and the paved drive that passes through Congress Park adjacent to the Canfield Casino.
There are currently about 1,300 spaces of public on-street parking and 1,480 public off-street parking spaces in the city, including lots and decks, according to the RFP.
The city has explored paid parking measures in the recent past, although those efforts have been largely unsuccessful. In 2008, three developers submitted proposals for a parking plan that included the city giving developers the land rights to the High Rock and Collamer lots in exchange for the construction of a new public safety facility, parking garage and a mix of residential and commercial buildings that would include a proposed cineplex complex. Discussions about those proposal eventually fell apart, however, after merchants complained against metering Broadway, where their stores are located. By 2009, the city council remained deadlocked over a resolution that would have chosen a developer for that paid parking proposal, even as then-Finance Commissioner Kevin Ivins crafted the city’s 2010 budget to include about $1.35 million in revenue anticipated to come from a paid-parking program.
The proposition of installing a paid-parking measure on city-owned lots and on some streets off of Broadway would represent the first metered system in the Spa City since the nickel-an-hour machines were removed in the 1970s.
“We want to move Saratoga forward as a Smart City with technologies such as Smart Parking to optimize parking, reduce traffic and create a more enjoyable experience for city residents and visitors,” according to the RFP.
The proposed timeline is as follows: March 14: RFP opening; April 17: City awards project; April 18 – 20: Kick-off meeting at City Hall; April 20 – 30: Flexible time to assess City's needs & gather feedback; May 1 – July 30: Complete parking study; Aug. 7: Submit final report and presentation at City Council meeting; Aug. 14 – Sept. 14: Install parking management equipment & train staff.
Proctors 2018-19 Season Features “Hamilton,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “School of Rock,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” more
SCHENECTADY – This week, Proctors and Capital Repertory Theatre announced the 2018–2019 Key Private Bank Broadway Series at Proctors and the 2018–2019 Season at Capital Repertory Theatre.
Dates for “Hamilton,” which will play its premiere Capital Region engagement and anchor the 2018–2019 season - and is also featured in both subscription packages—were revealed, along with a calendar of touring Broadway and regional theatre offerings.
2018–2019 Key Private Bank Broadway Series at Proctors
Anastasia: Oct. 9–14. This epic 2017 Broadway hit takes us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Anastasia features a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, a new score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), with direction by Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak.
A Bronx Tale: Oct. 23–28. Broadway’s hit crowd-pleaser takes you to the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s—where a young man is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he’d love to be. Robert De Niro and Tony winner Jerry Zaks direct this streetwise musical—based on Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri’s story—that The New York Times hails as “A Critics’ Pick! The kind of tale that makes you laugh and cry.”
Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Dec. 5–9, 2018. Discover the magic of Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale as it comes to life on stage. Featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas,” The Grinch discovers there’s more to Christmas than he bargained for in this heart-warming holiday classic. Max the Dog narrates as the mean and scheming Grinch, whose heart is “two sizes too small,” decides to steal Christmas away from the Whos, an endlessly cheerful bunch bursting with holiday spirit.
School of Rock: Feb. 5–10, 2019. Based on the hit film, “School of Rock” follows Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher who turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. This high-octane smash features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber, all the original songs from the movie and musical theatre’s first-ever kids rock band playing their instruments live on stage.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Feb. 26–March 3, 2019. It's the perfect recipe for a delectable treat: songs from the original film, including "Pure Imagination," "The Candy Man" and "I've Got a Golden Ticket," alongside a toe-tapping and ear-tickling new score from the songwriters of “Hairspray.”
The Phantom of the Opera: April 24–May 5, 2019. Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera will make a triumphant return to Schenectady as part of its North American Tour. The production, overseen by Mackintosh and Matthew Bourne, boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier. The beloved story and thrilling score—with songs like “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You” and “Masquerade”—will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this Phantom one of the largest productions now on tour.
The Book of Mormon: May 14–19, 2019.The New York Times calls it “the best musical of this century.” This outrageous musical comedy follows the misadventures of a mismatched pair of missionaries, sent halfway across the world to spread the Good Word. Now with standing room only productions in London, on Broadway and across North America, The Book of Mormon has truly become an international sensation. Contains explicit language.
Waitress: June 11–16, 2019. Brought to life by a groundbreaking all-female creative team, and inspired by Adrienne Shelly's beloved film, “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna—a waitress and expert pie maker, who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town's new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life.
Hamilton: Aug. 13–25, 2019. Hamilton is the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway, “Hamilton” is the story of America then, as told by America now. With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, “Hamilton” is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
The 2018–2019 Season at Capital Repertory Theatre includes: NEXT ACT! New Play Summit 7 (June 2–4); Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash (July 6–Aug. 12); The Royale (Sept. 21–Oct. 14); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Nov. 23–Dec. 23); Red Maple (Jan. 25–Feb. 17, 2019); Shakespeare in Love (April 5–May 12, 2019).
For subscription series ticket and show information, go to: https://www.proctors.org/.
Flurry Festival Hits the Stage This Weekend
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The 31st Annual Flurry Festival of traditional dancing and music will take place Friday Feb. 16 through Sunday, Feb. 18. The festival is housed in the Saratoga City Center and Hilton Hotel with satellite locations at the Saratoga Music Hall and Caffé Lena.
Dances and Workshops include styles in Contra, Swing, Latin, English Country, Squares, Vintage, Clogging, Hip-Hop, Cajun, Zydeco, Irish, Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Asian, European, American and International Folk, Yoga and body movement and more. Beginner to experienced sessions.
Make Music and Sing sessions include: Irish, Quebecois, Southern Old-Time, African, Scandinavian, Adirondack, Gospel & Community Singalongs, Folk, Fiddle, Guitar, Banjo, Flute, Harmonica, Ukulele, voice and more.
After 14 years as program curator for the Flurry Festival, Peter Davis will be stepping down, the organization announced this week. City resident Jonathan Greene will assume the role, which includes the talent scouting of more than 300 musicians, bands and dance instructors and coordinating the massive schedule of events for the three-day festival.
“I’m excited about it,” said Greene, a professional musician and event organizer who performs regionally and throughout the northeast with the Hot Club of Saratoga, Golfstrom, Heard and other groups.
“I’ll be shadowing Peter for the whole weekend and going from event-to-event and be on-site literally 24/7. It’s going to be crazy,” said Greene, who will also be performing with the swing dance band The Piggly Wigglies in the Saratoga Hilton Hotel Ballroom and leading participants in a swing jam.
Tickets to the festival are on sale all weekend long. For a full schedule of events and more information about the Flurry, go to: flurryfestival.org.
David Cassidy to be Honored at Racing Museum
SARATOGA SPRINGS – David Cassidy, the popular singer, horseman and frequent fixture of the Saratoga summer scene who died last year, will be the focus of a dedication ceremony and the placement of two benches in his honor at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
The benches, which will be fixed with nameplates, will be set in the museum’s outdoor courtyard in the spring with a ceremony tentatively slated to take place in late April, said Brien Bouyea, communications coordinator at the Racing Museum, located on Union Avenue opposite Saratoga Race Course.
The singer, who died in November at the age of 67, charted more than one dozen Top 100 hits in the early 1970s, both as a solo artist and in his role as a member of The Partridge Family - whose TV series aired on ABC from 1970 to 1974. The museum neither publicized or solicited donations, Bouyea said. That two benches will be dedicated indicate Cassidy’s wide appeal. One of the memorial benches is the result of donations received from fans around the world; the other a fruit of a collaborative 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.
“We wanted to do something in his honor,” Contessa said, during a phone interview this week. “There were a couple of things we could have done - we thought about naming a race, but then Dr. Bilinski said, ‘you know, why don’t we dedicate a bench to him.’
“With David, we go back 20, 30 years. I play bass guitar so we had a music connection as well as a horse connection, going back at least the early ‘90s,” said Contessa, who fondly reminisced about his first public musical performance with Cassidy.
“He was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, at a special outdoor thing he was doing under a tent there. I was in the audience when he called me up on stage: ‘I’m going to call up my trainer.’ I was like, holy… It was totally unplanned. He said to me: let’s play a blues in the key of C. I started playing. In the key of A,” Contessa recalled, with a laugh. “All of a sudden he starts looking at me… Nobody loved Saratoga like David did. He had a home in Saratoga, he came to the races every day and he loved the horses. During the meet he could be found at three o’clock in the morning reading the racing form and smoking a cigar at my barn.”