Get Back to Where You Once Belonged | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Get Back to Where You Once Belonged 

Hudson Valley Music Venues Ready To Reopen

click to enlarge Bearsville Theater

Bearsville Theater

Last month marked a full year since the lockdown went into effect in New York State, putting a freeze on musical performances as part of the overall effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But on March 3, the governor's office announced that arts, entertainment, and events venues statewide could reopen on April 2. The resumption carries with it some strict regulations: Until further notice, venues can only operate at 33 percent of their usual indoor capacity, with a limit of 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors, and all attendees must wear masks and maintain social distancing. (Admission limits would be increased to 150 indoors or 500 outdoors if all audience members have tested negative before entering.) We checked in with several Hudson Valley venues to see how they've been holding up and how they plan to negotiate the restriction easements.

Towne Crier

"We've never stopped having live music here; we just haven't been able to legally advertise it," says Greg Graham, general manager of the Towne Crier in Beacon. Like the Falcon, the Towne Crier is a full-service restaurant that has been able to feature "incidental" live local musicians to provide atmosphere for its reduced-capacity culinary customers. "The main room, where our performance stage is, normally holds about 300 people," says Graham. "But with six feet between tables, and fewer tables, we can only have about 50 people. Those are all seats by reservation, and they've been selling out quickly." At the time of this writing, the club had not yet begun announcing upcoming post-reopening dates, but Graham is nonetheless upbeat about its looming return to full-throated promotions. Unlike many of the other large nightclubs in the Hudson Valley that feature food service, the Crier lacks sufficient outdoor space for holding open-air performances. "We wish we could, but we'd be dealing with noise ordinances—we're right on Main Street, in the middle of town," Graham explains. "But right now the weather's getting nicer, and we just started doing sidewalk seating again for dinner and brunch."

Colony

"We're reopening the beer garden in April, so this works out great," says Colony owner Neil Howard. When the live-music lockdown began last year, the Woodstock venue was able to take advantage of the vast grounds behind the 1929 restaurant/nightclub, setting up adequately spaced tables and erecting a stage to present performances by regional acts. The onset of winter meant a freeze on outdoor dining and events, so Colony went into renovations mode, expanding their back-of-house kitchen, bakery, and prep areas to better serve open-air patrons. "We're staffing up, getting ready for things to start again," Howard says. "For late summer, we're hoping to do some prix fixe, supper club-type events where the band does two sets per night for two seatings." Despite the vagaries now plaguing the touring circuit that provides many of Colony's headliners, Howard is optimistic about the coming year. "Our booker has gone from getting just a couple of emails a week from bands interested in playing to about 20 a week," he says. "Touring bands are now starting to look at going back out on the road again in early fall."

The Bardavon & UPAC

Poughkeepsie's Bardavon 1869 Opera House and Kingston's Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC), which are both managed by Bardavon Presents, are taking a wait-and-see approach during the reopening leadup. "I felt like I was being super-optimistic when the closures were going into effect a year ago and I predicted that it would be fall or winter 2021 when we were able to start having shows again," says Chris Silva, executive director of Bardavon Presents. "And it's looking like that will probably be the case. We're following Broadway's lead, since those theaters are comparable in size to ours [the Bardavon seats 944; UPAC seats 1,500]. People can spread out in the main rooms, but there's not enough space in the lobbies for them to be safe until more people are vaccinated and we have herd immunity. We're also considering mandating vaccinations for all of our workers." Bardavon Presents has maintained its presence during the closures via online events, like its popular Albums Revisited concert series; a virtual David Bowie tribute show is set for early May.

Bearsville Theater

A year ago, new owner Lizzie Vann and her crew were finishing up major renovations to the long-neglected Bearsville Theater, rushing to get it ready for its planned Easter 2020 resurrection. But, as we now know, the rush was unnecessary. Some experimental, masked-and-distanced events were attempted before the concept was abandoned with the tightening of state guidelines. There was still restoration work for contractors to focus on during the shutdown, but, like other venues, the theater would eventually have to lay off much of its staff as it went back into hibernation. For several ensuing months, the Bearsville beamed out closed-to-the-public performances and other livestream programs, but those operations ultimately quieted down as well. "The whole livestream trend came and went, peaking in the summer," Vann says. "But once we reopen, we'll still have livestreaming as part of what we do." At the time of this writing, she's holding off on booking touring acts while looking toward late May to resume events in the garden/firepit area. With the adjacent Bear Cantina (formerly the Bear Cafe) reopened and the Utopia Tavern set to open in the former Peterson House, the Bearsville compound's delayed rebirth takes on added poignance after last month's passing of ex-owner Sally Grossman, the widow of its creator, Albert Grossman.

Avalon Lounge

Joining the list of venues that innovatively used their outdoor spaces during the closure is the Avalon Lounge—although it's not a patio or beer garden that the Catskill nightclub utilized. "We actually had bands play on our roof over the summer," says Avalon owner Liam Singer, a composer and musician himself. "We also allowed some artists to use our live room to do their own streaming shows, but we decided not to continue booking livestream events on our own." Instead, Singer closed the club for the colder months while keeping its food operation open for pickup and delivery. "That's been the silver lining: More people discovering that we have a Korean kitchen that does really good takeout food," he explains. "We've also been focusing on running [Singer's neighboring companion business] the HiLo Cafe. The Village of Catskill has been really good about working with us to help find ways for us to operate as best we can throughout all of this." While Singer is heartened by Governor Cuomo's pronouncement of the partial return of live music, he's unsure how helpful the initial advisory will be for the Avalon. "Our performance room holds about 100 people, standing, but with the current rule we could only have about 20 people in there," says Singer. "But, for now, we're hoping to start doing outside stuff again as soon as the weather's nice enough."

Daryl's House

Takeout food and livestreaming have helped keep Daryl's House afloat during these uncertain times. With its restaurant and performance space temporarily darkened, the establishment—which is owned by singer Daryl Hall—pivoted toward pickup food service and livestream concerts. Broadcast online from the Pawling venue or relayed from elsewhere through its website, the shows have been accessible via sliding-scale donations for the bands and operational costs. Last month, the restaurant reopened for indoor dining at reduced capacity, with reserved seating for livestream screenings of outside events. April 2 sees the reemergence of live shows, with limited-ticket seating, at Daryl's House. Its popular free (with advance reservations) Sunday brunch shows are back, and upcoming in-person nights include Poppa Chubby (May 1), Connecticut Transit Authority (May 2), The The Band Band (May 29), the Push Stars (June 10), and Steve Forbert (June 25).

The Falcon

Another mid-sized club/bar/restaurant that made use of its outdoor space as late in the season as possible during the live-entertainment halt is the Falcon in Marlboro. The Falcon's waterfalls-side patio is a great spot to eat while enjoying an "accompanying" musical performance, and masked-and-distanced guests took advantage of that in the warmer part of 2020. It's not workable for every venue, but the Falcon's "incidental music" advertising angle—not outwardly promoting events with the aim of drawing sell-out crowds, but instead casually mentioning via email that an act will be present to provide "music while you dine" during dinner hours—is a loophole that has allowed the safety-compliant nightery to continue offering talent to limited patrons. Winter saw the supplementary sets move into the club's high-ceilinged main dining/stage space, although its smaller basement area stayed shuttered. "Nobody's gotten sick here, and the musicians and the people who've come out have been loving [the dinner performances]," says owner Tony Falco, who plans to restart outdoor engagements in May. "But it'll be nice to be able to start openly advertising again [when the ban lifts]. We have great food and people love it, but I got into this business for the music."

City Winery Hudson Valley

The upstate region's newest addition to the live-music landscape, City Winery Hudson Valley, was just getting up to speed when the pandemic put the cork in its planned Concerts in the Garden series; after a nail-biting bit of back-and-forth with the state, its 2020 summer shows at the Montgomery venue by Chris Thile, Martin Sexton, Amy Helm, Southside Johnny, Joan Osbourne, and other hot names had to be shelved. The bistro has since hosted some limited-entry, safety-compliant wine and culinary events in its indoor restaurant and remote livestreams via its website during the live-music embargo, and is presently gearing up for the reappearance of live dates at its specially constructed amphitheater. "Reading the tea leaves, we expect the capacity mandate to increase by June," says Michael Dorf, whose City Winery franchise also has locations in New York, Nashville, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. "I think that April 2 is still a little cold for outdoor shows. We're looking to announce our summer 2021 schedule around late April or early May, with sizeable national acts every Saturday and others during the week."

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