Enough reminiscence, allow me to get back to the present tense. I hear Ray LaMontagne on WEXT this morning, singing Beg, Steal, or Borrow, and it triggers recall of his tasty set at SPAC last summer, early in the season, which ended up being the only concert my wife and I attended last year. We were among those who had tickets in advance for the Kings of Leon concert that was cancelled, and I’d been looking forward to seeing Band of Horses as the warm-up act, but the whole thing was wiped out due to one important dude’s drinking problem. Bad timing. Some people think the Kings have sold out by becoming famous with a few huge hits, but I liked Radioactive and thought that to be one of more dynamic rock anthems since, well– their other big hit about Something on Fire. I hate to hanker for the pop hits like everyone else, but when they’re good, they’re good. There was a little bit of a grandson of ZZ Top sound to it all with those Tennessee ex-gospel boys, and it wasn’t all bad. Since we knew that our perennial pilgrimage to see The Dave Matthews Band was not going to happen in 2011, I was hoping for fireworks of a different sort. No other great bands emerged at SPAC to replace the Kings and the Horses, and the one concert I regret missing last season was Branford Marsalis soloing with The Philadelphia Orchestra, completely different. (This year, BTW, Dave & his spectacular Band is back for 2 nights, Phish for 3, and SPAC seems re-packed with interesting acts.)
But to go back to Ray LaMontagne, with whom a more subdued and subtle form of music ensued to start off the summer in 2011, and though I was wishing for some stinging Stevie Ray Vaughn-like licks in between the twangy ballads to liven things up, my wife was quite enchanted by the more soothing nature of Ray’s crooning, more in the mood for that than a rowdy concert, on that night at least.
Having said this, the point I meant to start with is that, in the Saratoga sector of airwave space, there are only two radio stations which would be likely to play all of the above musicians I’ve mentioned, other than the Orchestra. Most of the locals know this, but for those coming in from somewhere else, WEXT (97.7 FM) is a non-commercial, listener-supported station broadcast from Troy, with a tower out of Amsterdam, NY, just west of here.
It is an NPR station, so very eclectic, but not classically-based. It plays everything from the
old blues of the ’30’s to the freshest catch on the cutting edge. They are notable as the first radio station of any kind to play the now-ubiquitous Adele. The dj’s are all a sincere bunch of musical devotees who seem to care intensely about the best of all rock/blues/R & B/folk/world genres, and, as they remind us daily– The Local 5-1-8! Regional bands from all over the listening area have broken through on this station by getting some exposure– with Saratoga’s Phantogram, and Albany’s (or is it Delmar’s?) native son Sean Rowe (now signed to Tom Waits’ label)– as the prime examples of success. There have been days when I just stop what I’m doing to catch the name of a band or singer I never heard before, most
recently people like Gotye (w/ equally beguiling Kimbra), or Gillian Welch. The station throws a strong signal but also streams live at www.exit977.com. Especially amazing are three syndicated national broadcasts that I am hooked on–
1) David Dye with World Cafe, broadcast out of Philadelphia by masterful musical archivist and live interviewer of new talent– this show is on 10 a.m-Noon, Mon-Sat. For night owls or nocutrnalists, his show runs from 2am-6am in two-hour segements, as well.
2) Echoes, with John Diliberto, which I resisted as too spacey at first, but now listen to it almost nightly before crashing– his show is also broadcast 6 times a week, 10pm to 2am,
in repeated two-hour stints.
3) Specialty shows like Putamaya music hour (Tuesday at 9pm), or Latin Alternative, with Josh Norek (Sat nites at 8pm– should be given more than an hour).
Your other Saratoga-area choice for a cool, locally-owned (if Vermont is local), albeit commercial station in range is WEQX (102.7FM) out of Rutland, Vt. and with a tower near Mt. Equinox that kicks out a signal as far west as Canajoharie! If I am in my car, especially on a Saturday morning, when Jam & Toast is playing, there is nothing like it– even EXT does not indulge in 20 minute meandering jams like you can hear for two hours of sonic bliss to start the weekend. They also break some groups you might not hear elsewhere in this area– I recall driving Miles to Syracuse to start off his college career and out near Amsterdam we first heard a long percussion & bass conglamoration with a wicked beat and a growling young dude channelling Tom Waits (sorry to drop yr name twice, T.), in a long dance funk I correctly noted to sound just like Step Right Up! Miles looked up some magic info service on his phone as we were driving west, and comes up with the fact the the group was called The Constellations, from Atlanta, I believe. Haven’t heard them before or since on any other station, as who can play 9:33 minute dance cuts? The station from up near Killington can.
WEQX has links to the skiing community and appeals to a somewhat younger demographic I’m sure than me, but the hipness of the voices on the air is refreshing at times, and the sardonic morning guy gives me a chuckle now and then. When EXT (rarely) loses my attention and ESPN sports radio annoys me, I turn to WEQX as my next option on the speed dial– I may not like everything I hear, but I love having the option to hear something differerent than what you’ll get on 98% of the rest of the wavelengths that are broadcast.
For music, that’s about it…I used be a college DJ for both the Skidmore and RPI stations, but the quality these days is too unpredictable for me to recommend such or try much myself. I also don’t subscribe to Sirius or Pandora or any music services that issue from the Cloud or the satellites or the sky, I’m an old-fashioned radio guy. But apparently I’m not alone– a ton of devoted listeners of each of the above stations declare their loyalty in bumperstickers, and in Friending their websites. If you need an alternative to the Clear Channel panoply of the airwaves, you have two good choices in the air, for free, so give them each a try, and tell them I sent you.