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Schenectady County music scene heats up as virus variant looms

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After a cautious start, the Schenectady County live music scene is intensifying – just as concerns about the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus are also on the rise.

Last week, the capital region recorded the state’s highest seven-day positive test average at 2.9%. On Friday, the rate for Schenectady counties was 3.4%, the third highest in the region, just behind 3.6% in Greene County and 4.5% in Saratoga counties.

Obviously that’s a concern, said Cathy Gatta, president of the Freedom Park Foundation, which hosts a seasonal series of outdoor concerts in Scotia Park.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the community transmission rate in Saratoga and Schenectady counties reached a threshold at which the agency recommended that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks indoors.

I think we just follow whatever the CDC and the Governor say we need to do, and that’s what we do. I know they go with their quote very carefully and that’s what we want to do. We don’t want to have concerts that put people at risk, Gatta said.

Like many series, the plans for Freedom Parks were in motion for much of the spring and early summer. With the COVID-19 restrictions, organizers planned to limit attendance and demarcate areas designated for families to help with social distancing. However, the series began just as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in New York state. So far, the shows have drawn decent-sized crowds, ranging from 250 for a small show to 850 for larger groups, according to Gatta.

The shows were very busy, not like in 2018, 2019 and before, but better than I expected due to COVID and the weather. All of that stuff that comes together isn’t a very good sequence of events to happen, Gatta said. .

Overall, the music scene in Schenectadys has been quieter than in the pre-pandemic era. While regional concert series such as the Albanys Alive at Five series and the Park Theaters summer musical series at Crandall Park in Glens Falls returned earlier this season, some popular musical traditions in Schenectady have been canceled or curtailed.

Central Parks Music Haven, which traditionally features bands from around the world, is set to return with a shortened season of three performances starting August 15 with blues guitarist Albert Cummings.

Schenectady County SummerNight, a celebration featuring bands like Blues Traveler, which draws 20,000 people downtown, did not take place at all this summer. Neither did the weekly Harbor Jam series, which has drawn popular cover bands like CSN Songs as well as artists like John Waite.

COVID-19 is largely to blame for the change, organizers said.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, timing and logistics made it too difficult to set up our Harbor Jam summer concert series. We were optimistic about our ability to bring Harbor Jam and its full series of shows back next year, according to Rivers Casino & Resort, which hosts the series.

Regarding SummerNight, Gatta, who is also a Schenectady County lawmaker, wondered if people would feel comfortable participating in what has always been a crowded event.

But the music scene has not been silent this season. After a year of little to no live music in 2020, venues around Schenectady have brought it back this summer, some in measured baby steps, others in more daring ways.

Frog Alley Brewing Company falls into the latter category. Starting in late spring, the venue created an outdoor space to host music and continued to host groups in its playroom. While in the past the venue has mostly featured regional groups, this season it has also hosted national groups such as Little River Band and Air Supply.

After a year of this mess we tried as much as possible to get people to come back and get the live music back, especially in Schenectady because Mohawk Harbor [amphitheater], right now they’re not doing as many shows as they have been in the past. So we think it’s kind of a missed opportunity in the live music business at Schenectady, said Charley Pollard, who hosts shows at Frog Alley.

I was trying to expand that so that some of that older crowd could also have a place to go, because if you want to go see shows like that, it’s limited to Proctors, which is an indoor venue, a nice room, but maybe you want to go there outside and do something more like you could go to the PSPC lawn or something like that. Well, get rid of that player for yourself, you can have a place to come to Schenectady and have a place to come and enjoy this music live, Pollard said.

This week, the brewery will host artists like cover band Almost Queen and country singer Granger Smith later in the season.

On Wednesday, the Downtown Schenectady Business Improvement Corp. and Schenectady County are launching a series of concerts and films just outside Town Hall. The new series will feature bands such as Running the River and The E-Block Band.

While Harbor Jam will not be held this year, Rivers Casino & Resort will have two crowd-pleasing shows later this month, Journeyman and The Lords of 52nd Street.

We’re excited to bring free live music back to the beautiful Mohawk Harbor Amphitheater for what is sure to be two fun and unforgettable nights, said General Manager Rick Richards. The music of Eric Clapton and Billy Joel fits perfectly with our goal of providing top quality entertainment in the Capital Region.

Close to The Landing hotel, manager Laura Primiano also maintained a constant flow of live music. Thanks to a new free series called Sunset Sips, Primiano has invited regional and sometimes national musicians to perform on a daily basis.

What I originally thought was we had such a nice outdoor space on the patio that we didn’t really use to capacity, Primiano said.

After a bit of reorganization, she created more of a performance space and a lounge space.

From the first performance, Primiano said: We had a full house and it was great. He stayed, and we had such great entertainment. We had a lot of locals and it’s also family-friendly. . . . It is an outdoor space, so families can come and enjoy the live music.

Nearby, the Katie OByrnes Irish Pub has taken a cautious approach to bringing back live music. They’ve had mostly regional soloists and duos so far this year, in part because bigger party groups are now more difficult to book.

We were going to be a little more patient about it and let it calm down, and let Union College come back and let the Proctors Theater come back, co-owner John Keller said. When that starts to send thousands of people downtown, we may be able to step up the acts a little more, but for now, stay a little more conservative throughout the summer.

As they miss big events like Harbor Jam and SummerNight, Keller said he’s happy with the participation they’ve seen consistently this season.

I think it’s a combination of time and people have been locked up for so long that they’re coming out stronger than ever, Keller said.

Later this year, they’re looking to bring in the Dropkick Murphys for an outdoor party, but as Keller says, there’s no guarantee this COVID thing is going to allow whatever we want to do because it takes another tower.

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Categories: Life and Arts, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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