Yes, Hudson Valley winters are long and terribly brutal. So much so that our bagel-munching, fume-inhaling, downstate neighbors frequently question our sanity for wanting to live here. And, admittedly, right around mid February, when we’re shivering while digging out our cars and dealing with bursting pipes, many of us might be tempted to join them. But then, every year, just when we’ve given up hope, come the rewards: the lush, blindingly green spring that’s likely all around you as you read this, and the comparatively temperate upstate summer, a period spanning from, roughly, mid June to early September. Summer, filled with lazy weekend afternoons and star-filled, short-sleeved nights. Then we can look our vain Manhattanite nemeses in the eyes and tell them: The deep freeze has all been worthwhile. And to top it off, there’s music. Just about any style of music you could want, played for just you—and a few hundred or thousand other enthusiastic revelers—in the gorgeous outdoors, a regional tradition so famously rooted in the first Woodstock festival, in 1969. Here, then, is Chronogram’s handpicked roundup of the best of this year’s upstate summer music festivals—served alfresco of course.
Bethel Woods (June 14-August 26)
When it comes to a connection to the original Woodstock festival, look no further. Holding forth on the hallowed grounds of the legendary event’s very site, now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, this year’s series marks the 40th anniversary of 1969’s three-day run of peace, love, and music, making a preconcert visit to the complex’s recently opened museum a must. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bulk of the current calendar takes steady aim at baby boomers: Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago (June 14); Bad Company/Doobie Brothers (June 27); Peter, Paul & Mary (July 31); Loggins & Messina/Poco (August 21). But a few dates do cater to their offspring—Dave Matthews Band (August 5); O.A.R./Matt Nathanson (August 12)—and even their mothers (Tom Jones, July 27). The double bill of B. B. King and Buddy Guy (August 27) is a rare summit of blues royalty, and an appearance by the New York Philharmonic (July 11) promises Ravel, Berlioz, and selections from Bizet’s Carmen.
Clearwater (June 20-21)
Although it can be said that the local summer music festival season really kicks off with last month’s (fifth annual) WDST Mountain Jam, the Clearwater Festival, aka the Great Hudson River Revival, held at Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, has been helping usher in the warm days since folk legend and activist Pete Seeger helped found it in the 1970s. The granddaddy of all green-themed musical events, Clearwater, an ecological fundraiser, it is this year celebrating several significant milestones: the 40th anniversary of the launch of the sloop Clearwater, the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the river, and Seeger’s recent 90th birthday. “I grew up with the festival, and after playing at others I’ve realized how the message behind it and the overall community feeling make it so special,” says the Mammals’ Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete’s grandson. “[Musician and organizer] John Dindas has really done a terrific job of putting it together.” Among many others, 2009’s lineup boasts Susan Tedeschi, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Old Crow Medicine Show, Alejandro Escovedo, A. C. Newman, and, of course, Grandpa Pete.
Tanglewood (July 3-September 6)
Begun in 1934 in Lenox, Massachusetts, as a venue for outdoor summer concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Festival has taken place every season since, with the exception of the World War II years. At first, the more modest concerts took place under a large tent, but in 1938 the opening of the 5,100-seat Koussevitzky Music Shed saw a quantum leap that made the classically oriented festival (rock acts and September’s jazz roster are relatively recent forays) one of the nation’s most prestigious programs. Along with the BSO’s presentations of Nielson, Beethoven, and Brahms (July 10), Wagner (July 11), and Mozart and Mahler (July 17) are dates by the likes of Diana Krall (July 4), Tony Bennett (July 21), James Taylor with John Williams and the Boston Pops (August 30), Paquito D’Rivera (September 4), and the Dave Holland Octet (September 6). And Garrison Keillor’s annual Tanglewood broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” (June 27) has become another tradition.
Belleayre (July 4-September 5)
Highmount’s Belleayre Mountain Ski Center is the stunning setting for this annual summerlong happening established nearly 15 years ago by the Belleayre Conservatory, a group of community and business leaders. Since then, the organization has brought in well over a hundred top-drawing artists from the fields of folk, rock, opera, classical, Broadway, jazz, and dance. This year’s schedule blasts off on July 4 with the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights (plus fireworks!), and is followed by Michael Feinstein (July 11), the Belleayre Festival Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus (July 25), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (August 1), tango pianist Pablo Ziegler (August 7), bossa nova queen Leny Andrade (August 8), reggae legends the Wailers (August 22), a benefit for Snuffy’s Food Pantry with kids’ music king Uncle Rock (August 23), the Supremes’ Mary Wilson (August 29), and tribute act Abba the Tour (September 5).