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News of Woodstock, Shandaken, Phoenicia & Beyond

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    The 15th annual Woodstock Film Festival kicks off next Wednesday, October 15 with what promises to be a big blast of a star-studded party at the Woodstock Playhouse, complete with pre-event cocktail party, film screening of East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, rousing music from Steve Earle and others, plus a full VIP offering for those part of the festival proper or willing to pay for the special privilege. Between then and a similarly star-studded closing night ceremony at Kingston’s massive BSP theater, where Academy Award-winning actresses Natalie Portman and Jennifer Connelly will be on hand to honor their legendary director Darren Aronofsky with this year’s Maverick Award — and this year’s talented filmmakers find out who won major awards from their works in competition — WFF Executive Director and founder Meira Blaustein says there’ll be plenty to keep film, music, art and cultural buffs of all sorts happy. “We’ve got parties every night, although only for participants, and many special panels, screenings, and events with tickets still available,” she added, fresh from a ceremony with town officials where the WFF’s impact was proclaimed and celebrated. “Even better, it’s all happening here, in Saugerties, in Kingston…we’ve become quite the original film festival in […]

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    The Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) wound up its 15th annual manifestation on Sunday night, October 19, this year drawing cinephiles from near and far to 11 venues in Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Saugerties, Rosendale and Kingston. Besides the honorees previously announced — director Darren Aronofsky for the Honorary Maverick Award and producer/director/screenwriter/actor Mark Duplass for the brand-new Fiercely Independent Award — the star-studded bash at BSP in Kingston on Saturday night also conferred the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography on Michael Lavelle for Patrick’s Day. That film’s director, Terry McMahon, took home the Best Narrative Feature laurels as well. Red Lines, Andrea Kalin and Oliver Lukacs’ profile of two activists in the secular Syrian opposition movement, was named Best Documentary Feature. Debra Solomon’s My Kingdom won for Best Animation. The Diane Seligman Awards for Best Short Narrative, Best Student Short Film and Best Short Documentary went to Iva Gocheva’s Sunday, Kate Tsang’s So You’ve Grown Attached and Tomasz Sliwinski’s Our Course (Nasza Klatwa) respectively. The James Lyons Awards for Best Editing went to Terry McMahon and Emer Reynolds in the Feature Narrative category — again for Patrick’s Day — and to Ali Akbarzadeh and Prichard Smith in the Feature Documentary category […]

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    Dylan and Hendrix no longer frequent the streets and cafés of Woodstock, but their legacy persists in a town that continues to nurture young musicians. “I live in a place where I’ve been lucky to meet and make music with some of my musical heroes,” said 20-year-old Connor Kennedy, who’s been seeking to carve a name for himself on the local music scene. The guitarist, singer, and songwriter, along with his band, Minstrel, will be featured every Tuesday in November at Backstage Productions in Kingston. Minstrel will be the house band for Ladies of the Valley, a fundraiser for Family of Woodstock at the Bearsville Theater on Sunday, November 9, backing up Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Simi Stone, and others. On the eve of Thanksgiving, they’ll play at Keegan Ales in Kingston, and on Black Friday, they’ll join Mike and Ruthy, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dan Littleton, and others at Levon Helm’s studio, The Barn, in a version of Levon’s famous Rambles. Kennedy even has a radio show on WDST every Monday, “The Indigo Hour.” Heady stuff for a kid who was born in north Jersey, grew up in Saugerties, and started taking guitar lessons at the age of ten. “I practiced […]

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    At opening night of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, before flamenco musicians and dancers took the stage, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill announced that the festival was in line for a state grant of $125,000. The Community Capital Assistance funds will be released in 2015. Now in its fifth year, the music festival has proved its viability to the point of receiving, for the first time, two substantial grants. According to treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Barbara Mellon-Kolb, a grant of $90,000, administered by the New York State Council on the Arts, enabled the festival to pay artists, including the four different orchestras and ensembles backing up performers in styles from Baroque to Latin American. Another $15,000 came from the O’Connor Foundation, a program based in Delaware County for the benefit of local non-profits. Over five days, two politicians spoke briefly at the start of each evening performance, emphasizing the economic benefits of the festival, which brought an estimated 5000 audience members last year to spend money at local businesses and also provides work for musicians, many of them from our area. In a clever gesture, two of the speakers, State Senator James Seward and Rick Remsnyder of the Ulster […]

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    In 1963, two young women, Edie LeFever and Eda Crist, noticed that theater productions in Woodstock always involved professionals playing the leads. They decided to create a theater group that would provide a creative outlet for the town’s many talented residents. Wanting to make their organization official, they consulted a lawyer. In his office were two other men, one from the Chamber of Commerce, who told the women that their idea would never work. “We left rather surprised and taken aback,” recalled LeFever, “and we decided we’d better get to work and present something.” The first production of Performing Arts of Woodstock (PAW) was Ionesco’s The Lesson, performed at the Café Espresso. PAW, the longest continuously running theater group in Woodstock, celebrates its 50th year with an anniversary gala on Saturday, September 7, 4-8 p.m., at Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville. Attendees will enjoy a gourmet dinner, dancing to live music by The Phantoms, and performances of scenes from several past PAW productions. LeFever, who is now 80 and has served as president of the board for all but a handful of years since 1964, has announced that she will retire from her position in October. She looks back with […]

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    Frances Archipenko Gray, the elegant longtime Woodstocker who’ll be reading from and signing copies of her new memoir My Life With Alexander Archipenko at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 7, has written one of the more beautiful and effective books about life in this town, and life with, and as an artist, that’s been published for years. And what a gem this handsome book is, published by the German publishers Hirmer. Richly illustrated, classically designed and crisply edited, it ends up mixing the best of memoir writing — with keen atmospheric detailing and emotionally resonant personal analysis — and an insider’s means of connecting readers to what could have been a lost body of modernist work. Not, mind you, that Archipenko could ever be lost. Just never brought to life as in these pages. What Gray does here that may be most miraculous is delve straight into the meat of what makes the narrative here so interesting. It’s like a fairy tale, this story of a Bennington art student in her early twenties, choosing between summer classes with the great abstract painter Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, or with this stocky, do-it-yourself Ukrainian-Greek immigrant in […]

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    Rooted in Utopia’s past, Frank Spinelli’s astounding photographic record of “Burning Man” celebrates the planet’s newest art-driven community. In doing so this native Woodstocker reminds us that our most extraordinary (if largely forgotten) contribution to world culture is alive and well in an annual “techno heathen” rebirth. Burning Man: Into a 21st Century Utopia is an other-worldly, sexy, seriously playful delight. Spinelli will appear with copies of the book at the Woodstock Library Forum, 5 p.m. Saturday, December 13 at the Library. In the summer of 2012, Spinelli was looking for a new project when his nephew serendipitously recommended “Burning Man” as happy hunting ground for remarkable images. In short order Spinelli procured a press pass, outfitted himself with tent and highly specified survival gear, and drove his pick-up truck to one of the most extreme locations in America, The Black Rock Wilderness, of which he writes: “…an inhospitable environment in Northern Nevada that extends due north from the town of Gerlach for one thousand square miles. The annual rainfall in this desert is under eight inches per year. The Playa, an ancient alkaline lake bed, four thousand feet above sea level, is home to nothing except a rare species, the Fairy Shrimp, that can remain […]

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    Like many other Town of Olive residents, Rejoice Scherry grew up hearing stories about the towns that were uprooted to make way for the Ashokan Reservoir, built to provide New York City residents with drinking water. Now equipped with degrees in museum studies and library science, Scherry has curated an exhibit in the basement of the Olive Free Library, breathing life into local artifacts of that traumatic era, from 1905 to 1914, when the reservoir was built. At the library, the young archivist, who attended Onteora High School, points to a few bits of rusted metal in a display case, items retrieved from the mud of the reservoir during a drought. “Those are the tender and locomotive from a toy train,” says Scherry. “A child might have lost it while packing up and moving out to make way for the reservoir. That’s the piece in this room that really gets to me.” The toy train had been tucked away in a corner, and she didn’t notice it when she first visited the basement room, which had become a repository for historical items local residents thought should be displayed, along with overflow from the archives of the Olive Historical Society. For […]

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  • 12/25/14--14:00: Ars Choralis turns 50
  • Among the eight “Whereases” in the Town of Woodstock resolution to honor the choral group Ars Choralis for its fiftieth year of performances: “Whereas, Ars Choralis is one of four choruses in the United States recognized for its concerts of peace and social justice by the national periodical Chorus America; and… “Whereas, Ars Choralis has given free concerts offering hope, solace and compassion during crises and disasters;…” …therefore, supervisor Jeremy Wilber shall issue a proclamation celebrating the span of the group’s cultural contributions.” The chorus will kick off its fiftieth year with a free concert on New Year’s Eve at 7 p.m. at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, reprising their “Messengers of Peace” program. Inspirational songs will be interspersed with the words of peace activists from around the world. Ars Choralis conductor Barbara Pickhardt mused on the “deep and long perspective” afforded her by 44 years with the choir. Founded as Ars Choralis in 1965, the group had become the Mid-Hudson Madrigal Society by 1969, when Pickhardt began to sing along. Among their performances were a series of Elizabethan feasts at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, the Depuy Canal House in High Falls, and other settings. In 1972, Dr. […]

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  • 01/19/15--03:30: Recordings to film to dance
  • “When I first began to write music,” recalls Tasso Zapanti, sitting in the living room of his Bearsville house, “it was such a great satisfaction to put emotions into sound and then be able to play them back. It was the late 70s, early 80s, and technology was taking off, the early years of Apple, Commodore 68, Atari — they gave you the option to put the sound through synthesizers, record it, and play all the parts back immediately.” Zapanti went from playing in high school bands to training in classical music at City College of New York, where he discovered that his forte was composing film scores. Having scored several films, including the docudrama Proud, which stars Ossie Davis, and Hangin’ With the Homeboys with John Leguizamo, he has lately turned to composing for dance. Zapanti’s recently released CD, Reflections Upon, demonstrates the lyricism and electronic inventiveness that his work is known for. “Even when I played in punk and rock bands,” he says, “people said the music sounded like theme songs.” He started scoring student films in college and delighted in what he calls “expressing visuals with music.” College schoolmate Joseph B. Vásquez used Zapanti’s music for his […]

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    Since the appearance of the January 23 New York Post article on Suzan Saxman’s memoir, The Reluctant Psychic, which comes out this weekend from St. Martin’s Press, the Woodstock shop owner has received hundreds of calls for readings. But as the book title implies, she’s not eager to acquire clients. “I’m happy my story is out there,” says Saxman, who toned down her appearance for the Post photographer, dyeing her hair black. Now it’s back to blue. She strokes the cat on her lap and leans forward, dark eyes snapping with intensity. “I want to give people this message — that the dead are around us, and everyone is psychic. You don’t need to go to anyone to talk to them. You can talk to your dead mother while sitting in your own living room.” Saxman and her co-author, Perdita Finn, have shaped a compelling narrative of the psychic’s lonely childhood, extraordinary adventures, and visions of the afterworld that give comfort — or sometimes warning — to the living. The Golden Notebook will sponsor a launch event and book-signing at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 31, at 6 p.m. “I’m not sure that I am, in […]

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    It’s nice to sit and do nothing,” says Katherine Burger as she’s having her portrait painted at the Woodstock Library. “It’s so meditative. And Claire is very entertaining.” “I’m telling her my life story,” laughs Claire Lambe, the Irish-born artist who is in the process of painting Woodstock residents for her project “Community.” Each Friday through June, she’ll be painting at the library, and Woodstockers are invited to sign up for a chance at being recorded in paint. “I want to create a picture of Woodstock in 2015,” explains Lambe, “so I need all ages, genders, and ethnicities.” At the same time, she’ll be using photos to paint residents of Clonmel, her birthplace in Ireland. A joint exhibit of paintings from her two hometowns will be held in Clonmel in August. She notes on her website, “I see the combination of the paintings as being one piece where the sum of all the paintings together make an impact that they cannot make alone, just as a community or a nation is stronger than the individuals that make it up.” Lambe finds it significant that Clonmel, about the size of Kingston, is about the same distance from Dublin as Kingston and […]

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    When I invited Robert B. Wyatt, formerly an editor at Avon, Dell, Ballantine, and St. Martin’s, to speak at a panel on traditional publishing versus self-publishing, I assumed he would advise the audience on the merits of working to get an agent and a publishing contract. Instead, he was eager to discuss the opportunities that modern technology gives authors to find new ways of publishing their work. Wyatt is currently improvising formats for his own book, Adventures of a House and Its Books, a collection of tales about authors and characters inhabiting the 20,000-volume collection in his Woodstock home. The book’s initial offering will be a serialization through the Phoenicia Library, to be introduced through a launch event at the library at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 4. Wyatt will present snippets of the work, aimed at entertaining both adults and children, along with his out-of-the-box vision of the new world of publishing technology for writers. Here’s the catch. Until future editions of the book appear, possibly in online, audio, ebook, and print versions, the only way you can read Adventures will be while sitting at the Phoenicia Library, where a new chapter will appear twice a week. The text will […]

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  • 02/28/15--03:30: Creating Spirit Of Place
  • Since assuming the Executive Directorship of the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in September, Neil Trager has heard a distant drum roll heralding an event others are hardly aware of but, as an old hand at the game, he knows is just around the corner. In only four years it will be a century since five painters representing a cross section of popular, if ‘oft opposing, styles became the founding fathers of a fighting ground first called The Woodstock Artists Association. As the town’s dim memory of that early harvest struggles to regain clarity, Trager has taken a somewhat radical route in stripping away his responsibilities until he is now — first and foremost — the steward of the legacy that is WAAM. The most conservative of those original founders, John Carlson (who would inherit directorship of The Art Student League’s Summer Program here), upheld the virtues of plein aire oil painting with canvasses which hold up remarkably to this day. A second founder and one-time student of Carlson’s, Frank Swift Chase, would take a small step towards modernism with Impressionistic brushstrokes. Leading the radicals, founder number three Andrew Dasburg, was considered Woodstock’s eloquent firebrand. Upon his returning to town […]

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  • 03/05/15--14:00: Poets duel in the mud
  • Who, besides poets, likes the local poetry scene? Years ago, Mikhail Horowitz warned me, “The smaller the pie, the sharper the knives.” Oh, I’ve gotten compliments, but the slights are what I remember. The poet who’d reviewed my first book with kind words accepted the second to say, “Nice cover!” and handed it right back. Always a smile. And a sugary “Good luck!” It has made me regret my Waspy training in politeness. Once upon a time poets in Woodstock knew how to fight. It was 1923, when the arts colony was in its heyday. Greenwich Village bohemians swam nude in the Sawkill. Young poets and painters walked the country lanes with the democratic swagger of Walt Whitman. Hard cider solved the inconvenience of Prohibition. Rivalries flourished with manly abandon. The showdown began in Little Italy when several dozen young writers, some of whom had recently returned from tours of the European avant-garde, gathered at a restaurant to plan their assault on the literary establishment, or more specifically to figure out what to do about two floundering literary magazines, Broom and Secession, which they’d launched abroad and brought home to New York. Called by Malcolm Cowley, the meeting attracted Hart […]

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    In Bloomington, near Kingston, in a 19th-century brick house, artist, writer, and scholar Bethany Ides is organizing a performance project that she describes as “a political and communitarian proposition as well as an art form,” adding, “I take direction from Mister Rogers.” Ides has taught courses in literary and critical theory, theology, art history, and text-as-art at Pratt Institute, the School of Visual Arts, Bard College, and other institutions. While she is devoted to teaching, her true passion is to gather people in a wide-ranging creative process that has recently migrated from New York City to the Catskills. An event billed as an opera, entitled Transient’s Theme, was presented at the Knockdown Center in Queens last fall, based largely on group improvisations conducted in Bloomington, with groups of artists riffing on themes from prisons to hospitals to encampments. “Almost-Although” was a two-month summer retreat in Shandaken, attended by a rotating group of artists, writers, musicians, scholars and activists from across the country. She is now bringing together creative upstate residents in a slowly evolving project called Deathbeds, which will result in a series of 22-minute videos. “Upstate there isn’t this scarcity of time and space,” said Ides. “That’s why I […]

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    As usual, the Woodstock Writers Festival begins its sixth year with the ever-popular story slam competition on the evening of Thursday, March 19, and ends on Sunday, March 22, with the signature panel Memoir-A-Go-Go, reflecting organizer Martha Frankel’s passion for the form. In between, an assortment of workshops, panels, readings, and interviews feature published writers of all kinds, including Chris Stein of the pop group “Blondie,” novelist Jane Smiley, memoirist Abigail Thomas, and many more. Bestselling novelist and Woodstock resident Gail Godwin will participate in the panel “Tales of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Publishing is Alive,” scheduled for Saturday March 20, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts. Publishing professionals and authors will discuss how technology has altered the business in recent years, why it persists despite incursions from self-publishing, and tips on what it takes to get published in the modern world. The long view will come from Godwin, whose book Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir (Bloomsbury, January 2015) discusses her nearly five decades of authorship, mapping the changes in publishing and relating stories of her teachers and colleagues, including Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving. At the other end of the career spectrum, […]

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    No individual could attend every single one of the workshops, panels, interviews, and parties at last weekend’s sixth annual Woodstock Writers Festival — except possibly indefatigable festival organizer Martha Frankel, who keeps close tabs on every aspect of her baby. I made it to five events, not including the Story Slam competition, which was won by talented local writer Desirée O’Clair, with Kathleen Harris and Verna Gillis coming in second and third. Following are memorable quotes from the panels and interviews I witnessed. Will Hermes of Rolling Stone talked with musician and photographer Chris Stein, a founding member of the pop band Blondie. With photos projected overhead from Stein’s new book about the New York City scene of the late 1970s and the creation of the Debbie Harry persona, Stein reminisced about famous people he knew. Stein, looking at a photo of Debbie with sleek punk rocker Joan Jett: Some girls have been recreating this photo on Instagram. Hermes: You were friends with William Burroughs, right? Stein: Yes, Bill and I were very close. We were both on methadone at the same time. The panel on the state of publishing today featured industry pros and two writers. Bestselling author Gail […]

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    On April 18, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, finally gaining a posterity that’s long overdue, according to the leader’s son, Gabriel Butterfield. “I’ve been fighting for it for a long time,” said Gabe, who was born in Chicago and was four years old when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band played the Woodstock Festival. “I’ve been back and forth with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, educating people about the pinnacle my dad played in music history.” Gabe and his wife, Elizabeth, who both reside in Woodstock, will fly out to Cleveland, and among the film clips they will screen in the ceremony is TV footage from the 1986 induction of Muddy Waters. Waters was introduced by Paul Butterfield — a piece of celluloid history that points to the seminal role played by Butterfield in popularizing the Chicago blues and integrating the music into rock and roll. This occurred both through the electric blues of his band, which became a major force in rock music, and his own blistering harmonica playing, a quintessential ingredient. Through that came the subsequent resurrection of careers of the great bluesmen of Chicago, some […]

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    Renovations have begun on Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe Theater, thanks to a private donation made to Shauna Kanter’s VOICETheatre company, which is looking forward to using the building as its upstate base, but to also be shared with other performance groups. The addition of air conditioning, heat, and insulation will make the small theater comfortable in summer and extend its use to spring and fall seasons for the first time since it was built as part of the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, over a century ago. “This was a generous donation,” said Jeremy Adams, executive director of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, which owns and administers the Byrdcliffe properties. Although he declined to disclose the amount of the gift, he called it “pretty significant for an organization of our size. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. There will be so much more opportunity for local theater troupes and other community events.” The opportunity is key for VOICETheatre, which was founded in 1988 and has toured extensively in the U.S., France, Germany, Palestine, Israel, and the U.K., performing a range of plays, from classics to cutting-edge pieces written and directed by Kanter, often with political themes. In recent years, the economics of New York […]

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