Recently, I applied for a fellowship—a two-week stint in LA, courtesy of USC Annenberg/Getty Foundation, for mid-career arts journalists. The aim of the excursion, according to the application, is to immerse journalists “in the distinctive cultural cauldron of Los Angeles.” Aside from the quaking wake-up call from mortality that the phrase “mid-career” rang in my colon, I excitedly gathered the requisite materials and sent them off without incident.
There was an essay portion of the application, naturally. Its directive: Speculate on the future of arts journalism—where it might, and should, go, in 750 words or less. (Cue a brief spell of college-entrance-exam-type panic, even for a “professional journalist.”) Nevertheless. My essay, Twitter-style: Dominant financial paradigm in question, but new tools provide chroniclers with new possibilities for critique/reportage. Cream rises to top.
All these deep, Marshall McLuhan-esque meta-thoughts about media eventually led me back home, to the Hudson Valley, this phenomenal place we call home. Here’s why: I’ve spent my career (the first half, anyway) covering this place. And the arts scene, as the kids say, is banging—especially in the summer. The summer explodes with culture. It is our cultural moment. But kind readers, I tell you this as much as a preventative against future regret as a paean to our profuse cultural wealth: You must start to hurry. Summer is half over and you might have already missed the Powerhouse season at Vassar completely—it ended on August 1.
(Seeing Maria Cassi’s one-woman show “My Life with Men and Other Animals” at Powerhouse in July refreshed my faith in humanity. Cassi, an Italian who sings and dances and mugs and tells stories—though this does not capture her sparkling empathy—is a brilliant cross between Roberto Begnini and Tracey Ullman. And half the show was in Italian! It resonates in my psyche to this hour, reminding me of what the illustrator Saul Steinberg wrote about taking LSD, for the first and only time, at the age of 51: “A day of such happiness that the memory of this possibility existing in me makes everything else unimportant, reduces miseries to their proper scale.” Yes, Cassi possesses that kind of ethereal talent.)
Luckily for us, August is another blockbuster month of culture in the Hudson Valley. There’s the Bethel Woods Bluegrass Jamboree on August 22, headlined by Ralph Stanley (of O Brother Where Art Thou? fame) and the Clinch Mountain Boys (page 107). Bard’s Summerscape kicks into high gear with a raft of dance, opera, and theater performances related to the work of composer Alban Berg, the focus of this year’s Bard Music Festival (page 113). The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival continues the trend it began last year of adding an irreverent send-up of the Bard to its repertory with “Bomb-itty of Errors,” a hip-hop gloss on “Comedy of Errors” (page 109). Three opera singers from the Catskills decided to pool their talent last summer for a one-off performance, which was so well received that they launched the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, August 13 to 15, a multi-venue celebration of all things vox (page 111).
There’s also a couple of art exhibits further afield that deserve attention. At the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a clever show pairing of 100 works by Picasso and Degas. The two artists never met, but much of Picasso’s work is so clearly influenced by Degas that viewing the work side by side establishes the clear lineage (page 117). Also in the Berkshires, MassMoCA in North Adams is exhibiting “Secret Selves,” Leonard Nimoy’s photos of the residents of Northampton revealing their hidden identities (page 115).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our expanded food and drink coverage. For the past few months, we’ve been highlighting upcoming culinary events (page 71). But as we’ve witnessed a deluge of restaurants opening recently, we wanted to note the dozen or so exciting additions to the local eating scene (page 72).
That’s some of what we’re covering this month. Sadly, Chronogram is only 128 pages long, so we could not fit everything we would have liked in this issue. For starters, here’s some of what we missed, but you shouldn’t:
Artists' Soapbox Derby, August 22
The kinetic sculpture parade turns sweet 16 this year. Join the awed masses to marvel at the assembled artistic ingenuity in Kingston’s Rondout as the vehicles roll down Broadway. www.artistsoapboxderby.com
Arm-of-the-Sea's “Esopus Creek Puppet Suite,” August 13 & 14
Arm-of-the-Sea Theater is that rare troupe that maintains a high degree of artistry and remains politically relevant. For their annual performance pageant at Tina Chorvas Park in Saugerties, Arm-of-the-Sea is presenting a story that sounds eerily similar to current events. Here’s their synopsis: “The antics of a tribe of hominids who uncover a treasure buried deep under the Earth. When that treasure turns into a raging monster, the hominids must reckon with the consequences and struggle to save their home.” www.armofthesea.org
Maverick Concerts, Through September 5
Arguably the most magical outdoor setting for chamber music anywhere, Maverick’s open-air concert hall features some of the most talented musicians on the planet each summer. This month, the Miro Quartet performs a program of Beethoven, Schubert, and Philip Glass on August 8. On August 21, jazz pianist Fred Hersch plays a solo concert. www.maverickconcerts.org
The Wassaic Project, August 13-15
Centered around the historic Maxon Mills in this Dutchess County hamlet, the Wassaic Project is the labor love of a committed group of young artists who are producing their second annual multi-disciplinary riot of art and music: DJs, bands, installation art, poetry readings, films, and dance performances in a weekend-long artistic explosion. www.wassaicproject.org
Summer is flying by. There’s so much going on—get to it while the weather is warm and the days are long. There’s always something happening this time of year, and we have it all listed in the Forecast!