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COLUMN 110, OCTOBER 1, 2004
(Copyright © 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)
`"Woodstock,'' he says, `"is still a groovy place.''
WHERE CAN YOU STILL HEAR MUSIC IN WOODSTOCK?
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004 16:01:00 -0500
From: "Borsellino, Rob" email@example.com
By GREG HAYMES
" 2004 Albany Times Union
WOODSTOCK, N.Y. ... For more than four decades, Woodstock built its reputation on music. But these days, there's almost nowhere left in town where an audience can hear it.
Over on Tinker Street, Bob Dylan once spent so much time at Cafe
Espresso that the club's owners gave him his own room on the second floor.
Later, it held its own for years as the Tinker Street Cafe, where the walls were covered with 8-by-10-inch glossy promo photos of the distinguished folk, blues, jazz and rock musicians who had played there.
Today, the building houses the Center for Photography at Woodstock.
On Rock City Road ... past the tourists perusing the souvenir tie-dyes at the Not Fade Away T-shirt shop ... the Brass Rail was the town's working-man's bar back in the '70s, a place to run into singer-songwriter Tim Hardin or catch the Lovin' Spoonful's Steve Boone sitting in with a local band. Now it's a framing store.
And saddest of all, the Joyous Lake, a classy, intimate little club on Mill Hill Road just north of the always bustling Village Green, is shuttered.
The Lake used to be Woodstock's hottest music spot, where blues harmonica master Paul Butterfield might be sitting at the bar, or where the members of Phish could be found onstage working the kinks out of fresh new material they were recording down the road at Bearsville Studios.
``I drove past it yesterday, and I thought, `What a shame,''' says folk and jazz guitarist Artie Traum, who has lived in Woodstock since 1969.
``There are weeds growing up all around it. It's very odd to me that a room like that, right in the center of this vibrant tourist town, has been sitting empty as long as it has.''
There are still a few places around town to hear music, like the Colony Cafe on Rock City Road and New World Home Cooking on Route 212 on the way into town. And there are occasional concerts at the Bearsville Theatre, the summertime-only Woodstock Playhouse and the Kleinert/James Arts Center.
``But there's not really a professional showcase nightclub in town,'' says record producer Aaron Hurwitz. Like many people in town, he has a second job, as leader of the rock band Prof. Louie and the Crowmatix.
Thirty-five years ago this weekend, the tiny town of Woodstock was such a mecca for musicians that it lent its name to the most legendary festival in rock 'n' roll history ... despite the fact that the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair actually tookplace on a dairy farm in the town of Bethel, N.Y., almost 70 miles southwest of Woodstock.
But while Bethel was certainly the place to be on that fabled weekend, the town of Woodstock was the epicenter of a musical revolution. Bob Dylan lived in Woodstock, and Van Morrison had a house there. For several months, so did Jimi Hendrix.
Woodstock is where members of Dylan's acclaimed backing band rechristened themselves the Band, and titled their 1968 debut album ``Music From Big Pink'' in honor of the house they shared in nearby West Saugerties, N.Y.
Others, including Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and members of the Beatles, rolled into town to visit, and sometimes to jam or even record.
The main catalyst for Woodstock's transformation into a musical capital in the '60s was Albert Grossman, who managed Dylan and Joplin as well as the Band, Paul Butterfield, Happy and Artie Traum and others.
Grossman, in turn, had been introduced to Woodstock by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, another Grossman act: Yarrow's family had long had a cabin on a back-mountain road. Grossman started buying property in the area, and in the spring of 1964 moved to town full time.
By the fall of '64, Dylan was a regular fixture on the burgeoning scene; in '66, the singer bought his own home in town.
Before his death in 1986, Grossman established a musical empire in Woodstock, building Bearsville Studios, a couple of restaurants (the Bear and the Little Bear) and the Bearsville Theatre, and launching the Bearsville Records label.
As a gathering place for musicians, Woodstock seems an unlikely candidate, compared with music industry centers like New York City and Los Angeles.But that's the appeal: Woodstock is a place where musicians came for refuge ... a place to relax, to kick back after a long, exhausting tour.
A place to recharge creative energies. A place of inspiration. Woodstock was also a relatively inexpensive place to live, especially compared to the other music centers. ``A lot of us joke that Woodstock is a place
where you can live like a rock star on a folk singer's salary,'' Traum says. ``But it's true. When I bought my house 20 years ago, it was in the $80,000 range. It's not a huge house, but it's really comfortable, and I
live really nicely on a folksinger's wages. If I was in L.A., I'd be living in a hovel with what I make ... or actually maybe only half a hovel.''
Woodstock is close to New York City ... just a two-hour drive up I-87 ... but it's rural, an especially attractive selling point for those who came of age during the back-to-the-land movement of the late '60s and early '70s.
``I think that because I grew up in the Bronx, I always wanted to live in the country,'' says Traum.
Another city kid, John Sebastian, launched his solo career with an impromptu star turn at the '69 Woodstock festival; he moved to the town of Woodstock in 1975.
``So many of my contemporaries were looking for a place in the country and ended up here,'' he says.
Graham Parker's acerbic songwriting style makes him seem like an unlikely poster boy for Woodstock; even so, he's the only musician pictured in the latest brochure from the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.
``I used to have a place in New York City, but I'd come up here for weekends with my wife,'' Parker says. ``We thought it would be a pretty amazing place to get a home. It was the beauty of the area that I liked.
``Quite frankly, I didn't even realize that Woodstock had this reputation as an artists' community. That would have filled me with dread. I just wanted to live in a place where nobody could see me from the road a place with lots of trees and snakes and deer and things.''
Artie Traum, however, had perhaps the coolest reason for coming to Woodstock. His brother and musical partner Happy already was living in town along with Grossman, their manager. But didn't make the move to town until he got a phone call.
``Dylan called me up one day and wanted to know if I would watch his house ... a 37-room house up on the mountain,'' Traum recalls. ``He had moved to another house ... from Mead Mountain to Ohayo Mountain ... and his old house was empty. So I moved up here to Woodstock just to house-sit rent-free for Bob Dylan. It was pretty amazing.''
These days, it sometimes seems as though half of the town's population of just more than 6,000 makes its living in one corner of the music industry or another.
Jazz musicians such as Marilyn Crispell, Jack DeJohnette, Don Byron, Pat Metheny, Francesca Tanksley, Dave Holland, Steve Swallow and Carla Bley make their homes there. From the folk end of the musical spectrum, John Herald, Happy and Artie Traum, John Sebastian, Natalie Merchant, Ed Sanders (of the Fugs) and Tom Pacheco call Woodstock home.
So too do rockers Kate Pierson and Keith Strickland of the B-52's, Graham Parker, the Band's Levon Helm, bassist Tony Levin (of Peter Gabriel's band), bassist Gail Anne Dorsey (of David Bowie's band) and blues guitarist and latter-day Band member Jim Weider.
A lot of musicians in the Woodstock area have built their own studios, either in their homes or nearby: Electronic musician Kevin Bartlett has Aural Gratification Studios; Tony Levin has his Applehead Studios. Jazz guitar great Pat Metheny recorded such aptly titled albums as ``Letter from Home'' and ``We Live Here'' at his
home studio in Willow, just down the road from Woodstock.
``If you're a musician, you know that you can move to some neighborhoods where people look at you really strange,'' says Hurwitz. ``But there's no kind of problem like that here. `Oh, you're a musician,' they'll say. `That's great. What do you play? Want to get together?' So it's easy to live here, and there's a really creative energy in the place.''
John Sebastian puts it another way.
``Woodstock,'' he says, ``is still a groovy place.'' ##
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