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SARATOGA SPRINGS – The final draft of the proposed Saratoga Springs Charter was distributed Tuesday afternoon at the City Center, where members of the Charter Review Commission staged a daylong informational Open House. A referendum on the proposed changes of the way the city is governed will be on the November ballot.
The proposal calls for a change from the current “Commission” form of governing – the only form the city has known since its inception in 1915 – to a “council-manager” form, which is the most popular and most efficient form in the country, according to charter review member Pat Kane.
The council-manager structure specifies a composition of six councilmembers and one mayor – all electable positions – and one city manager, who would be hired by the council.
The city manager would direct and supervise administration of all departments, appoint and suspend or remove city employees, and prepare and submit the annual comprehensive budget and capital program plan to the council for approval.
The city manager would also represent the city in the collective bargaining process, as well as implement contracts on behalf of the council, and attend all council meetings, but will not cast a vote at the seven-member council table. The mayor would be recognized as the head of city government for ceremonial purposes, but have no administrative duties. Council meetings would continue to be held twice a month.
“I think local municipal government has gotten far more complicated and really does scream out for professional management,” Kane said. “These people would come in with skills that we just don’t have from an elected official prospective. It also opens the door for the local city council, where anyone can run with no requirements as far as job skills are concerned. “
The council would serve as the legislative and policy-making body of the city, conduct the search, set the salary and oversee the hiring and appointment of a city manager. Prerequisites for the city manager ‘s positions include a master’s degree with a concentration in public administration, public affairs, or public policy, and five years of managerial or administrative experience in municipal government. The salary for the position is anticipated to be in the $125,000 per-year range – which is higher than any current council member or deputy earns annually. It would ultimately provide financial savings however, the commission says, because the five current deputy positions – each earning about $73,000 annually (about $110,000 annually when benefits are factored in) would be eliminated or altered and would serve “at the pleasure of the city manager.”
“Most people thought it would be a deficit, but this would be a significant savings,” said Kane said, adding that bringing a professional level of qualified management to the city would eliminate weaknesses in current checks and balances, and guarantee a less expensive city government. “The efficiencies jump out at you. It’s so much more efficient when you’re running with one team as opposed to five teams. “
Detractors aren’t so sure a change would provide a financial savings and are additionally leery about what they say will be create more difficulty in communicating grievances with City Hall.
“Now if you have a problem you pick up the phone and call the department head. If you don’t like the answer, well, they’re only in there for two years,” Jane Weihe told a group of three dozen area residents who gathered at Gaffney’s on May 30 for a get-together of the SUCCESS group. The acronym stands for: Saratogians United to Continue the Charter Essential for Saratoga's Success. Those assembled vowed to fight against charter change.
Weihe said a citizen with an issue in the council-manager form of governing would need to bring the issue to the city manager and if the response wasn’t acceptable it would create an intricate process to lobby the majority of the city council to remove the department head, which would come at a financial price.
“Two questions: Who are you going to call, and what’s it going to cost,” Weihe said. The removal of a city manager would come either at the request of the city council, or by their majority vote, and would require a public hearing.
The May 30 date is significant. It was initially the day the referendum vote was to be held. Commission members had said the standalone date would give the proposition the attention it deserved rather than becoming muddied in an already busy election season in November. Detractors of the plan alleged an off-peak election was an attempt to suppress voter turnout.
“I moved here over 40 years ago and dealt with many mayors and council members. I’ve seen the system at work – and it works,” Joe Dalton told the SUCCESS group.
“To say that that it ain’t broke is probably the biggest misconception out there,” countered Kane. “It may feel like we have a multitude of success – and we do – but we can do better. It’s like an upgrade in software. We’re operating at Windows 1.0 when we should be operating at Windows 10. We’re not changing services, we’re changing how the services inter-relate to one another,” he said.
How a Transition Would Work
Should the change be approved by voters this November, in November 2019 residents would elect a mayor and six councilmen and the change would be enacted Jan. 1, 2020. The mayor and the three council members receiving the greatest number of votes would serve four-year terms; the remaining three council members would serve two-year terms. This would eventually be adjusted to have separately contested elections with staggered four-year terms for each of the seven members. Term limits would be set at a maximum of 12 years.
Compensation for the six council members, the mayor, and the city manager – as well as that of a potential assistant city manager – would be designated by the outgoing council in 2018. Two elected supervisor positions would continue in a similar capacity, although would eventually increase to four-year electable terms.
The City Manager at Work
“The city manager is the CEO and responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city,” explained Sharon Addison, city manager of Watertown, N.Y., which has a similar population and annual budget to Saratoga Springs.
“The city council legislates, adopts local laws and resolutions and it’s my responsibility to execute on that,” she said. “We’ve got multiple department heads – similar I think to your commissioners – and I work very closely with the department heads to make sure the goals and objectives are accomplished in each of those departments.”
Paid position staff members that report directly to Addison include the fire chief and police chief, superintendents of the DPW and Parks and Recreation, a city engineer, library director, purchasing manager, and city assessor. Overall, Addison oversees more than a dozen different departments, each with their own independent budgets that are combined into the general fund budget.
Addison worked for more than a quarter-century at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, prior to becoming Watertown’s city manager in 2012.
“Leadership and management qualities are pivotal, as well as experience in financial management,” she said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs Democratic Party will meet Thursday, June 8 when a vote is expected to take place to endorse a mayoral candidate.
On May 19, current city Mayor Joanne Yepsen publicly announced she would not seek re-election in November and “enthusiastically endorsed” Deputy Mayor Meg Kelly for the position. The announcement came just prior to a meeting by city Democrats. Committee chairman Charles Brown said while the prospect of selecting Kelly as the party’s choice for the mayoral seat was debated, there was insufficient time between Yepsen’s announcement and the previously scheduled gathering of the party to properly go through the review process.
During the interim, former Deputy Mayor Hank Kuczynski considered throwing his proverbial hat into the mayoral ring, but subsequently informed Democrats that he had re-considered that option due to time constraints that would be placed on the operation of his own business.
All five council seats, both supervisor positions and one city court judge position will be decided by voters in November.
Three currently seated Democrats are on the move: City Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen each announced that they will not seek re-election, and current Supervisor Peter Martin announced his intention to fill the seat being vacated by Mathiesen.
City Democrats had previously endorsed incumbents John Franck and Michele Madigan, current city judge Francine Vero, and newcomers Pat Friesen and Tara Gaston for the two Supervisor seats. Thus far, Kelly is the lone Democrat vying for mayor, and no potential candidate has come forward to challenge Republican incumbent DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.
Last month, city Republicans endorsed mayoral candidate Mark Baker; political newcomers Andrew Blumenberg – vying for a seat as City Court Judge, and Don Braim – who will be running for the position of Public Safety Commissioner; Saratoga County Supervisor candidate John Safford, and incumbent DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and Saratoga County Supervisor Matt Veitch.
Minnie Clark Bolster has collected thousands of pieces of historic memorabilia related to the city which she has called home for nearly a century. A new book, “Elegant and Fashionable as Seen Through the Eyes of Artists and the Words of Writers, 1787-1847,” depicts local life and architecture in prints and text, and was inspired by the research initially conducted by her friend, the late Sonia Taub. The 102-page publication features over 40 engravings, woodcuts and lithographs, many of which are extremely rare. Proceeds from the sale of the book, which is $24.95, benefits the Saratoga Springs History Museum. The museum, located in the Canfield Casino in Congress Park, will host a book signing and reception with Minnie Bolster at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 8. The event is free and open to the public.
Who: Minnie Bolster.
Where: At home in Saratoga Springs.
- Tell us about the new book.
- Well, if you call this mine, this would be the fourth one. I just had to do this, to save it from the wastebasket, because I knew what it was. From cover-to-back it is a history of our city from 1787 to 1847. Everything you ever wanted to know about our city, in prints.
- When were you born?
- In 1920. I graduated high school in 1938. I’ll be 97 in a couple of months.
- Is there one era of Saratoga you prefer over another?
- I just love Saratoga. Period.
- What’s the biggest change in the city?
- You can’t find your way down to Broadway with all the buildings, haha. But, that doesn’t bother me.
- What was Saratoga Springs like when you were growing up?
- Everything was so calm and wonderful. The neighborhood kids playing ball in the street. The circus came to town every year. In the ‘50s it got kind of drab because a lot of the stores on Broadway started closing up, but it was just an amazing place to live and to grow up. You never wanted to leave it. I still don’t. We had so much going on. I remember when company would come over from out of town we would give them the tour, and my God, it went on forever. North Broadway. Union Avenue. Yaddo. it just went on and on. And those are all still there.
- Did you go to the racecourse often?
- I started going to the racetrack on my birthday in 1938. I bet two bucks. And every year on my birthday I would win the Daily Double! It was funny because the people who knew me would follow me around on my birthday. I had no rhyme or reason to bet, except that I had two dollars and I liked the colors and the horses’ names. I saw a lot of the big horses. Whirlaway was one. Native Dancer was another.
- You have a book signing coming up on June 8. What’s next?
- I think I’ve got another book in me. Why not? I’ll only be 97.
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 - 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.
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.