So here we are. Four months into the closures brought on by the virus. Normally in this space, as part of our traditional June Summer Arts Preview issue, we'd be running down a rich roundup of the fantastic music festivals that are about to take over the Hudson Valley region for the summer, after having fretted for weeks about deciding which ones to holler about this go-around and which to save our raves for until next year. Well, obviously, not this time: As of this writing, some upstate businesses are tenuously reopening, but the majority of summer music and arts festivals have, sadly but unsurprisingly, cancelled or suspended their 2020 seasons. It's the heartbreaking, but necessary, current reality.
During this figuring-out period, musicians have been inspiring pillars of strength. Daily on social media we see more and more solo artists and band members livestreaming wonderfully intimate performances directly from their garrets. And in a way this entire current holing-up-and-making-music movement is much in keeping with our local legacy: The Hudson Valley is, after all, the birthplace of the Basement Tapes. And we're lucky that, in addition to living in area that already offers nurturing solitude, we also now live in an age in which musicians themselves can, using technology, open their own basements—or living rooms, bedrooms, computer nooks, wherever they play at home—to their fans as they bring in some much-needed cash via donations or merch sales. Many of them are writing heaps of new songs and even recording whole new albums during this downtime, a silver lining to be sure. This month, we reached out to some prominent local musicians to find out where they're at in the midst of all this (besides home, of course).
You know things are real when the sun's down and Lara Hope isn't out there whooping it up on stage. With her band the Ark-Tones, the Kingston-based queen of roots rock has for the last few years been on the road constantly, touring the US and Europe with the likes of the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Reverend Horton Heat—that is, when she and the boys aren't bringing their homebrewed blend of rockabilly and honky-tonk country to regional venues or she and her husband, Ark-Tones bassist Matt Goldpaugh, aren't holding forth with their side project, the Gold-Hope Duo. The couple had, in quirk of timing, just put a down payment on a Midtown house and were expecting to leave on a six-week tour when they got word that it had been cancelled. Although the Ark-Tones as a live band have been put on hold, Hope and Goldpaugh, never ones to stop playing—pandemic, renovations, and financial worries be damned—have been making music throughout it all, performing a weekly, tips-generating livestream set on Facebook (Mondays, 7-8pm) from their basement, where they're recording an EP, Songs in the Key of Quarantine. "We'd always recorded in real studios before, and it's pretty lo-fi," Hope explains about the release. "But [the process] is giving us a chance to learn how to record ourselves using Garageband. My plan is to buy [higher-quality recording software] Logic, once I finally get my unemployment [benefits]. Doing the livestream every week gives me an excuse to try to write new songs and get dressed up." Along with devising new merchandise for their website (check out their hand-painted, coffin-shaped keepsake boxes), the singer and her beau have revived the Gold-Hopealongs, a kids' music project, with the aim of livestreaming for hire to children's parties. "Musicians are going to have to think of other revenues to tap into," says Hope. "Luckily for us we're already used to being on a shoestring budget, so we already think like that."
"I'd just gotten off a European tour with my quintet," says drummer Bobby Previte about the beginning of his COVID-enforced work changes. "Andrea [Kleine, his wife, a writer and performance artist] were starting a residency in Florida when things first started to hit. We were down there, reading every day about what was going on in New York, where we have an apartment. We were afraid of getting stuck in Florida, but we didn't want to be stuck in New York, either. So we pretty much came straight here [to the couple's Claverack bungalow]. I'm very fortunate to have this place to come to." Since moving in in 2013 the composer, percussionist, and bandleader, a kingpin of New York's 1980s experimental jazz world and a collaborator of artists ranging from John Adams to Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, has become a beloved presence on the Columbia-Greene county scene thanks to his residencies at Hudson's Club Helsinki and Catskill's Avalon Lounge.
As is the case with many touring American musicians, however, much of his fanbase is overseas, where he doesn't expect to be going in the near future. "To me, the idea of there being gatherings to play at anytime soon is just magical thinking," says Previte, who has been busying himself with producing music for other artists; recording tracks at home for projects with long-time cohorts Charlie Hunter, Jamie Saft, and Michael Cammers; releasing new and archival recordings weekly via his Bandcamp page; prepping a June 17-20 online improv workshop presented by Hudson Hall; and hosting Q&As with fans using Zoom. "I'm assuming that the music world has fundamentally changed due to what we're all going through now, and I'm trying to prepare for that," he says, adding that he's using some of his newfound free time to learn about becoming a volunteer COVID-19 contact tracer. "It would be too easy to be miserable, and there are people who have it a lot worse than I do. Now's the time to stop and assess things, and to find ways to be even more creative."
The last time we spoke at length with any of the Felice Brothers was in September 2018, when the road-wrangling folk rock juggernauts were performing in support of their seventh album, Life in the Dark. Since then there've been lineup shakeups, another album (2019's Undress), a solo album by singer Ian Felice (2017's In the Kingdom of Dreams), and many, many touring miles. And now? Well, befitting the Palenville-born act's rustic roots and its musical aesthetic, original members Ian and James Felice are, for this pandemic moment, just living the country life. "Ian's got a son now and a few acres up in the Berkshires, so he's there with his family," says James Felice, who lives in Kingston with his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Allison Olender (the group's bassist, Jesske Hume, and drummer, Will Lawrence, are in Brooklyn). "I've been picking up woodcutting work here and there. I bought a chainsaw last year. That turned out to be a really good investment."
But although the group isn't currently able to woodshed together, Felice Brothers music is still being born. "Ian's always writing songs, and I've been writing stuff, too," says Felice, whose band saw an April US tour fall through and the loss of well-paying festival dates including the particularly poignant cancellation of the Newport Folk Festival. "That's the only thing to do during all of this: write and play music and try not to worry about stuff. Musicians are among the hardest hit by this whole thing, and also among the least protected." While he's realistic about it taking some time for live music to return, he remains optimistic that it eventually will. "Here in New York State live music is part of Phase 4 [the final phase of the state's reopening plan], so it'll be one of the last things to come back," Felice says. "I can't see whole tours happening any time soon, but I could see some outdoor things making sense. But who knows, maybe after this, things will somehow actually be better than they were before." What else would he say to fans who are lamenting his group's absence? "This will end, and you will see us again," he offers, adding, in the meantime, "Don't forget about us. We won't forget about you."