It's only a three-quarter moon but it wakes me up at midnight and it feels full. Just before I went to sleep I read that keyboardist and composer Ray Manzarek had died earlier today, in Germany. A resident of Napa Valley California...not far from my sister. How come I'd never gone on a pilgrimage to meet him and tell him what effect he had had on my youth, in conjunction with, of course, Jim Morrison. It was now officially too late to do so. And I had missed him when he'd appeared locally a few years back, with guitarist Robby Krieger, in Albany, at The Egg. What a mistake...his last time around.
When Morrison died, I was only sixteen. That seemed epic and tragic in 1971, and as such, corrupted my otherwise positive outlook at that age, when everything was on the upgrade in my life, and I felt I had the world by the tail. I had not seen The Doors in concert and felt crushed that now I never would. For years afterward I would listen to their music in a trance state, and I have to tell you, it meant more to me, and seemed to have more depth, than anything I'd ever heard from The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, or whomever else being touted as being the best of rock music.
Today I know there was a sloppy aspect to Morrison's performances and behavior and I do not idolize the man as I did as a teenager,.. but Manzarek always commanded my respect in being the thinker, the musical intellectual, and the primary arranger of the group. White Krieger's guitar was a stinging, lusty swagger that spoke like a blues siren, and John Densmore's drums seemed the crispest and slickest of all rock stickmen.
But in later years, Krieger became spacey as a hippie spoof and Densmore was bitter about the the crashing aftermath, and never forgave Morrison for his early demise. Only the keyboard guy-- Ray Manzarek-- evolved into a transcendent state.
In 1968, when "Light My Fire" hit the nation's airwaves, it seemed to be everywhere, Even though most of us had tinny transistor radios in our bedrooms, not exactly Bose speakers, you could tell that the roller-coaster jabbing of the organ was unlike any other rock group of the day, with the possible exception of Deep Purple. Jim Morrison's seductive baritone stole the show, of course, but Manzarek led the ride like a ringmaster.
Someday soon, maybe I'll take an hour on WEXT's "My Exit" and dredge up some of the longer, more obscure Doors songs that stuck with me long after the group's dissolution,
Over 40 years later, L.A. WOMAN, their last album recorded together, live in the studio, supposedly with no overdubs, remains on my Top 10 list of all time, despite falling well down the list on my favorite radio station's Top 500 Countdown recently. I'd like to express to the listeners and those at the station themselves why the staying power of The Doors is so potent and prevalent even now...
It's late on the east coast, Ray, and I feel your spirit here in the moonlight of mid-late May. Sorry to see you go, man, and sorry we never met. But there are keyboard hooks you injected into my soul long ago that will not be unfastened in my lifetime, and I thank you for those. Peace and safe travels beyond. Wayne
Saratoga's delayed Spring season...finally
Anyone born to the Northeast, or any
long-term resident, has come to know that upstate NY can be cruel in fooling
you this time of year. I got use to saying that there were normally "7 False Springs" in this area, before the season had truly changed. Transitional
season means that there can be thunderstorms with 70 degree temps that bring frogs and toads on the roads and the sound of peepers from the swamps for the first time one day (like, say, April 16th)
, and the next you have 20 degree wind-chills and hail squalls, and feel sorry for those amphibianss who popped out of the mud a bit too soon.
There are days when we all say, It's here, It's here! And we run up to it like Charlie Brown
about to kick the football Lucy is holding, only to get it yanked away. That
is what most of April was like. But
now, in the first week of May, 2013, though it was snowing in Colorado
yesterday, we are in the middle of a balmy 70 degree stretch in upstate
NY. Still, we may get fooled again but I
believe the delay is over, and the "false springs" are behind us.
I rejoiced internally last Saturday,
in between appointment rounds, when I saw almost every long-dormant outdoor playground
filled with activity. I saw girls
playing soccer and softball, Little Leaguers
eagerly practicing, lacrosse racquets in action, joggers jogging, and elders
swinging tennis racquets. Geyser Road
complex, Gavin Park in Wilton, Eastside Rec playgrounds, Skidmore's campus
perimeter, Daniels Road soccer complex, Westside Rec, even southside fields adjacent to Saratoga's Racino
I'd not seen used before, were at full capacity on my journeys that day. Even though my kids are older now and not
engaged in such outdoor fests on a glorious spring Saturday, I felt vicarious
delight that parents and kids had returned to light-hearted games, as an
antidote to the horrific happenings in Boston, mid-April.
I keep having flashbacks, however, to
an indoor sport played this time of year--AAU Basketball--which had dominated
almost a decade of our lives from 2000-2009, when Miles was competing
year-round, at gyms all over the area, and on weekends up-and-down the east
coast at non-stop Tournaments. Those
days are gone for us, and we feel both nostalgia and relief that it is over
with! So much more time on our hands, less
constant travel, fewer fastfood stops and hotels-on-the-road, less expense, and
more time to work!! I don't know how we
did it, because when he was at his most serious, it was an 11-month-a-year
I know there are a lot of
parents of athletes out there who commit just as strongly to their kid's
passion for what seems like a long parade of practices and contests... whether
rowing, baseball, softball, running, football, hoop, golf, swimming or
gymnastics... whatever it is, I know it becomes an addiction to the parents--to revel
in watching your child PERFORM--that is tough to leave behind once they go off
to college, or the service, or the workworld.
But that is where my wife and I are now--and we wonder how we had time
for "real life" or even a full workweek--when we were in the full throes of that
My daughter and my second son,
however, are glad that those days are over, and we can now cater to them in
different ways. Life with multiple
children is a balancing act at any given moment, and I feel true compassion for
anyone with more than 3 to schedule for, and chauffeur.
Perennial Dilemma of Spring: Yellow Flags, versus Dandelions...
The excellent weather that has
finally arrived brings both good and bad.
Whereas last year we were mowing the lawns in late March, it seemed, but it is May now and we are just beginning to worry about it. But I
am kicking myself for not preparing for this moment a couple of months ago,
when I should have written and emailed a letter to the members of our HOA,
pleading the case for ORGANIC methods of fertilizing and pest control for our
median and common areas, as well as on their own lawns. I cringe and grit my teeth when I see the "Little
Yellow Flags" sprout up, in our neighborhood and others, as it means the
chemical taint of PESTICIDES has returned for another round. I got out of my car, 9 miles west of
Saratoga, way out in the countryside, and I could distinctly smell the
contamination of commercial poisons, which had just been sprayed or spread that
day. Anyone who tells me this kind of
thing is safe has got to be oblivious.
I find that the same people who will solicit fundraising for research for cures to common diseases are often the same
ones who are treating their lawns with suspected carcinogens, and not seeing
any contradiction in that. Personally--I don't
want to focus on finding a CURE for cancer, for my own life and my family, I want
to PREVENT it. And I don't mean to be
callous about this--no one contracts those epidemic illnesses voluntarily--but I believe there
is no mistaking a connection between a petro-chemically-saturated environment
and the toxic buildups in our bodies that lead to dis-ease.
I am especially concerned about the
people who treat their lawns to make them greener and more homogenous--more suburban,
in other words--and then let their kids or grandkids or pets romp around on the
grass soon afterwards, because the company that performed the treatment told
them--"it only lasts 24 hours or so." O really?
Whether bare-skinned feet or shoe-bottoms or paws, there has GOT to be some trace amounts brought
back into their homes and insidiously absorbed into their bodies--but the
population continues to do what TV commercials are brainwashing them to
do-- FEED YOUR LAWN, LADDIE, FEED
IT! Or in the case of the Ortho commericials, shows a man squirting specific poisons at dandelions like they were guerrila insurgents. As with aboriginal cultures, wild flowers and perennials were here first.
My lawn, and that of my two nearest
neighbors, thankfully, is sprouting dandelions this time of year, which my wife
hates but I take pride in. I am a
contrarian, a naturalist, and co-existing with dandelions (referred to as "weeds" by the
advertising world) is acceptable to me-- the least of my worries, in fact. I can walk on my lawn barefoot and not come
away with anything other than grass-stains and organic dirt. That will be the extent of my environmental
sermon for now, except to add that the personal inconvenience of smelling the pesticides and bemoaning their yellow-flagged presence in my neighborhood pales next to my fears of what the chemical treatments are doing to the clear-running tributaries and streams in our immediate vicinity-- notably the sacred KAYDEROSSERAS Creek, upon which the mills of Middle Grove and other nearby towns were founded. When we first moved out here, the trout could be heard and seen jumping out of the water on a regular basis; now there are no minnows or fish of any sort visible, and a former Grade A Trout Stream now seems devoid of life. Coincidence?
As with the honey bees' colony collapse disorder, I have no doubt in my mind or my gut that pesticides and toxic chemical ubiquity are responsible, and I will try to convince as many people as possible in my lifetime to understand the connection between an organic lifestyle, and trying to improve an already-contaminated world that we are leaving our children. Peace to all who read this, and aside from my tirade on pesticides, I wish you all a joyous and healthy spring season.
Thirty years ago I wrote a poem with the same name as this version of my blog. It was roughly the same time of year, when just about all of us (except the most hardcore skiers) are sick of the lengthy duration of a "normal" upstate winter-- four if not five full months into it. Back then I was renting a second floor flat on Walnut Street-- the westside of Saratoga-- with a friend of mine, and it wasn't supposed to be my job to shovel the sidewalk around the corner property's perimeter, but I was doing it.
With every stroke of the snow shovel, I was heaving heavy hunks of winter away-- not just the frosty layered corn snow, but also scraping up the ice chunks underneath, adhered to the concrete surfaces in its freeze-thaw cycle. If you had a good sturdy metal shovel you could get beneath that stuff and leverage it upwards in large wedges, and it was quite satisfying to pry it up and toss it off to the side. But it took some effort, and a bit of aggression. My mental state, however, required such exertion-- I had just broken up with my long-term girlfriend (almost 5 years together) and was inwardly freaking out about it (her idea, not mine). To keep my composure and feel I was doing something positive to get over and past the emotional upheaval and rejection, the physical ordeal was just what I needed at the time.
During the exertion, that phrase kept running maniacally through my brain-- "I'm helping Spring arrive; I'm helping Spring arrive..." as if Spring needed my help.
I had wrongly thought that I was going to marry that particular girl some day, and thought I loved her-- we had been through a lot together. But I wasn't saving any money and she was, and she was ready for a change, thinking things had gotten predictable and stale. So in my shell-shocked, humbled mind, I reverted to primal, Druid mode and started thinking of Spring as the point that would change everything, and renew my spirit.
That's what my not-so-great-nor-memorable poem was about....albeit was written in February of that year, roughly a month before Spring was actually due on the calendar. The catharsis of shoveling, and/or the poem I wrote to process it, seemed to help almost immediately. Within a week of that episode I had met another girl who became a great, enticing flame and a revelation in a lot of ways, and I would not have met her had I not been a free man again at that point. So certainly I knew that something cool could come from that symbolic sense of renewal...
So I thought of that period again, 30 full years ago, the day I began this episode of my blog-- Sunday the 24 of March-- by which time, in 2013, we are well past the Vernal Equinox already. Last Tuesday was, most likely, the final major snowfall of the season, when about 10+ inches of heavy, wet snow came down over the course of almost a full day, like we were in a perpetual snow-globe, or a scene from the Austrian Alps. It had turned cold after that so the quick thaw you usually get up here this time of year did not occur, and consequently the snow-pack, at least up in the elevated hills where I live, remained in place till now. Compressed and slightly softening with the sun's warmth today, the L-shaped part of our driveway still harbored a half-foot of white stuff. This is where I spent part of the afternoon, hacking and smoothly attacking the slow-blizzard's remnants, even though I knew it would melt on its own in a week even if I just left it alone.
So I began my mantra again, "Helping Spring Arrive..." This time I was NOT going through a romantic break-up, although a day before I hadn't been so sure. My wife and I were in our 25th year together, and it would be ten times as devastating now to have to start all over, compared to back in 1983. I had just said to an unmarried guy in my office the other day how proud I was to have persevered in a long-term marriage in an era when, as he put it, " like 70% isn't it?" of those who get wed end up splitting from each other. As the Dead said: ""Cuz When... Life looks like Easy Street...there is Danger at your door."
In this past Sunday's case, then, I decided I was not looking for romantic rejuvenation, unless it was with the woman who had accompanied me, with little complaint, through a quarter century so far. It was a different kind of springtime renewal I needed and craved... a surge and continuation of positive synchronous energy that allows one to not just accomplish more, earn more, & contribute more to the economy...but to help and serve more people than just oneself. To be centered in the proverbial flow we hear so much about but maybe rarely FEEL. To aspire to be a conduit for good, and problem solving; not mucking up situations but clearing them up. To believe the world was still a vital, exciting, and improving place, not doomed nor declining but bright enough for the coming generations to thrive in for years to come. New children, new families, more and more people who are spiritually attuned, and looking for the sustainable good life. This is my hope for 2013, in an era when a lot of people are expecting the worst and hoarding ammunition and thinking of drawing a line in the sand around themselves and their own family, instead of drawing together into a larger community. It's still touch-and-go I suppose as to the fate of the world, but if all politics (and economy) is local, the recovery is starting to do just fine around here. Check my real estate site for more on that, if you like.
On a side note, an increase in business demands due to this putative recovery has made me think hard about how much time I can devote to this blog. I am coming up on my one-year renewal for this site, and have to decide whether to continue or not. Some months there has been great readership, other times not so much. I have gotten a grand total of 7 comments for 34 pieces I've written here. Much as I love this site overall, the Blogs are a very small fraction of it, and I may seek out a more visible venue. If you like what I've posted here in the past year, let me know and that may help me decide. Thanks for reading, if you've gotten this far!
Take care and be well,
Wayne, for www.saratoga.com/WaynesWord2
Copyright 2013 Wayne Perras
I have touted several live music venues in Saratoga Springs & environs over the past 10 months on this blog-- SPAC, Bailey's Cafe, Dango's (the "J" is silent), and One Caroline, for example-- but I neglected a few old standby's so far.... and this past weekend I re-discovered one of the major, historically significant sites of the Saratoga scene-- The Caffe Lena on Phila Street.
The reason and occasion was this: I had been busy, and somewhat lame in my expressed affection for my lovely, devoted wife on the mid-week occasion of Valentine's Day. Albeit an admittedly contrived holiday to support the greeting card, chocolate, florist, and gift industries, it was still somewhat unforgivible for me to ignore it. We had gone out to see music the weekend before (see Milo Greene story), but hadn't had much time together since, as the all-demanding real estate surge had occupied me maniacally for two weeks straight. I had blithely informed her, "I'll make it up to you." I don't think she believed me, and she wasn't holding her breath, either.
Then on Thursday, a full week after the day of wine and roses and dark saccharine pleasures, I was about to get out of the car for a showing when I heard Chris Wienk announce that Sean Rowe was going to appear at Caffe Lena this Saturday evening, two days away. There was the solution. My wife had heard "Downwind" on WEXT radio over and over again recently, and would say how much she loved the guy's voice each time. We had missed a few other occasions intown and down in Albany due to bad weather or other plans, so were overdue to see him for the first time, It
intrigued me no end that a local dude like him had been signed to Tom Waits' label, AntiRecords... Waits was one of my heroes since my college days. I could indulge my curiousity about this guy's musical to Waits while enchanting my ladylove with an actual audience with this gruff--voiced human wolf persona she was attracted to almost as much as those Vampire Diaries' hunks. I snagged two reasonably-priced tix off the Caffe Lena website that same evening.
We go up the creaky stairs, same as I remember from 30+ years ago, when Lena herself still ruled the roost, and I am glad at that point I got the tickets in advance, as there is an unhappy horde outside who are being told the show is sold out. As it is, seating is extremely tight in there for the more popular performances...the second floor space sits about 80 (I'm guessing) at tables of 4, with not much wiggle room for the wait staff to get through. But as a result, there are no bad seats, and on the slightly elevated stage, Sean Rowe did not have a problem making his presence felt.
I first saw him in the back near the kitchen and thought he was part of the Caffe's regular attendees or staff himself, until I recognized him as the main attraction. Very unassuming and dressed in lumberjack chic, there was no sense of ego or star power having changed his rootsy image. Within the next hour or two, I would come to think of him as more a Force of Nature than a "mere" musician, but as such, he was still dishevelled in the perfect manner. His loose shoulder-length hair a bit stringy and unkempt, full black beard, workingman arms and huge hands were what I noticed as a first-time audience. My wife, and most other nearby women, was and were enchanted from the get-go, as was most of the devoted crowd. And so it began...
What struck me immediately was how different his singing voice was from his speaking tone. The latter, ordinary and matter-of-fact, kind of deadpan if anything--
gave no indication that he was a master performer. He intro'd something to the effect that he had just come from a music festival in Toronto and was not sure he was going to get there on time, but was glad he'd made it, albeit admitting he was a bit road-weary. "It feels like coming home, to be here," he said.
His guitar looked road weary too, and had the coolest collection of colored duct tape
strips adorning it in some kind of pattern that looked like semaphor signals somehow. Playing just solo and acoustic it was soon apparent that he was not just a unique songwriter and vocalist, but a guitarist I would describe as "ferocious." He strummed the crap out of that thing for emphasis, he coddled and cajoled it for all it was worth, and at the end he delivered perhaps the most intense acoustic "sheets of sound" solo I have ever heard in my life... but we'll get to that.
First off, he started slow, with the line "There was a time...when I could not cry..." which turned out to be a tune from his new album, called "Flying." The poetry of that tune immediately let me know this guy was a primordial poet, and later I would liken his imagery to Lightnin' Hopkins or the old blues cats of the past, but it took a while to sink in. HIs voice was nasally and strident, is how I would describe it, but could range from gruff and guttural to plaintive and pleading. If you've heard it, you know it is like no one else's you've ever heard, which is the ultimate compliment in my book.
The second tune was (I later found out) called "Joe's Cult" which most of the crowd except Melinda and I seemed to know already. The initial thick- plunked guitar lines were startling staccato like a flamenco master might play, and the words were a tale of conspiracy and political paranoia-- "O friends, I'm gonna be honest with you now, I am weary of our noble mission/ There are a few of us who feel/ we've been led to an empty house/ There are some of us who know the roof is leaking..." That was a staggering tune to listen to, even the first time. It gave me chills, and I began to know how good this concert would be.
Next up was a touching testimonial to fatherhood-- "My Little Man." He noted in his preamble that he felt badly about not being a full-time dad because of his chosen career and all the traveling it entailed. Consequently, the poignant nature of his brief visits home to see his constantly changing 18-month old son, gave birth to a song almost painful in its beauty. It spoke of distance and transience and longing for more time with his offspring, and contained the enigma of a line: Someday you will know that you are a part of me... as if that was not the case in the present tense. It made me glad I had seen my kids every day as they grew up.
Then came the first of several amazing covers he played-- stuff for musical aficianados -- a tune made recognizable by Eric Clapton when he was with CREAM--
but written and first growled by ancient blues master Howlin' Wolf-- "SPOONFUL"
The magic of Sean Rowe's version of it was in the intensity of delivery-- he snapped the strings so hard at every line break that I thought they would pop, and he spit the words so forcefully you understood that this incredible song was about Addiction in all its forms-- equating intense Love with Heroin, Coffee, Tea, Sugar, Booze and every other substance that can drive a man (or woman) mad. I loved that tune so much I had to restrain myself from giving a one-man standing ovation at the end.
He sang a tune called Chocolate Cake after that which seemed related in theme to the above. Then came the start-up tune from the new album "The Salesman and the Shark" which is entitled "Bring Back the Night." I've got to say the live version enchanted me, with his harmonica playing adding bite to it, but the recorded song-- which my wife loves-- seems dreary and dismal to me. That's the only negative phrase I will utter in this piece.
After that, he sang a song he claimed to have "just written" in London, called "The Razor of Love"-- from which I gleaned these lines: "Your skin is a call/ to the Hall of the Divine/ your Lolita smile, and your chainsaw lips..." Wow, loved that too. He had given a prelude to that one I didn't understand because I was too old to catch the television reference to The Greatest American Hero-- a show about a superhero who inherited a costume that gave him incredible powers that he didn't really know how to use, as it had come with NO INSTRUCTION MANUAL, like life. Hmmm, yes.
Then it was another song that could be construed as either written to his son or to an abandoned lover, or to anyone craving artistic legacy -- "To Leave Something Behind." He mentioned it would be released as a 7" vinyl-- the equivalent of a singe "45" in the old days, I guess. He sang: "When my son is a man, he will know what I meant/ I'm just trying/to leave some-thing behind."
One of the highlights for me came as a tribute to the guy whose label he had joined-- Tom Waits-- a recording artist I have both loved and occasionally loathed since the late 70's. I say that because there are phenomenal songs mixed in with grim and almost unlistenable songs on his many albums-- the great ones are great and you have to skip a few others. But the humor and keen study of human nature is consistent in Waits' work-- this one was a hoot called "Chocolate Jesus." The people we were sitting with were unfamiliar with Tom Waits' style and songs so I gave them a list of what I thought were his finest pieces: Step Right Up, Romeo is Bleeding,
Whistlin' Past The Graveyard, Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night, Big Joe and the Phantom 309, Heart Attack & Vine, Swordfish Trombones, etc. etc. (In return they gave me a list of Felice Brothers tunes which was a nice reciprocation of their passison for that semi-local group from downstate, thanks!)
I will not attempt to go sequentially through his second set, but just hit the highlights from my badly scribbled notes. I absolutely LOVED the selection of covers he did, though of course he played them in his own inimitable fashion. The most surprising of the bunch was a number by The Violent Femmes: "Gone Daddy Gone" done in a much grufffer voice than the fey orignal, and without the toy xylophone of course, but just amazing. He did an R.L. Burnside blues dubbed "Goin' Down South" like he was Tommy in O Brother Where Art Thou? He did an obligatory nod to Bob Dylan (also a Caffe Lena alumnus, as is commonly known around here): "Girl From the North Country." And toward the end he commandeered a version of Leonard Cohen"s "Bird On A Wire" and made it his own-- putting himself in some revered company with all of the above. His most stunning original, to me, in the second set, was a tune I beleive to be from his first album, called "Black Diamond." It features the ominous line: "She was a River, I was just a Man..." and had a foreboding subterranean tone to it that was uncanny in its spell. There were lines I was jotting down like I was recroding a fever dream of my own: "I gotta take darkness out for a ride..." "You don't need to cut your life on those razor blades..." "...crucify your mind..." Some of the lines and delivery was so dark and gruesome but there was a spirit and spark of life to it all that was somehow exhilarating after all.
The climax of the concert came, and he bluntly hinted beforehand that there would be no encore, "Because I can't play anything better than this." Since he had already played a hell of a lot, I thought that was an astounding statement, but he meant it. He finished with an extended one-man jam on the Richard Thompson tune "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." It was dazzling, hypnotic, catastrophic, epic. And I say that though I was sober as can be, under no influence other than Lena's caffeine and Her awesome snacks. Sean Rowe played that last song with concentrated ferocity, deftness and power that I wasn't expecting in a coffeehouse setting. He literally rocked in a rhythmic figure eight in one place through the entire song, and his manic head-bobbing reminded me of Frank Zappa at the War Memorial in Syracuse, in the mid-seventies, that kind of intense.
At one point, Sean's hands began disappearing in a blur of notes that I thought was , analogous to Coltrane's "sheets of sound" on tenor sax, circa 1964. It seemed like 2 or 3 guitarists were present. We were stunned and satiated, but still wanted more. We stood up, applauding, and he bowed and stood down, and that was it. Amazing.
We bought his album and CD and a tee-shirt with a wolf's head on top of a man, like newly converted fans are prone to do. We shook his hand and congratulated him on his performance and he seemed mildly grateful but either standoffish or detached in a way, unimpressed by his own prowess. Perhaps he was just recovering from the exertion of his performance, I figured. But perhaps he was also just a bit dazed by success starting to stare him in the face, the bright lights soon to come.
He had announced during his concert that he would be appearing-- only a few days later!-- on the Jimmy Kimmel show as the featured performer, with his back-up band the Saratoga-based group Railbird. I stayed up late that Monday night afterwards to watch a show I'd never cared to see before, and it was worth it to see him play his current trending song "Downwind"-- which by the way he had not played at Lena's.
His guitar with the colored strips of tape was the same, and so was his voice and beard, but his hair was brushed back and better groomed for TV, and his clothing more suited for L.A. prime time. The heavy guitar work was handled, on that occasion, by Chris Carey from Railbird, and Saratoga native Sarah Pedinotti sang backup harmonies/played keyboards, and their local band looked to be having a great time on the national stage.
My wife and I were so pumped up after the show it was hard to find anything else downtown that could compare in the aftermath. We went home with a six-pack of Stella Artois and listened incessantly to the new album (vinyl version and CD both included) and had ourselves a ferociously good late night romantic time on Sean's behalf. It was the best belated Valentine's Day make-up gift I'd given her in years-- the concert, I mean.
Since then I have concluded that he was much better in person than the album conveys, though the recorded version of "Downwind" and a tune called "Horses" came closest to telling what he sounded like that night. I've also re-discovered his duo work as part of "Mudfunk" and the version of "Poppa Was A Rolling Stone" with that percussionist percolating at warp speed behind his guitar was an indicator of how great he would become on his own. Amazing stuff, and I encourage you all to see him locally as much as you can before he becomes bigger than Tom Waits ever was himself.
Take care and be well,
WaynesWord2, for www.saratoga.com
One of the blessings of life in this area, as I've said many times before on this blog, is the listener-supporter public radio station WEXT, 97.7 FM. If it weren't for them, I would not have been likely to venture to Central Avenue in Albany to finally visit the converted bank, now music hall, dubbed "The Linda" one cold February Saturday night recently, to see the California-based band MILO GREENE. It was a revelation and a pleasure for my wife and I, and I am now hooked on yet another group after seeing their live act.
Like most of the audience (I'm guessing), I knew them only from one song played prominently on WEXT, which is a haunting, jangly harmonic song called "1957"-- and that title is still a mystery to me. They were described as a "Folk-Pop" aggregation from LA, which is and was a gross understatement, but then attempts to categorize music are always a bit hazy. Local writer Brian McElhiney also helped pique our interest with a Thursday preview my wife picked up on in The Daily Gazette (a fine Schenectady newspaper, for those of you outside our immediate area), so thanks to him as well.
After a great and enthusiastically received warm-up set by solo artist (for this show at least) MaryLeigh Roohan, the headliners came out and launched into a torrent of intertwining guitars, rhythm, and drum-thunder which bore no resemblance to the adjective "folk". The closest "folk-pop" reference I could come up with days later was maybe The Byrds, circa 1966, but then then David Crosby, Chris Hilllman, Roger McGuinn, Gene Clarke and the rest did not have a female singer like Marlana Sheetz to balance their male rock energy either.
The group was touted as being thoroughly democratic-- no leader, or four leaders, depending on how you looked at it-- and everyone but the drummer (the excellent Curtis Marrero) took a turn at the front-and-center mike, and they interchanged instruments on a regular basis to prove their versatility, and create a variety of sound tapestries.
Robbie Arnett was seemingly the spaciest rocker of the bunch to start with as he strummed an acoustic with ferocity and roamed the stage, wearing mismatched print shirt and slacks that looked like rummage sale pickups. I would've thought he was the northern Cali guy of the bunch at first, but no, he was the L.A. representative. To his left on the stage was superb guitarist Andrew Heringer, with a close-cropped reddish-brown beard and hair, a neater look than the dark-haired leftover-hippie style that Arnett wore so well. The tallest member with long black bangs swept to one side was Graham Fink, who started out on bass and later played guitar quite emphatically as well, and seemed like the anchor of the group, while the lovely blonde Ms. Sheetz started out somewhat in the background on keyboards, picked up a guitar now and then along with percussive devices, and slowly moved more into focus after the boys got their rock groove going on the long instrumental opener. From the barrage of sound which with they began, I would've called the music "Psychedelic Funk" more than any form of folk, which was too tame a phrase for the power they exhibited right off the bat.
The song titles were not really announced as they started out, and only later, after acquiring the vinyl debut album did I put together what some of them were, but it didn't matter much while we listened; it was an enchanting sequence. On the second song Graham Fink caught my attention with an Edge-y guitar (like U-2-ish, I mean) and I never did figure out what that tune was. The third selection featured wicked harmonies as they sang a line "Maybe when we're older/ Can I still come over??" and that turned out to be entitled "Silent Way." Marlana stepped forward to sing lead at the start of a great tune called "What's The Matter?" which repeated that questioning line and then the lyrics:
"All your love is never good enough/ All your love is lost on me..." which caught my ear, and as it accelerated with intense, twining guitars into a frenzy at the end I recall Graham
Fink really taking over the vocal lead with full-throttle, reaming the chorus-- "WHATZ THE MATTER!! WHATZ THE MATTER!!", and inspiring a rousing reaction at the climax.
I might have the order wrong here but my scribbled notes-in-the-dark indicate a phrase with the words "olive branch" in the next song, with the chorus line: "I will never run, I will never run you away" and the liner notes tell me that was called "Son My Son", for whatever that's worth. My wife and I had been talking earlier in the day about where the peace-making significance of "olive branches" had originated, so I thought that was a sweet detail of synchronicity.
The following tune was another harmonic beauty, more of a ballad, called "Don't You Give Up on Me"-- which on the album features the female voice but in concert was a group vocal that gave us chills-- a song about hanging together in a relationship through thick and thin, apparently: "I'll dig our own little hole/ and put the walls around us/ and call it our home/ 'cause you're all I got/ and time won't stop." Nice.
Then they took a breath and performed a cover by a guy I didn't know named Sufjan Stevens, called "Chicago." Again, great guitars, and something I have to hear again on YouTube if I can, as apparently it's a common thread in their performances.
Another piece that started out ballad-like and evolved into what I likened to a Band-of-Horses vibe was noted as the last tune on their album-- "Autumn Tree." I was really starting to love Andrew Heringer's guitar work and high-quality vocals by this time-- if there was a star of the group it was him, for me, but there was no ego involved on his part at all-- they truly seemed a democratic bunch.
One of the supreme moments was the last tune they played before the encore-- a rousing vocal and instrumental extravaganza that I noted seemed to start with an electronic clave kind of sound as Marlana chanted something to the effect of: "As Years Go By..." which is from the tune called "Perfectly Aligned" on the CD and album, which then, if I'm not too confused, segued into a longer jam which then later featured all the singers aligning to wail:
"And even if your heart stops/ I'll be there to hold you up,/Even as the world turns/ I'll be there to watch the fire burn/ I slipped softly through/ All I've waited for my dear is you..." It was amazing, an uplifting ending, and I discovered later the last tune was called "Cutty Love." The lyrics from the album notes end like this, a cryptic Valentine's Day poem if there was one:
"All your doubts will fade away/Questions bred by years at bay/ I can be an answer to it all"
But what I remember was all four of them up front singing, led by Fink, who looked large enough to do so, on top of the thundering cascade, repeating over and over again:
"EVEN IF YOUR HEART STOPS, I'LL BE THERE TO HOLD YOU UP!" and I could not think of a more soul-rending testimonial to rock'n'roll love than that.
We all took some deep breaths and I looked around at the clapping, cheering crowd at that point-- noting that it was one of the most well-balanced in terms of age that I'd ever seen, other than at a Dave Matthews' concert at SPAC. There were many bearded and grey audience members, as old or older than me, and also college kids, 20 and 30-somethings, couples and groups of young fans, everything in between, and an even mix of males and females. Somehow, that was gratifying to me, as a testimonial to the egalitarian reach of WEXT, who had had Laura from the "Hello, Pretty City" show introduce MaryLeigh Roohan, and Chris Wienk-- one of the founding masterminds of Exit977.org -- introduce Milo Greene themselves.
When the band exited to the rear out a door that led to the parking lot, I recall thinking-- geezus, they're from California, they're going to freeze out there, and fortunately, they hustled back inside and played two or three more songs. The first was a Wilco tune about late-night drinking and subsequent hangovers, I believe, and had a real country feel. There may have been one other in between, but by then everyone was hanging on for the big closer, the most familiar tune they had save for last: and when they finally broke into the gorgeous opening stanza of "1957" :
"Your house that sits behind me/ is covered in... ivy green.../ the windows that we watch from/ are old and chipping at the beam..." it seemed everyone in the crowd wanted to harmonize with the enchanting chorus: "TAKES ME AWAY...TAKES ME AWAY...TAKES ME AWAY..."
and when the simple songlines continue-- (with Marlana and Robbie so earnest in mutual alignment, Andrew and Graham behind...) "the scent you wear moves in lines from/your apartment in-to mine.../ You act like you don't know me/ My God you tempt my anxious mind..." and then the series of ascending ahhh/ ahhh/ ahh/ ahs-- it became almost rapturous.
The "Takes-Me-Away" chorus returns again, till they sing a line we have all felt about SOMEBODY we were dangerously in love with in our youth-- "Would it be much better/ if I knew/ NOTHING about you??" a few times through, the tension mounts, and they take it out with a group harmonic chant: "I'LL GO I'LL GO I'LL GO I... I'LL GO I'LL GO I'LL GO I...I"LL GO I'LL GO I'LL GO I!" and then it abruptly stops, and they put down their instruments, and you know it is over, there is no more, and yet you want to hear it again. That is what good tunes are made of. Whew.
In listening to the vinyl version of their self-titled debut album which came out in 2012, I realize that the folk-pop (or cinematic-pop, as they prefer to call it) label is actually appropriate for the recording, although the concert was really pure rock. The vocals of Ms. Marlana are featured on the album more than they were in concert, and frankly she was subdued that evening compared to the more dynamic alpha males, but that was fine. The tunes are short and to the point on the vinyl, and they improvised upon and extended them out nicely with some jams. The short instrumental tunes on the recording, which are just interludes, really, like "Orpheus", "Wooden Antlers" and "Moddison"-- which was the name of their short film-- are vehicles for stretching out live as well. While the album has been stuck on my turntable for a week afterwards, it does not capture how good the concert was, just hints at it. I would see this group again in a heartbeat, and for $15. per ticket it was one of the best bargains of the year.
I spent some time on their website and was shocked how little they promote themselves individually-- no pictures with names, no brief bios, no traces of who wrote which tune or who is featured on any of them-- it is all a collective, inter-mixed with no pretentiousness or ego whatsoever. Even on the liner notes, all tunes are written by Milo Greene, their fictitious group moniker. I commend them on that, and how well they make it work.
Knowing their talent level, I guess I wasn't surprised to see that they had already been featured on The David Letterman Show (t.v. debut last July), The Tonight Show with Leno, and Conan O'Brien's Show, though I will forgive them for the latter, since I can't stand him. If it weren't for YouTube I wouldn't know any of that as I just don't stay up and watch late night TV.
My wife told their equipment manager, whom I had freed from the back of their traveling van--as we walked out to the frigid parking lot and heard him yelling inside!-- that we thought we'd be seeing them on Saturday Night Live someday soon-- and he is the one who gifted us the copy of the vinyl. Thanks to that dude, too. The only problem with vinyl is that you can't listen to it in the car on the way home, so I'll be looking for that CD soon. Check out this band if you haven't already. A couple hundred people in the packed Theater that night know what I'm talking about, right?
Thanks again to Chris Wienk and the WEXT staff, and the great hosts at The Linda, a dynamite place to see music, for introducing us to this band. Even though I'm writing this for a website promoting Saratoga Springs, NY-- keep in mind that we are all part of the Capital District in upstate NY, and Albany's music scene is well-worth a 30-40 minute ride on certain specific occasions!
PS-- For those of you reading this in the first week it is posted, WEXT will be featuring an interview with the bandmembers of Milo Greene, and presumably a few live studio songs, on Friday, Feb. 22nd, 2013, at NOON, during the beginning of Chris Wienk's time slot--check it out!
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
Even though Rumor had it that schools would be closed on Friday the 8th due to an impending "perfect snowstorm" named NEMO, I still got up at 5:30 to check both the Weather Channel and Channel 9 to see if the pending blizzard was real enough for Saratoga Springs HS to cancel school that day. Since the north country (as opposed to the core of the Capital District, south of us) was receiving steady snowfall already as early bands of lake-effect whitestuff passed through, I was elated to find out that YES, SSHS was on the "CLOSED" list-- not just late arrival or early dismissal. This not only saved me some driving in terms of not having to chauffeur my darling freshman daughter to the West Ave Campus, but also freed up my day in that I had no other appointments scheduled. Breathless newscasters had gotten the population worked up to expect a Snowmeggedan like we hadn't seen in years, and most people had postponed their real estate plans till it was past.
YIPPIE!! I felt the primordial elation of an 8 year old, free to play for a winter day. But instead of putting on my snowsuit and galoshes as in days of yore, my mind started flooding with all the ideas of how I might spend the day...
Here was my partial list of Things To Do on a Snowday:
1) NOTHING! (This was my first choice, but the least likely...still, a tempting thought)
2) READ! (I had another William Kennedy book at hand, also "Cloud Atlas," or Thoreau's Walden to re-consider...or if I went the self-improvement route-- Miguel Ruiz's "The Four Agreements," or Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" were beckoning to me for review. I also
had a pile of magazines to choose from-- two recent issues of Rolling Stone, a year's worth of REALTOR Magazine, and some beguiling OUTSIDE adventure mags I hadn't even opened up yet. There was also a new METROLAND, and the Cambridge, NY-based Hill Country Observer I'd picked up fresh at Spring Street Market the day before. Too many choices, still not enough time...)
3) BLOG! (My own writing output had been nil for a while, so why not catch up? I had a long unfinished piece on WEXT's Top 977 rock songs I wanted to wrap up and publish, but it was turning into more of a manifesto than a blog... and I had started another piece called, tentatively, "The Million Reasons Why I Can't Finish My Novel..." but I kept getting interrupted, which was exactly the point! Then I thought about writing my SnowDay List...this!--and yet still did not get to it till the next day, which shows how I procrastinate!)
4) RESEARCH! (I still had real estate chores I could tackle, as there are always new searches to be run for this client or that, to stay on top of what's out there, or comps to be studied for the presentation of the next offer I have to present...)
5) EMAIL! (Likewise, always a good indoor task which can be accomplished in any weather, wherever one is...as long as RoadRunner of the 4G network don't go down...but you know what? I do email religiously every day, so who not take one day off?)
6) HANDWRITTEN LETTERS! (I had a list of former clients and casual friends and unresolved would-be leads I could take the time to appeal to in an old-fashioned manner...how many Realtors still do this?? It would give me practice at writing cursive, which I hear is becoming a lost art among our youth...)
7) WORKOUT! (The weights in the basement, the bench, the kettleballs, were all awaiting me on a day like this...why not break a sweat?!)
8) CALL SOME PEOPLE! (Come to think of it, I still had some work calls to return, or appointments to set, or listings to arrange...aw man, I guess it can't really be a COMPLETE day off after all...)
9) UPGRADE MY SKILLS! (If I am going to thrive as a Realtor I know there are some technical tutorials I could be watching and studying today... DocuSign, Paragon's intimate secrets of the MLS, Internet Tracking mechanisms, etc etc etc... a perfect day to do it? Naw... not right now...)
10) GIVE MYSELF REIKI, and SEND SOME... (It would be a great time, I decided, to recharge my own Reiki battery, and to silently offer some healing energy to those who I know need it... a noble and worthy use of some rare quiet time...)
11) MAKE BREAKFAST! (Which is one of my favorite things, actually-- my current specialty being a slow-carb version: mushroom/yellow pepper/spinach/red onion and asiago omelette, with a side of natural chicken sausage and black beans simmered with
red pepper flakes...no bread, no pancakes or waffles like in the past... I feel energized yet not bloated...)
12) SHOVEL SOME SNOW! (Yes, I still perform the manual method, which would later augment my basement workout nicely, with some fresh air ingested at the same time, to balance my work at the desk...)
13) FEED THE BIRDS! (This would have to come first, as the snow coming down would obliterate whatever seed was still left on the feeders and the ground, and I had to offer more...)
14) TAKE A HIKE OUT BACK! (Pencil this is for later in the day, to go down and see how the Kaydeross Creek looks in the snowfall...)
15) TAKE A NAP! (I'd save this for later afternoon, after the workout, the shovelling, the hike, and hopefully a bunch of other stuff on the list... aren't snowday naps the best??!)
Well, truth be told, just making the list took me a while, and to some extent helped me prioritize, but also let me realize how busy a day off could be. So after I woke Bella to tell her to go back to sleep, and discussed with my wife whether we should worry about letting Daryn go up to SUNY/ACC up in Queensbury or not (we didn't), I began to accomplish some things on my list. I began with #13, the birdseed need, commenced to my own breakfast, #11, and then attended to an hour's worth of #8-- setting appointments for the days after the snowstorm.
Then I worked in a bit of #1 on the list-- NOTHING!-- simply listening to Dave Michael's chosen music on WEXT while watching the birds out back appreciate my scattered birdseed feast for them. That was pleasant, for a while, but then my anxious mind kept coming up with more urgent things to add onto the list--
#16 ORGANIZE TAX INFORMATION, (for my meeting with Tom Kubiak in two weeks, a great chore to perform when no other pressing matters were at hand);
#17 RUN INTO TOWN ONCE MORE FOR CERTAIN SUPPLIES, as we were low on the good Columbian coffee we love so much, candles and "D" batteries and all that "camping-out stuff" you need if you don't have a whole-house generator yet, like us...
#18 MEDITATE, AND JUST CHILL... (under the assumption that blizzards are God's way of slowing us manic Northeasterners down from our frantic patterns, and teaching us, however briefly, to look within, and hibernate for a day, OK!)
What I specifically left off my list was: WATCHING TV (avoiding more weather news, financial forecasts, tragic news here and there, ESPN recaps of previous day's action,
and old movies which some of my friends claim to be interesting, but which I can't tolerate... that would truly be a waste of the day.
I also AVOIDED reading the YAHOO Finance page for a change, the Top Trends of the Day, the Gossip on OMG! and TMZ! and anyone else's Blogs. That was refreshing, and
I wanted to keep my mind uncluttered. It worked.
Needless to say, not everything on my sacred list was accomplished, nor even dabbled in-- butit was still refreshing not to have to go anywhere (as I refrained from the supply run, and we decided to make due with what we had in the house). I did manage to pump a little more iron than usual, stretch out my lower back on the yoga ball, and shovel two or three times by the end of the day, feeling righteous about the physical exercise. And now, the next morning, I managed to file at least one of my intended blogs. There is more shovelling to be done as the storm is over now, and I have ordered my mind in certain ways, and breathed deeper, and slowed down a bit-- have you?? I hope so,for we all need it.I'm sure you have a huge list of things to do when there's NOTHING MANDATORY to do, too... let me know!
Take care, and I promise to come up with something more interesting soon...
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
If I really aspired to be Thoreau-like, I guess, I'd be taking a long hike on this Sunday-in-January morning but here I sit at my desk, hoping my family members all sleep late so I can get this underway before the day truly intrudes. My problem with blogging is not the lack of ideas but more of an ADD-type confusion of which topic to focus on...and honestly I might as well make a smorgasbord (that beautiful Scandinavian word again) out of the potpourri of scattered appetizer ideas that swirl in my mind.
The town is changing week to week, and that's how often I am supposed to blog here, yet it's hard to keep up with the various movers and shakers of Saratoga Springs who make things happen. From the deep primordial construction pit on the center of Broadway has risen a half-skeleton of iron beams and risers which have required the use of the hundred-foot crane that has loomed like a majestic metal stork over the downtown area for most of this month. Hardhat steelworkers are doing their thing daily, no matter the weather-- you pass the site at 7:30 and they are well underway. Sonny Bonacio knows how to make things happen, and so do the subs and the partners he chooses.
His end-game on the end-of-the-block transition of Railroad Place at Church Street is moving a bit slower, but will ultimately be even more transformational than the fill-in site between The Cantina and Lillian's. This grand 11-screen intown movie theater strikes me as something that was long overdue, as Jimmy Kunstler correctly pointed out about 20 years ago in one of his localized diatribes about the shabby side of Saratoga's architectural progress. For as long as I've lived here, incoming traffic from Church Street to Broadway-- also known as State Route 9N-- has faced the, um, butt-end of the former Price Chopper's nondescript blockwall posterior, along with dumpsters and stacks of cardboard and misplaced shopping carts. Not a view the well-to-do, or any people of taste, would approve, and that's why it was lovingly dubbed the ghetto Chopper, as opposed to the suburban versions, I presume. While I don't think the facade will rival the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, the upgrade of a glassy cinematic entrance on that north-facing, prominent block, will certainly be
most excellent. I commend the Galesi Group, Bonacio's partner on the construction project, and Neil Golub of the grocery chain that invested in a major manner in this westside-of-Saratoga downtown project.
Down the hill from the Olde Bryan Inn, just below the Courtyard Marriott, across from the Old Red Spring, is another project underway-- a large new banquet hall facility that I believe is linked to the Marriott as well. Instead of brick and mortar it is almost entirely a wood frame complex, a very deep building with interesting roof lines. Almost within view of my office window, I watch it approach weathertight status, slowly, during this coldest time of the year. Off-season is construction season in Saratoga Springs.
On Lake Avenue across from the Hampton Inn's 6-story facade the backhoes and bulldoers were skimming the pavement on the site of the long-anticipated Pavilion Grand project, just west of The Parting Glass (which I hasten to add is still intact), and just east of The Saratogian's HQ, (for now). There may well be a large crane on that site soon.
Where Ellsworth Ice Cream plant once stood, the rubble field has not changed much in the last month. The ground is resting a bit there I guess, getting ready for a major spring makeover.
On Seward Street the upscale apartment complex is well-underway near Birch Run.
Those buildings too are wood-frame construction, and the site seems to be supporting a good number of carpenters, roofers, and tradesmen. The overused (in Saratoga anyway) descriptor "PARK PLACE" is worked into the sign on the corner of Morgan Lane and Seward somehow, but I hope the owners come up with something more distinctive than that when they actually get ready to rent out the units, which are still in the early stages of assembly.
Toby Milde's group is busy restoring The Adelphi Hotel, which I wrote about a few months' back. The vividly-named Fingerpaint Agency is taking over the Border's Building and doing a colorful renovation which will soon revitalize an empty space downtown. With another great bookstore going in across the street anyway, their is a net gain for Broadway with this diversification in tenants.
In short, things is still booming around here; if I may be grammatically incorrect, I am still telling the truth. Other upstate towns may hibernate, some are dormant year-round, but Saratoga Springs does not rest on its past laurels, it continues to evolve...
William Kennedy's Latest, and One Old One...
Speaking of past laurels, Pulitzer Prize- and MacArthur-award winning author William Kennedy is more famous for celebrating the history, working-class legacies, and political chicanery of Albany, but the grandeur of old Saratoga Springs is brought to life in two recent books of his I've read this past month. In his 2011 masterpiece-- Chango's Beads and Two-Toned Shoes-- we are witness in the first chapter to an impromptu scat/jazz session featuring Bing Crosby and a semi-fictional pianist. Even though the episode occurs in an Albany mansion, they recall how they met in Saratoga during racing season at one of the Prohibition-Era Casinos functioning at the time. Later in the book, the main character, one Daniel Quinn, has his own Saratoga experience, after having met Ernest Hemingway in Florida, and Fidel Castro in revolutionary Cuba. Without giving a full review, which others have done better already, I can tell you it is a riveting, action-packed ride that I consider a crowning achievement for a writer I first met in 1980, when he was not particularly well-known and certainly not famous yet. Now 84 years old or so, he is an exemplar for how much can be accomplished in the 3 and a half decades AFTER 50.
The second book of his I turned to after being so enamored of "Chango's Beads..." was simply called "Quinn's Book" and is obstensibly narrated by yet an earlier version of Changos' main character-- also named "Daniel Quinn." Replete with phenomenal re-creations of Albany, Troy, the Hudson River, and the Erie Canal prior to 1850 in its opening scenes, it too alludes to Saratoga during many key points in the book, and the final section takes place in 1864 Saratoga Springs-- noted in the book as the first full summer season when the famous Racetrack was opened to the public. It details characters who may or may not have been modeled on Madame Jumel, Big John Morrissey (of Congress Park Casino fame), and other actual dignitaries of Saratoga's past. The United States Hotel porch, the Lakeside Inn on the shores of Saratoga Lake, and the Racetrack all figure into the story in a beguiling manner. Set a full century earlier than the book he published most recently, "Quinn's Book" was published in 1992 as a continuation of his "Albany Cycle" which most famously featured "Ironweed"-- made into a film with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep back in the '80's. Kennedy is one of the living powerhouses of literature in America at this point, and the Capital District is lucky to still have him residing here, still producing fine work, and reading at UAlbany and Skidmore once or twice a year. His body of writing is a treasure. And with these two books above in mind, he should be made an honorary citizen of Saratoga Springs as well!
The Propitious Birth of One "Miles Perras"--
1992 was indeed a good year for creative production for my wife and I as well, as it turns out. My eldest son, Miles, was born during this month of that year, and his birth, as I've noted in brief fashion in my bio notes, was transformational to my life. I mean that in a couple of ways. Melinda and I weren't at all sure of the status of our commitment with each other, (as with many early-stage romances) much less the prospect of family to follow, in the spring of '91. We had our tumultuous times. She thought I might still be too flighty, or a committed bachelor, during our courtship and then in the co-habitation years, while I thought she was a bit too cautious and bitter about men in general after being married too young to the wrong guy in her early 20's. I was still struggling to figure out how to be a proper step-dad to her son from that marriage when suddenly we seemed to discover she was pregnant. Once I came to my senses, I had to learn how to be a real dad from the word Go. I was 36 years old, not a youngster, but not a geezer either. After the shock of learning the pregnancy was real, I buckled down on my job and began to work like a fanatic, whereas I'd been a bit casual about my career up till then. We took LaMaze classes together and did all those things new parents do, a bit choked up with anticipation, I must admit.
We were worried once January came in 1992 that the winter weather itself might pose a problem when it came time for Melinda to deliver, and god forbid we'd have to drive north to the Glens Falls' Snuggery during a blizzard, in the middle of the night. She was a week past the due date when we were still walking land together with a mutual real estate client that month, crazy as that seems in retrospect. Two weeks past the due date she was very large and when the water broke she woke me at 3:30 am or so on January 23rd and we urgently hustled up Route 9 before daybreak, fortunately with dry roads all the way. I was so relieved when they wheeled her into her room-- with a view of West Mountain-- before the doctors were even on duty for the day, and all seemed well. I had no idea what an ordeal it would be for her as the day stretched on, so to speak, but her cervix did not want to dilate. We had fully prepared for a "natural" birth but it just wasn't going to happen. She (or we) had nurtured a very robust baby, and he was too large, or stubborn, to slide down that birth canal on cue. Therefore a belated decision was made to induce, and then an even more belated decision for an emergency C-section, late in the evening, about sixteen hours after our arrival. I remember it was a Thursday night, and CHEERS was on the hospital TV as they ushered us up to a surgical room. I HAD NO IDEA AT THIS POINT WHAT TO EXPECT. I am proud to say the doctors let me stay-- in full gown, hat, and mask-- cradling my wife's head while she went through the ordeal of a caesarian birth, and saw her face through the whole process of fear, anticipation, mild agony, and relief, then delight. For both of us it was a magical, biological trial-by-fire, and I had never been happier that there were trained medical professionals in the modern world, and drugs to assuage my wife's pain. When Miles finally emerged in the doctor's hands from beneath the white-sheeted curtain, and made his first appearance he was purple! Purple and squirming and with a robust, almost chunky, little body-- over-ripe if anything-- and with eyes scrunched shut he seemed glad to be out of there finally but bewildered as to where he was. As with my other two children, I got to hold him and talk to him and greet him into this world, as they tended to my wife's incision. I had a feeling like the sum total of exhilaration of every Christmas build-up of my childhood rolled into one day. As I had come from a family of fairly slender if not puny babies in my family, his 9 lb, 10 oz. size came as a surprise. My wife had eaten carefully and taken tons of supplements and vitamins during that pregnancy, as she does to this day, and had produced a whopping, healthy specimen of a boy. I was thrilled out of my mind, and the euphoria lasted a long time. I thank my wife not only for going through that process but for letting me name him after one of my musical heroes from college and post-college years, Miles Davis, and like the best musicians and athletes, my kid has always had a fully inter-racial array of friends and
classmates, and teammates, and rivals.
This is not to take anything away from the miracle births I witnessed with my other two children, but for a father-for-the-first-time, there is no other single event which transcends seeing the first birth of a child. So, to anyone reading this-- or anyone I tell this story to subsequently-- no matter who you are or how old you are, or where you are in your life, never take lightly the advent of birth of a child-- it is truly WILD and SACRED and AWE-INSPIRING to the N-th degree. It gives you faith in the future of the world. This is what I decree, on the Anniversar-eeee, of my son's 21st Birthday. Thanks for being here, Miles, and being a stellar son for two-decades-plus..& good luck in your return to LeMoyne, for the climax of third-year classes.
That's it for now, Business is picking up and the Spring market is well underway, well in advance of any improvement of the weather.
I wish you all well till next time, when a musical topic of some sort will be explored...
Ciao-- Wayne, of Saratoga
Copyright 2013 Wayne N. Perras
First Night Saratoga has grown into a grand smorgasbord of events that are altogether too numerous to absorb in one evening. There were over 30 different sites and venues with a myriad of musical choices, performance art, dance (modern to ballet), children's entertainment, theater, a video festival, even Tarot card readings, Alpacas on display, Face Painting, magic, and a Swashbuckling Circus of some sort. To pay for all that, in addition to the reasonable $15. button fee, there were 27 major and minor sponsors (including our own "saratoga.com" website) listed on the comprehensive program put out by SARATOGA ARTS, which helped organize the whole shebang. I read somewhere that over 700 performers were involved in one way or another...but I gotta tell you, there was one that stood out for me, and she was a revelation.
Our favorite radio station, WEXT (97.7 FM), which I have already hyped many times on this site, was involved with a subset of entertainment called First Fest, which was held in Meeting Room #1 at the recently refurbished Saratoga Springs City Center. If you haven't seen the inside of the new additions to this landmark building in Saratoga Springs, this would have been a great chance to do so-- the large brick-&-columned courtyard which had formed an overly large outdoors entry to what used to be called the Civic Center is now a beautifully-glassed in area on both south-facing levels, so where Meeting Room #1 now exists was formerly exterior space.
The radio station had set up the soundstage there and their two main-men-- Dave Michaels and Chris Wienk, with encyclopedic knowledge of eclectic rock history between them-- were the alternating emcees for the occasion. As huge and relentless advocates for "Local 5-1-8" musicians, which they feature on a rotating, hourly basis in their programming, they brought together seven acts for this "Mini Fest"-- and I thank them for that.
My primary goal for the evening, as stated in my last post, was to finally see MaryLeigh Roohan, who was a featured performer scheduled at 6:45. As older son #1 had headed north to Lake George with his college friends to socialize elsewhere, and my daughter had chosen to spend the night at her BFF's house, son #2 was our companion as my wife and I hustled over to the City Center to catch Miss Roohan's act. Melinda did not understand my urgency to get there on time, since it seemed early in the proceedings of the evening, but within 15 minutes of hearing MaryLeigh, she knew I was right-- this girl's voice was amazing, which I knew going in-- but her poise, phrasing, songwriting, stage presence and guitar playing were all a bonus and a surprise. All of the above got better as the night went on, which I will here describe...
First off, for First Fest, she was on her own: "No more Fauves..." as her dad would tell me later in the evening. This alone could perhaps have been daunting for a 21-year old performer-- a solo gig when she previously was accustomed to having a band behind her. And this was not exactly an intimate coffeehouse setting, no Caffe Lena debut-- this was a wide-open, well-lit, cavernous room with seating and standing room for a few hundred people, like a corporate cafeteria with a slightly-elevated stage at the back end. In lieu of a folksinger's standard equipment, an acoustic Gibson, for instance, MaryLeigh had a Fender Telecaster around her neck, and handled it deftly as her sole accompaniment for the full 45 minute set. (I here note my Thanks to Rick Bolton, who later verified my guess on the electric guitar brand.) I'm not saying she was playing slide like Bonnie Raitt or Ellen McIlwane, but she created a fine kind of drone and chiming tapestry that perfectly, cleanly, gave a backdrop to her songs. Certain chords from the amps hung in the ambient air of the room in a manner that held the spell in between her well-spaced lyrics. I got chills on more than one song. In a large public space in which people were coming and going and not exactly behaving in an attentive, operatic manner, she had 90% of the audience respectfully captivated, it seemed to me.
She began with a tune that appeared on her first CD called "The Docks"-- with the full band, MaryLeigh & The Fauves. It was a steamy solo version of "Candy Man," with lyrics full of sensual innuendo & provocative implications, comparing favorably to the recorded original, which is very suggestive in its own right:
Mis-ter Can-dee Man...
I don't know how much I can have,
your sugar is the sweetest, but
my Mama says it'z bad--
I like you in the morning,
I like you after work
I like you in the afternoon
I like you for dessert
I like it when you're my-y-y
Cherry on top I like you Mis-ter Candy Man, 'Cuz you always hit the spot...
Well, all right, I thought, so much for family programming before 7p.m. in the evening, hmmm. So much, also, for her fresh-faced, cherubic look-- she revealed herself early on to be a torch singer, more than a winsome folkie, that was for sure. That impression would be solidified later on, in a different setting.
Another I would recognize from being played on WEXT was "Foolish Girl"-- which features the enchanting line: I just want to be ARM in ARM in ARM in ARM with you... which with her exuberant voice conveyed so well how wrapped up and entangled in love she was with her flawed-but-passionate object of affection.
Those two tunes, plus the equally addictive "Song for my Lovelies"-- its haunting refrain is: "My darling friends....Gooood Byyyye..."-- were all from the CD she made with The Fauves, still purchasable, and well worth the $10 they charged at the table that night. Lots of idyllic hooks and a solid, catchy back-up group therein. But the tune I had come to hear was from a demo that WEXT had been playing regularly-- Baby You Should Know-- when I finally heard her play it, I was content, like a sonic addict who needed a specific fix. Now that I am home, and don't have a recorded version of it on hand, I am craving it again-- so somebody please get me a bootleg copy or a live recording, and send it along. (PS-- while listening to Hello Pretty City on WEXT Sunday night, I heard Laura play that incredible demo, and then confess that when she first heard it, she was "stunned, just stunned..."--so I am not the only one blown away by this song.)
MaryLeigh then offered a song that she had just written that day, fresh from the imaginative hopper, as it were, and it came off well, but didn't stick with me like the 3 or 4 others I mentioned so far. It takes temerity and creative courage to do that, put a brand new composition out in front of a large crowd, however, and it bodes well for her long-term output that she is that confident in her production at an early age.
In her between-song patter she self-promoted just a bit by mentioning that she was going to be performing later that night at One Caroline Street from 9pm to 1 am, and my wife and I looked at each other like that might be a good idea...for a bit later. (O yeah, it was.)
When she was done she was surrounded by well-wishers, so instead of acting like groupies and trying to get in a word of congratulations to her, we moved on to the other band playing in the same building, but in the much larger Main Hall (where the high school proms take place in recent years), and down the corridor we heard a massive sound echoing from behind closed doors-- upon opening them the wave of kinetic audial energy that is known as Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra was holding forth, full force.
A horn section, a host of percussion, thundering bass-lines, and a couple of guitars backed up the nominal bandleader and a second enthusiastic front-man who sang as well. I counted 13 or 14 members of the aggregation, so let's say it was 13 an a half, given that a dark-haired lad who looked about 6 was banging on a clave on stage, helping to keep the rhythm with his elders. At first the crowd seemed laid back, and somewhat unresponsive. There were half-a-dozen to a dozen folks dancing in front of the stage when we first walked in and sat down. Next tune announced was something Cuban, a hot number from The Buena Vista Social Club movie, Alex said,
and next thing you know there was a rumba line moving up toward the front and before the song climaxed there were about a hundred or more dancers up front, and a butt-shaking throng snaking up and down the aisles-- good fun. This effusive big band's motto seemed to be: "Making upstate white people shake their booties since 1989..."
On another occasion we would've hung out and joined in, but we were on a mission, and it was time to find a brandy or a beer, something to warm the night, and christen the impending new year. Daryn (son #2) had taken off on his own by then, and we would not catch up with him till about five or six hours later. We briefly stopped back in Meeting Room #1 to hear a bit of original guitar music by a duo named Benjamin Franklin-- one dude in a Dr. Seuss hat emphatically strumming an acoustic, while his counterpart in a green shirt wailed on electric and yielded some impressive blues licks...I would've stayed but my wife was tugging me toward the door at that point. I will make it a point to try to see them again, as well as the ska band Uncle Joe's Comb we ended up missing completely. The huge array of musical offerings on a night like this is a big sprawling buffet, and you can't eat all of it, even though you'd like to taste as much as you can. (Now I'm mixing metaphors like MaryLeigh...)
The streets were not crowded at 8pm but for each hour thereafter you could notice the slow surge of pedestrians increase. There were singers in the windows of both The Turkish Bazaar, and Lifestyles, as we moved south on Broadway. with a small crowd of people watching from outside, as if the performers were exotic specimens in a fish bowl, with sound broadcast to the outside world.
We made our way to the Saratoga Arts Center, the former library when I first moved to town, and in the front room gallery our friends Dave Casner and Crispin Catricala were setting up to play their second set. Dave played vibes that sounded like crystal bells, and Crispin's guitar work is a flavorful amalgam of Latin/bossa/jazz and gentle funk which spoke of Pat Martino or Wes Montgomery at times, a subdued Santana-on-acoustic at others. Appearing with them to flesh out the quartet was Crispin's (Berkeley) College-aged son Leonardo on upright bass, plus a crisp, tasteful drummer who had never played with these guys before, and meshed perfectly. The music was well-received in the large bright space of the art gallery, but seating was limited and
most listeners had to stand. As their set concluded we got an urge to move on in search of food, and to see what else lie ahead. (Their CD is called Geo Beat, by the way, produced locally at Wood's End Studio, and quite good-- a spin-off from their previous 5-piece band called Pangaea.) Down Spring Street, alongside Congress Park where the fireworks would be held later (Daryn would attend but we would miss it), then left on Putnam, across Phila past Bailey's, noting a large group of crazy young ladies exiting a limo in summer attire, bare backs and short skirts in the 20 degree evening air-- must've thought it was always August downtown. We turn up Caroline Street, already getting crowded with partyers, and from which we would not stray much further for the night.
Here I will give a pitch to a place that has been a great source of late-evening sustenance for many years, and where I used to eat many a lunch when I worked at the former RE/MAX office on Putnam Street: ESPERANTO. My wife was craving the traditional doughboy while I went for the veggie burrito and a thin slice of pizza, defying my strict diet for one last time in 2012. For 10 bucks we had made up for not have a formal dinner and could continue in search of entertainment, which was right across the street.
I apologize for giving short shrift to the dozens of other musicians we could have seen if we had prowled First Night further, but we wanted more MaryLeigh, sorry.
We had not been in One Caroline Street for a long time, I must admit. On the rare occasions we'd ventured downtown we had sought out Four Down The Band, as you might know from my earlier posts. Sultry jazz performers had not been on our radar lately, nor piano trios, which are usually featured at Dave Pedinotti's great semi-underground venue, just off-Broadway. But the bartender I'd known from years before, the always amiable John Caraco, greeted us warmly and we felt like we just entered Cheers, except that there was music instead of sitcom banter.
MaryLeigh was finishing up one set and playing with another female guitar player named Meagan Duffy, who synched up quite well with her on a couple of the songs we'd heard as solo versions earlier in the night. We saw Rick Bolton and Sharon Dwyer in the seated assemblage, and congratulated them on looking relaxed as listeners, rather than being performers on this occasion, though Rick had just finished a couple of sets over at the Library. He seemed to be part of a large entourage of MaryLeigh's friends, family, and local supporters, including a couple of guys who would form the rhythm session in the last long set. The place was fairly full, considering how many options were open to people on New Year's Eve.
After the first full set we saw her play as a duo with the impressive guitarist Ms. Duffy,
MaryLeigh came by and answered questions about some of her songs. I tend to latch onto certain lyrics an then wonder what the tune is called-- she sang: I shoulda kept running as soon as my feet hit the ground... and that one was called "Running,"
simply enough. Another that started with the beguiling phrasing, O, pretty boy... and ended with the phrase... Con-se-quently Cruel... was called "Coward." The hooky "Arm in Arm" catchphrase that caught me early at the City Center, she confirmed, belonged to the song "Foolish Girl." I never did learn the name of the one she had just written that day, but hopefully there will be other occasions to figure that out. She seems prolific for a 21 year old, and her writing has depth and originality-- no offense to Taylor Swift but at my age I'm not usually fond of hearing about the shallow romantic entanglements of fickle young girls, but MaryLeigh made me pay attention, like a wizened old soul with an innocent-looking young female's voice.
The final set which climaxed not only 2012 but the long evening seemed like even more of a revelation because by then she moved into cover songs, and really blew us away. Without going into a song-by-song analysis or review, I will tell you she made these songs her own, and her band was tight skilled throughout the 2-hour marathon. In no particular order, from my scribbled bar notes, this is a sample of her musical breadth that night:
She tore up (in a good way) two of the late Amy Winehouse's tunes, in tribute: "Valerie" (with Meagan Duffy just ripping the solos), and "I Told You I'm No Good." Awesome and confident in delivery, and I think Amy herself would've approved...
Delving way back to the '50's, MaryLeigh performed the Sandra Dee classic "Fever" which normally is reserved for more mature chanteuses, and carried it off beautifully. Another surprisingly primordial chestnut (for me) was a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" -- more recently brought back to life by Social Distortion-- as it was the first song I can ever recall hearing on the radio, circa '58 or '59, when my Aunt Sue took me ice skating with her teenage friends, as a very little dude-- that was a trip in the wayback machine I was not expecting.
She then proved not to be locked into the past by playing at least two tunes from very recent times: "I Wish He Was My Boyfriend"-- a plaintive croon from the duo Best Coast, and then "Sentimental Heart" which I believe comes from the equally glossy voice of the multi-talented Zooey Deschanel, when she was with M. Ward in the group "She & Him."
Where she really caught my attention was in the R&B/soul department, crossing gender lines by channeling old Bill Withers chestnuts: "Ain't No Sunshine" and then "Use Me Up"-- both intense, the first pleading and poignant, the latter robust and rollicking (again, Meagan Duffy tearing it up). Even more amazing, she had the temerity to tackle "Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, a heartbreaking torch tune if there ever was one, and not usually attempted by young white girls, to my knowledge.
She calmed things down at one point by passing the vocal mike to bassist James Gascoyne, who sang a mellow version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." (I had chatted with him briefly, and knew from WEXT that he was a member of The Rodeo Barons... later he passed along a copy of that group's fine debut CD-- which is now in heavy rotation as I drive as well.)
Another soulful surprise from the history vaults of My Youth (and her parents' day, no doubt) was an ebullient version of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back!" She was bouncing as she sang that one, and the drummer Stan Francois looked positively gleeful as she channeled another departed spirit, the pre-pubescent Michael Jackson himself, in one of those late 60's Motown hits that swept the radiowaves back then, but is only heard on Golden Oldies stations now.
Once the clock passed midnight and our empty glasses of wonderful Smutty Nose Ales had piled up a bit, I wasn't taking notes so well anymore, just dancing up close with my sashaying wife and a couple dozen others (it seemed) in a crowded space right up front. I may have been imagining this part-- channeling another occasion?-- but I thought I heard her do Eminem's collossal rap classic "Lose Yourself" which harkened back to my euphoria at hearing that one done in a raucous grunge manner-- "YOU ONLY GOT ONE SHOT!!"-- by the boys in Four Down at Bailey's Cafe, and elsewhere. (Did she really cross gender boundaries like that? Someone please SNAP ME BACK TO REE-ALITY...It was a helluva macho missive for a sweet young thing to take on, if so...)
But one thing I am sure of was the closing number-- it gets to the point where the clock strikes One, and the show is supposed to be over, the dancers are all worked up and sweaty, even the seated listeners and standing wait staff are calling for more, we're only an hour into the New Year, and we don't want things to stop abruptly right there and then.
The band seemed to discuss for a moment how to conclude matters, and next thing you know, MaryLeigh is at first channeling Ray Charles, then it morphs into Jamie Foxx: "(S)HE GIVES ME MONEY...WHEN I'M IN NEEEEED..." and I'm going No She Didn't, O Yes She Did, She Be Tacklin' "GOLD-DIGGER!!!" And off she went, propelled by Stan's nasty stacatto beat, into Kanye's version, complete with hiccupin' rippin' rap scat, rhymin' Sunday with Hyundai, and talkin' 'bout how the character in question "ain't messing wit' no BROKE/BROKE/BROKE..." uh, Folks. Oh Miy Gahhd, it was beyond GOOD, it was Killer.
What a way to take things out. It was sad to have to leave after that, but just as well we did. Downtown had devolved into its usual late weekend rowdy fiasco state once we hit the street, and the best thing to do then was find your car and wind safely toward home... wishing I was within walking distance like in the old days. But we rounded up our peripatetic, athletic, pedestrian son D. at about 1:30 and headed home, raving about this phenomenal young singer and what we had just seen and heard from her.
Anyone who was there is now a converted fan, and I hope I speak for them in saying,
I Want To Hear More. You are young and there is more to come. MaryLeigh, please, more gigs like these. You were apparently born to perform: cabaret, rock, and soul are in your DNA and blood, and keep it flowing girl, bring us some more.
Adios till next time, and thanks for reading--
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013, for www.saratoga.com
A serious series of Saratoga-area snowfalls have hit at last, as this momentous year turns toward a grand finale. First of all, congratulations to us for having survived the transition to the aftermath of the Mayans' 13th b'ak'tun cycle, which concluded on exactly the morning of the winter solstice, December 21st, purportedly at 6:11 a.m. I am glad nothing climactic happened, as I had a closing scheduled that very day for a couple who had worked long and hard to arrange teir purchase, and they were coming back from a vacation just in time to close the deal before most business shut down due to the long Christmas weekend this year.
During the week before that, I had contemplated a blog column on how many Doomsdays, Apocalypses, Armageddon dates, Nuclear War Scares, and Catastrophic Scenarios my contemporaries & I have now survived in our lifetimes, but decided that was too cliche these days, what with everyone else already proclaiming either the levity or gravity of the situation. Internet reporting certainly illustrated more mass-paranoia in other countries that I ever found in evidence here. It was old news by the afternoon of the 21st: the SKY DIDN'T FALL, despite the irony of the hit movie of the month being SkyFall, just before the fated occasion. Oy; we are still here--on we go. There were some pundits, however, who never thought the prophecy was about the end of he world, but the beginning of a new cycle, and I am OK with seizing upon that train of thought, a transformation the world badly needs. I personally feel more focused and efficient than before the world was supposed to end, so maybe another Apocalypse is and was motivational after all.
The first significant snowfall of the season this year came on Christmas eve, like in a movie. Bare lawns and drab trees were transformed in time for the "magic" that Santa-loving children crave-- it was "just a dusting" but still scenic, after our almost-2-year drought of real snow. Then, two days after Christmas, we received a mini-blizzard-- with an overnight & half-day-long blow that resulted in 8-12 inches of lovely white stuff on that Thursday. Skiers were delighted; my college-age boys and I were actually happy to do some shoveling together-- manual-method, like the olden days-- such was the novelty of it. Then two days after that, as I began writing this blog-- Saturday the 29th -- a Saturday, we had one of those gentle snow-globe-like events where it comes down slow and steady all day and makes you feel like you're in a Swiss Alps resort setting. Beautiful. Instead of watching college bowl games or hoop tournaments on the tube, I just read and wrote and puttered around the house cooking and getting organized for the coming New Year-- a great, relaxed feeling. My wife and daughter spent a marathon day tending to our gorgeous 5-month old niece (shout out to Mallory Finn!) at my brother-in-law's house while the rest of his family ventured to NYC for the day, so there were no heavy demands or plans on the homefront. I think this is what we miss in the Northeast when we go so long without "normal winter weather" due to global warming-- we are programmed since childhood to have snowdays to just goof off and play and have fun, and we felt gypped last year that there was virtually ZERO snow up here between October and March of last winter. But now as I look out at a fluffy foot-plus of white stuff-- that drought is officially OVER. And now our upstate scenery seems in accord with the classic memories of the holiday season that we northern natives have stored in our brains and DNA, and for the time being, despite recent horrific tragedies both nationally and abroad, all seems right with the world. Peace.
WHAT'S TO COME!!
To recap 2012-- just in terms of the topics I like to address in this blog-- would take more of your time (and mine) than either of us has to spare, so let me just say that I have greatly enjoyed this new forum on this phenomenal "saratoga.com" website, and I hope some of you look back to my proto-blogs when I started in April of this past year by detailing what drew me to Saratoga Springs, the Home of Health, History, and Horses, as well as SPAC, Broadway, Skidmore College, music clubs, hiking at the State Park, and over a hundred great places to dine, drink, dance, converse, listen, people-watch, and carouse....
The next best chance to experience Saratoga's full breadth of charm and musical intrigue will occur the day after I post this: its now-famous, 17th Annual FIRST NIGHT SARATOGA Celebration, which will entail 35 separate music & art venues, including, events and performances for kids of all ages in a family-friendly atmosphere downtown.... in advance of the hard-core partyers taking over after midnight. This event will typically draw 10,000-15,000 people to swarm the streets in the core of the City, and is one of this town's Top 10 events of the year, along with the recurring
Hat's Off Festivals at the beginning and end of Track Season, the Victorian Streetwalk that kicks off the Holiday shopping season, and what used to be called The Caroline Street Block Party, held each year in May.
My family and I have skipped the mob-scene and the cold the last couple of years, but this time around I am more in the mood to be part of it all-- and to see two particular musical acts in particular. The first is an amazing local singer who has slowly captivated me via some demo tunes that have aired on WEXT (97.7 FM) as I've mentioned earlier this year: Maryleigh Roohan, of the group Maryleigh and The Fauvres, who will be appearing at the City Convention Center's First Fest, partially sponsored by our favorite radio station. Her most distinctive song that I'm aware of is the haunting ballad "Baby You Should Know" which is in regular-rotation on WEXT locally, and features the full range of her angelic voice. I have somehow missed all of the area performances of her band all over the Capital District and at The Putnam Den in town so far, but am determined not to miss her in person on this occasion.
A long-term friend and fellow music buff Dave Casner is also appearing on First Night
with his talented collaborator Crispin Catricala, at The Arts Center (the old Library, at the corner of Broadway and Spring Street, for those with memories that go back over a decade...). Dave plays vibes and Crispin is a master guitarist who teaches music at Ballston Spa HS, just down the road. The two of them will perform originals sprinkled with a couple of familiar covers (The Beatles' "Blackbird", and Sting's "Fragile" among them) from a CD that they've just produced at Charlie Eble's Woodsend Studio on Middle Grove Road, not far from where I live. Their CD features a clean, serene kind of sound that is reminiscent of Gary Burton and Chick Corea's work together on ECM recordings, if Corea was replaced by Ralph Towner,with a Latin tinge. The brand new disc is called "GEO BEAT", a spin-off perhaps of the name of their former group, Pangaea. It will be for sale at the performance on New Year's Eve, when the songs are performed in a quartet setting, with Crispin's son Leonardo on bass, along with a drummer.
Since there are a total of 70 performing acts I will not attempt to detail them here, but will mention that Alex Torres Big Band is always worth seeking out as well. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the online information for Saratoga Arts Council was still showing last year's schedule, not this year's, as of this morning.
Local newspapers The Saratogian and Saratoga Today (our local weekly) will no doubt have more complete scheduling information for those who seek it out. Hope to see your smiling faces out in the cold on or near Broadway that evening, or better yet, inside, where the music will be.
One last coda to the year, on a musical note, is to send some heavy kudos to WEXT
once again for an ambitious project they engaged in during the pre-holiday week,
which was their compilation of The Top 977 Songs in Rock History, which was concluded on the solstice, December 21st, and gave me another good reason to root for the world not ending that morning. I will devote another entire blog to my reactions to that list, and all the musical memories it triggered, good and bad, in January, I swear. Till then I commend that great station (a spin-off from WMHT's public radio enterprise, which went on air in 2007) for its ongoing efforts in the non-commercial radio world, an invaluable resource to our area's cultural life. Chris Wienk, Dave Michaels, and KTG were the dj's who delivered most of the countdown, and the other on-air people like Aja, Joyce Jackey, Wayne Henning, Josh Nourek, and Laura from Hello Pretty City should also be mentioned as providing stellar FM programming for us all year long. Among the syndicated shows David Dye's World Cafe, and John Diliberto's Echoes have both become indispensable staples of my daily routine, morning and night. I will continue to blog about their efforts and revelations as time goes on...and thank them for what they do.
Will also be giving reactions and observations to First Night and First Fest, tres soon.
Take care and thanks for paying attention!
Happy New Year to come!
Copyright Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2, 12/30/2012
AS OF LATE NOVEMBER, EARLY DECEMBER 2012... I can't imagine there is any town in the entire Northeast, aside from NYC itself, that has this many commercial construction projects underway on a per capita basis, not to mention those recently completed.
Most of the major projects, as usual, are under the aegis of Sonny Bonacio, in partnership with various other entities. He has finished the 124-apartment building on the site of the former Price Chopper parking lot on Railroad Place, and it now starting in on the already-famous 11-Screen Bowtie Cinema Complex at the north end of that site, abutting Church Street. He also erected the long-discussed and oft-delayed parking garage on Woodlwan Ave. in record time, once they let him get going this summer. Adding about 440-car free parking within a block of Broadway was pure genius by the City fathers, and will only help ignite the success that was already smoldering downtown.
Only someone of Sonny's current stature (and no one before him, in my time here) could have gotten swiftly-approved permission to block off one lane of northbound traffic in the heart of the shopping district, between Gardiner Lane and Caroline Street. Like a mini-Manhattan construction site, the base pit was dug out 20 feet below street-level, it seemed, so that, when viewed from above, on the south side of the adjoining Walbridge Building, it looked like an archaeological site until they began pour concrete into it, marking the return of civilization on a spot where a badly-designed and then-decrepit parking lot had afforded the homeless a dangerous subterranean shelter for a brief span of recent Saratoga history.
Lillian's Restaurant to its south, and The Cantina, to the north, are the ground-level businesses bearing the most proximite brunt of the construction impact, but they should benefit greatly in the aftermath of this grand "fill-in-the-gap" project. The billboard ads on the fortress-like wire-mesh fencing out front proclaim it will be built in "Summer 2013", and Mr. Bonacio does not make idle promises along these lines. Another banner welcomes you to park instead at The NEW PARKING GARAGE ON WOODLAWN AVENUE, and given how hard a time I had finding a free-spot in said garage a few days ago, I'd say people were getting the message. I circled upward over 3 levels as you would in a pay-for-parking garage in Albany, and no space was available till I neared and hit the top. The four-story view from up there, looking over park of downtown and the backside of Broadway, proved to me once and for all that the Facade-Repair-Project signs I had seen adorning the main drag of this town in 1976 had resulted in this, roughly 36 years later-- a substantial and mature, densely-compact City which is entering a new age of prosperity for the rest of the 21st century.
What you are seeing in Saratoga now is the culmination of a movement that was begun in the late-80's really, when Bruce Levinsky started the condo-conversion trend of infilling the streetscape. Near downtown Mr. Levinsky turned a beautiful stone church at the top of Caroline Street and Circular into an 8-unit condo project, and did the same with another leftover church on the corner of Spring Street and Regent. He encountered considerable resistance as I recall-- who was going to buy CONDOS in Saratoga Springs?? What a strange concept... and did battle in City Hall on many occasions with the powers-that-be and and disgruntled neighbors on these and other projects. But the sum total of his efforts was part of the move toward improvement in downtown Saratoga, no doubt about it.
But it worked with the churches, and buildings that were historic and architecturally unique were put back on the tax rolls and became the home of new-urban Saratogaphiles who wanted "to be within walking distance of downtown" and did not care to own their own lawnmower or snowblower. In fact, it attracted a type of person who travelled elsewhere in the "off-season" and yet wanted a place for summer use, which had always been a Saratoga tradition anyway. The difference with condos was that no upkeep was required in the 9 months the owner was away-- for those that could afford the fee. Eventually, the idea caught on.
Mr. Levinsky went on to convert a few leftover original Skidmore Campus buildings on Union Avenue and Clark Street (formerly an arts building, with a stucco/tudor look to it) to condos as well, with varying degrees of success. The it seems almost a decade went by before Robert Israel picked up the concept and used it to continue the condo trend with a then-scruffy-looking lot on Railroad Place, perpendicular to Franklin Square. That was completed back around year 2000, and then Sonny Bonacio joined the fun and contributed 3 or 4 more projects to fill out that entire block on both sides, before he did 18 Division Street and then Congress Place, adjacent to Congress Park on the former site of the old (and beloved) YMCA.
But an infill project, or a downtown condo, is only as interesting as the urban scene-- if any!-- that surrounds it. The Bohemian scene that I first encountered here was represented by The Tin & Lint, The Parting Glass, Caffe Lena, D'Andrea's Tavern (where Zack's Stained Glass shop is now), The Golden Grill (now Bailey's Cafe), Barclay's (where Impressions of Saratoga, a gift and souvenir shop now holds forth), Sage's Casa 13, Madame Jumel's (now Dangos), The Montana Book Store, and Saratoga Trader's (the protogenesis of Gaffney's). There were also music joints like The (original) METRO, Our Place Pub, Jackslands, plus The Tin Shop, but not all of these survived-- and this contingent slowly became augmented by more upscale places. Sperry's and Lillian's were always there for the semi-genteel set, but then came One Caroline Street, 42 Phila (now gone), Bailey's Cafe, Wheatfields, and Maestro's (when original owner Joe Devivo ran the place), paving the way for restaurants like Chianti's I & II, Forno Toscano, Limoncello (in-filling the spot of an old KFC), Capriccio Saratoga (which was dubbed DINE before), and Max London's. There now is a mix of old stand-bys mentioned above, and newer, always changing, competition. The Grey Gelding, Brindisi's, and, recently, TizNow, are among those that have closed in recent years. Scallions, which once graced Broadway, occupying part of what is now Uncommon Grounds, moved over to Lake Avenue, just down the hill from the Fire Station. The Irish Times took over the great old brick building that long ago housed the Tin Shop at 14 Phila Street, and has seen a few brew pubs come and go since then. The Stadium Cafe a decade or so took over a spot on the west side of Broadway formerly occupied by a kind of countrified rock bar of ill-repute whose name escapes me. But I digress...
The point of this blog was supposed to be the current state of "infill" projects, but sometimes it turns into 35 years of memory lane.
Here are a few more spots changing as we speak:
The long-dormant Ellsworth Ice Cream plant, in the center of the westside, just a block west of Franklin Square, is now under demolition. The metal cooler sections were shredded for industrial grade recylcing, and they seemed to be sorting the massive debris field into wood frame components, concrete block & slabs, along with the metal pile. The brick section which was the original office bearing the founder's name, remained last I had looked. The remainder of that entire block-- bounded by Division/Beekman/& Cherry Streets, and Marvin Alley -- seems to be getting cleared within its fenced area, including the large parking lot and paved truck storage area.
While some people bemoan the loss of a family-owned business that was an excellent local employer and a vivid part of west-side life for a good part of the past century in Saratoga Springs, the changeover was inevitable, really. The plant had been a bit outmoded for years, and closed down four years ago. As witnessed by what I detailed in my last real estate-related blog-- 50 or 60 foot wide lots going for
$100K or more nearby-- this patch of land was too valuable to sit dormant for long.
The same improvement that took place 12 years ago on Grand Avenue-- when the infamous "roadhouse" Tom's Lodge came tumbling down and some classy new urban townhouses adorned the re-gentrified site-- will occur on a larger scale here. The advent of the new townhouse project there will reportedly be a collaboration between Peter Belmonte Builders, and The Eastside Group, led by Steve Ethier. Mr. Belmonte has built hundreds of excellent single family homes in Saratoga County for twenty years or more, appealing to upper-middle class buyers with evolving designs. Mr. Ethier has established himself with infill projects on the southside's previously underdeveloped zone-- contributing condos over near Pennell's Restaurant on Jefferson Street, and a sprinkling of single-family homes in the Doten Ave.area, as well as a nice duplex on lower Warren Street. Between the two of them they bring liquidity and a successful track record to a project that had hit some snags during the economic downturn for the once-ambitious original developer. His plan would have been to include first floor retail or offices with residential units above, but that proved impractical compared to the more basic demand for more in-town housing, walkable to downtown. It will be increasing the core density of population that the local stores and restaurants and bars and retailers crave, the same as Sonny Bonacio's Market Square project. Saratoga's population, which was static for most of my real estate career, in terms of those "within the city limits"... is now set to increase even more than during the condo-wave. The upgrade in new housing should continue the boon of the west-side, as myself and others have detailed.
"Pavilion Grand" Back on Plan...
Another long-stalled project has also taken a different tack, given the changing winds of the economy as a whole and Saratoga's specific demands. Full disclosure here: this project is co-owned by one of the owners of the real estate company I work for-- Ken Raymond, also a co-owner of Coldwell Banker Prime Properties. At first it was intended to be a ground-level, high-visibility Office for this company, with condos above, a five- or six-story building. But that was back when CBPP was based in the Post Office on Broadway, at Church Street, before the company took over the lease from RE/MAX Premier at 90 East Avenue, where we are now.
The site where Pavilion Grand will be built is on Lake Avenue at the corner of Pavilion Place, opposite the Saratogian newspaper's parking lot at 20 Lake, and the well-known Irish pub dubbed The Parting Glass, at 40 Lake Ave. It will face the still-newish Hampton Inn. Just to illustrate how much Saratoga Springs is changing: ten years ago there was Mohr's Mobil Service station at 32 Lake, across the street from a sprawling-but-ugly Chrysler Jeep Dealer which took up the whole block where the Hampton & its companion condos at High Rock Ave. now grace the space. This section was one of the most important infill projects in Saratoga's recent history-- an obvious upgrade in the true core (gut) of the City.
When Pavilion Grand breaks ground on a lot that was purchased from Stewart's Corporation for the mad sum of $1.15 million in 2007, it is now intended for first floor retail, 2nd floor office suites, and upper floor high-end apartments and lofts. There will reportedly be on-site parking as well. At the low spot down in the dip between Broadway and Circular Street, another (relative) high-rise will be a perfect balance to the heft of the Hampton Inn across Lake Ave., and will only lend interest and more pedestrian traffic to that area where not just The Parting Glass and Scallions and Jacob & Anthony's now exist, but Sperry's and The Living Room and Dango's are a short block behind there, on Caroline.
As one parking lot there on Lake, and another one on Broadway next to Lillian's get torn up to prepare for a new structure, there is one other lot that has gone the other way, near the Track, which will have higher and more pleasant visibility next year-- when Saratoga Springs will be celebrating 150 years of Horse Racing. I am talking about the corner of East Ave. and Union Ave., across from the main entrance to the Racetrack, where for years a bereft CITGO station stood. The ugly block building is now gone. The busted pavement all around it has been smoothed out and small cedars planted along the back perimeter. Stewart's Corporation, which was denied permission to put up one of its convenience stores there, should be commended for cleaning up the site, and much improving the view near the grand old tract in the process.
There is more I could add to this list, but I think I have hit the high points, and will update this particular story on a regular basis. The point is that Saratoga Springs continues to evolve and morph in grand fashion. As a wise man told me many years ago, long before there was tangible evidence of the recent boom:
"When the rest of the world looks like it's going to hell-in-a-handbasket, this town will be just fine, and thrive..." (Stafford Rouse, c. 1982)
--Copyright Wayne Perras 2012
Leave a Comment