April 15, 2011
A Modest Overview of the Hudson NY Music Scene.
Most people involved in the local music scene are aware that Hudson is better known for its music in places like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Berlin, Oslo and Reykjavik than it is in the rest of the county or even in Hudson. I’m not kidding. There are plenty of musicians in Europe who have put this little city on a list of favorite places to visit and play. A musician who from Norway who has played in Hudson four times jokingly refers to Hudson as Twilight Zones “Willoughby. A peaceful, restful place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure.”
So what makes Hudson special in a musical way? How did we get like this? Why are musicians so fond of a music scene so elusive that it is legendary in some places and completely unknown to much of the indigenous inhabitants? Partly because we enjoy our craft so much, our visitors often are able to quickly connect with a number of simpatico souls residents. Hudsonians play for each other every chance they get. There are at least eighteen businesses on Warren Street that regularly feature music or have musicians play for special events. Numerous galleries invite musicians to entertain at openings, restaurants regularly feature live music. The Spotty Dog bookstore and more is a noted stop for hipsters on tour. We are a city of impromptu venues, and that, among other things, defines our local music scene.
So what kind of music is Hudson made out of? How did we get like this? If we look to our past - the Mahicans Indians chanting and drumming - the Henry Hudson tour of 1609 singing British sea shanties et al. Henry’s bosses, the Dutch, showing up with that clog dancing to bass lines thing that they do, bringing a few reluctant Africans singing while forced to work the boats and the farms until 1674 when there was a venue change and the Brits took over with a colonial take on Playford tunes with fiddles and button boxes and what not.
All right. So it’s not even the USA yet and there’s real cacophony of sounds here in the Hudson valley yet and we all ready have a three continent influence of music in the Hudson Valley and in 1784 the area’s music scene took a turn for the worse. Enter the Quakers.
These guys did not believe in group singing or the playing of musical instruments. They didn’t like that stuff - not in the late 18th century. In 1784 Hudson was founded by a group of thirty people, mostly Quakers, who laid the city out on a grid pattern that remains today. Tidy little Hudson became the first chartered city in the United states in 1785. There is still an Quaker meeting house in downtown Hudson. They are now fine with music, no problems, and they are nice people too.
That was our musical beginnings. Strange, but not too different from any other colonial community. The whaling crews probably brought a lot of tunes from all over the world, and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries this city listened and danced to the popular musics of the day, thanks in part to an “Opera House” which boasted performances of minstrel shows, cakewalks, ragtime, swing, classical and romantic music, and the bars and the high school and the Elks Lodge and the Federation of Polish Sportsmen Club featured dance music, rock and roll as well as polkas strathpreys and tarantellas.
Okay… all this explains absolutely nothing. Sorry. But it is kind of interesting.
Before I moved to Hudson a woman I knew described the city’s dynamic this way -
“The Martians came down to Earth and shot New York City with a shrink ray. Hudson is a tiny version of New York City but each borough is only a half a block in size.”
The music scene can be described in a similar way.
In the past few years I have heard a lot amateur and underpaid musicians in this town – Bangladeshi women singing love songs and romantic songs on the harmonium, African drumming, Haitian and Jamaican reggae, tribal fusion and belly dancers playing dumbeks and saz, punk rockers playing joyfully, a unique childrens’ chorus, jazz, bossa nova, Japanese pop, noise, splatterfolk, electronica and more, all for free or very cheap.
There are a lot of options in this town. A lot of good music, exciting, unique and challenging music, played for us by neighbors and friends. But to many residents it’s a secret. There are a few local websites and e-mail lists that are doing a great job. The local papers (including the Register Star) and the new WGXC community are exploring new ways to get information into the minds and the hands of potentially interested parties. I intend to explore possible networks of accessibility in future columns.
The typical Hudson musician casually and comfortably moves between genres in a way that is often admirable, confusing and a bit disturbing. The professional musician who resides in this county tends to travel a lot, there is not a bunch of money to be made here as a musician. Most of the musicians in this area play for the love of music, the love of interaction and the opportunity of authentic emotional communication. Which is why I live and work here.
Some excellent up and coming things you are in danger of missing -
April 19 - 7 PM
Sweet Soubrette returns to Hudson for a special show at the Musica Loft! 17 N. 4th St.
Opening will be Liv Carrow Seating is limited. 518-828-1045
April 30 - 4 to 8 PM
International Community Dinner - 1st Presbyterian Church 4th and Warren Streets
Traditional Cuisine (potluck) music and dance from Haiti, Bangladesh, Puerto Rico Nicaragua, African-American, Mediterranean. 518-366-2551
April 15 – 8 PM
Matthew O’Koren Comedian, Vibraphonist and Drummer at the Spotty Dog 440 Warren Street
Popular local musician presents a solo evening of comedic performance at the Dog 518 671 6006