Rick Danko: The Man Behind the Music

December 20th, 2013
Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

On December 29, Rick Danko, the bass player and singer in The Band, would have been 70. Danko grew up in Ontario, Canada, and left school at 14 to become a rock musician. His break came when he was tapped by Ronnie Hawkins to join The Hawks, one of Canada’s hottest bands at the time. It was there that he met Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. In 1963 Danko, Helm, Robertson, Hudson and Manuel broke away from Ronnie Hawkins to form their own group. According to Rick’s obituary in the New York Times they toured under such names as the Canadian Squires. After performing session work for John Hammond, Jr., the group met John Hammond, Sr., who in turn introduced them to Bob Dylan. They soon joined Dylan in Woodstock. During Dylan’s hiatus from touring, they began to record in the basement of the big pink house in West Saugerties, which was found by Rick Danko. The tapes from those sessions became known as The Basement Tapes. The group became known as The Band and went on to record ten albums that are considered among the most influential of all time. In 1994, Rick joined fellow group members Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson on stage when The Band were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

To get a sense of the man behind the touring persona, I recently talked with Carol Caffin, Rick’s friend and longtime publicist. She described Rick as a “badass,” but in the next breath spoke of him as having an “innocent quality”—one of looking at the world around him with a sense of wonder. He was also by turns goofy, crazy, and shy. Not book-educated, he was thrust into the spotlight, into the world of rock and roll, and was able to adapt. “Stage Fright,” the song, was a good fit for his personality. He had a charismatic, one-of-a-kind spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Days at Family of Woodstock

November 15th, 2013
Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

In 1971 the Woodstock Aquarian wrote, “Family is a crisis intervention service—a 24 hour hotline for major and minor crises. Family is communications—it is a gathering together of the community. It is a connecting service. Receptive in that it answers whatever need is shown. Family becomes a mirror of what is happening and what is lacking. It is open to whoever wants to work—straight, freak, in-between, whoever/whatever. Family becomes a learning process. What does it actually mean to be non-judgmental? It takes to feel out all that Family includes.” This was written by Gael Varsi, Family of Woodstock’s first employee.

Recently I spoke with Ms. Varsi by phone. She said she grew up in San Francisco, CA, and was working as a community organizer in Lloyd Park in 1970. On a trip east to Millbrook, NY, she heard about the job opening at Family. Alex Merson, proprietor of The Pants Shop and founder of Family, was looking to hire someone to run it. The modus operandi of the organization at that time was to help the many young people coming to town after the Festival of 1969. According to Gael, the (then) conservative Republican town had “no drinking fountains, public bathrooms or camping grounds.” She adds that she had to warn kids from California, who planned to camp out, about the “heavy Catskill Mountain downpours.”

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Rocking and Rolling With Rev. Thunderbear

August 27th, 2013
Recent photo of Reverend Thunderbear

Recent photo of Reverend Thunderbear

What is the Rev. Thunderbear Traveling Roadshow (RTTR)? It’s a band headed up by Bill Barrett, a recent Woodstock returnee. Joining Bill are John Coghill on bass, Ian Snyder on lead guitar and Russell Riley on drums. Barrett is a fan of impassioned three-hour sets and his musical taste ranges from straight-ahead Rock ’n’ Roll to Reggae and Swing. He played a great date in July at the Colony.

Bill arrived in town in 1974 from Hollis, Queens. He recalled in a recent phone conversation that “my mother kept a guitar around the house, and loved to sing the songs of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.” Around this time he purchased Great Songs of Lennon & McCartney. His repertoire expanded to Rolling Stones songs as well. Bill was an early fan of the Marc Black Trio, and caught them in concert at the Woodstocker and the Joyous Lake.

Barrett attended Onteora and joined a band. They played their first concert during Spring Fest in 1979. Upon graduation from Onteora, Bill attended SUNY New Paltz for a year before leaving in 1981 to pursue a musical career in New York City. He played for a time with the Underground Press and began writing songs. With demos in hand he pursued his dream all the way to London. When success didn’t follow he decided to switch gears and got a regular job in the States, but he never gave up his playing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

August 1st, 2013
A gas-drilling rig in Hopewell Township area; photo by Scott Goldsmith on June 21, 2010

A gas-drilling rig in Hopewell Township area; photo by Scott Goldsmith on June 21, 2010

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, a Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) exhibition, is in its final weeks (June 29 to August 18, 2013). The show is curated by Laura Domencic, director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This photographic survey, compiled over ten months beginning in late 2011, features the works of six world-class photographers: Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial. They took the responsibility of documenting the lives of Pennsylvanians affected by natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.

The show debuted at the Pittsburgh Center of the Arts in Oct. 2012 and seeks to draw on the power of photography to inform and move public opinion on the issue of hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” as it is more commonly known. It follows a photographic tradition, established in 1935, when the U.S. government initiated the Farm Security Administration, which sent a group of photographers to document the conditions of those affected by the Great Depression. Just as the resulting photographs humanized the tragic stories of loss and deprivation in the mid-twentieth century, enabling the nation to become unified in its understanding of the era it was experiencing, the photographers featured here help visualize one of the most contentious issues of our time—our struggle between our need for energy and our stewardship of the natural environment.

There is an online archive.  CPW is located at 59 Tinker Street in Woodstock, NY and the galleries are free and open to the public, Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. For directions or further information call 845-679-9957 or email info@cpw.org.

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