December 24, 2018
It’s the morning of Christmas Eve. It’s quiet where I am, kind of insulated from the holiday eagerness (and madness) that so many are propelled by before joining friends and family tonight and tomorrow. As compelling as it is to look forward to what the New Year promises, I find myself still looking back a few weeks to The Last Waltz Tribute on the big stage at Unity Hall in early December. It was my first official program responsibility as the new Music Coordinator for this totally volunteer non-profit foundation that continues to defy the odds in keeping this big old 120-year old building alive, active, and welcoming. Twelve musicians from all over Upstate New York were invited to participate in this reboot of one of the all-time classic rock concerts immortalized in the feature film of the same name. These pros learned the music, got together for a few rehearsals, and then got on stage and made it look easy before a crowd of 150 people. The response from the audience was exhilarating, right from the first song, and it never let up.
I am the first person to be suspicious of screaming superlatives promoters use to describe their achievements or to seduce their perspective guest list to come to the next fabulous, amazing, unbelievable, astonishing event. But without apology and with a straight face, it was a magical night. And everybody there knew that it wasn’t just about the dynamic vocals, the refreshingly familiar music, the great guitar, fiddle, keyboards, bass, harmonica, accordion, and drum work. It had something to do with the sea of familiar faces – some old friends, some familiar frequent concert goers, some just snapshot memories from who-knows-where. But from where I sat on stage, I could look out and see one person after another craning their neck to look up and make a long visual sweep of the Hall’s handsome auditorium with its tall bowed ceiling and that neat chandelier. Some places just feel good to spend time in. I think that’s especially true when a place is old and has resisted the corruption of passing years (that’s why my kids tell me they like me).
So, that’s the recipe for a good batch of music gumbo. Great uplifting entertainment, a gathering of like-minded souls a sense of belonging to or becoming a part of a community, and a good-looking stew pot in which all those wonderful ingredients, spices, flavors can mellow and ripen. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I was so fortunate to be a part of it.
So what’s next? When can we do this again? Well, to coin a few overworked clichés, practice makes perfect and the sooner the better. Unity Hall’s music calendar resumes in early February, 2019.
On Saturday, February 9th, one of my favorite groups, Annie and the Hedonists will make the trip to Barneveld from their Saratoga / Albany home base. They’ve played all the major music venues in the Northeast (including Cafe Lena in Saratoga where Bob Dylan played in the early days) and are frequent headliners at music festivals. I’ve seen them and worked with them many times over the years and they never fail to get a crowd excited. Annie Rosen’s lead vocals have been described by the media as “thrilling”. She convincingly delivers familiar tunes from the great female blues artists of American culture – Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace, Billie Holiday – from a time when popular music hadn’t been sanitized or censored yet. She also always throws in some other surprises (for example, she does a great version of Grace Slick’s White Rabbit), and her tight band is right there to support her. We’ve also invited Nick Piccininni and Jay Barady (Nick & Jay), two well-known string players from Central New York and founding members of the group Floodwood (with members of moe) to open the celebration. As an acoustic duo, the sky’s the limit for Nick & Jay, covering old fiddle tunes, bluegrass, classic rock, country, jazz and artists such as Mumford & Sons, Keith Urban, Michael Jackson, John Denver, Jimmy Cliff, Pure Prairie League and countless others.
Perhaps the standout surprise of our recent, sold-out Last Waltz tribute concert at Unity Hall was the amazing vocal talent of Danielle Ponder from Rochester. We were so impressed with her rich, soulful, Gospel voice (not to mention the immediate audience feedback we received) that we invited her back while the iron was still hot! On March 30 Danielle will return appearing with her own band, The Tomorrow People to present her own tribute show she calls “The Women of Soul”. You won’t want to miss this rocking performance featuring the classic sounds of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Etta James, and others. Come on out and testify with us.
With mixed emotions I have to tell you that we were flattered by how fast the Last Waltz show sold out. But that meant that there were quite a few disappointed people who couldn’t get a seat. If you’re interested in reigniting the magic, please don’t wait until it’s too late to buy tickets!
More to come. Oh, yeah – Happy New Year.