- James Orr
- Opening weekend at Colony with Robert Sarazin Blake, center, and Mike and Ruthy of the Mammals.
Spring is, of course, a time of great renewal. And perhaps for the Hudson Valley music scene this year's greatest spring-renewal story is the reopening of Woodstock's former Colony Cafe as, simply, Colony. The long-underutilized venue relaunched with a string of shows last month under the management of new owners Neil and Alexia Howard, who purchased it in August 2015 and have worked steadily since then with their crew and contractors to renovate and ready the Mission Revival building for its return to the nightlife landscape.
"Not long after Lex and I got together, we came up with a wish list of things we'd like to do," recalls Neil, a singer-songwriter, playwright, and actor who met his wife, also an actor, in San Francisco. "One of the things on our list was 'open a nightclub.' When we first moved here, in 2008, we'd come [to the club] to see performances and we always thought it was frustrating, that it was such a gorgeous building and it wasn't being cared for. We weren't looking locally to open a place, though—we were just planning to enjoy our lives. [Laughs.] But when we found out we could buy this one, we just kind of had this moment of 'Yeah, we can do this!'"
- James Orr
When it comes to moments, the former Colony Cafe has had many of its own—but those moments have been spread out rather thinly over its nearly 90-year history. Built in 1929 by hotelier Morris Newgold after his previous venture, Overlook Mountain House, burned down, the newer stucco-and-brick edifice on Rock City Road flourished in the 1930s as a restaurant, hotel, and big band venue catering to summering city dwellers. Newgold passed away not long after its opening and his son stepped in, but when World War II arrived the business closed up for most of the ensuing decades. The Harrigfeld family took it over in 2000 and under them the main room featured local bands on and off and the occasional international name (Yo La Tengo, Hubert Sumlin, the Church's Marty Wilson-Piper), but the site's calendar and hours were inconsistent at best.
So, then, enter the Howards, with a crack staff of local scenesters who are likewise energized by the couple's big plans. In addition to a regular schedule of live music, comedy, play readings, children's events, swing and salsa dancing, and other performances, such plans are embodied by Colony's revamped full-service, pub-fare kitchen, improved, state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, newly installed downstairs bathrooms, and completely rebuilt bar and stage (the latter erected along the venue's southern wall). A major component of the Howards' vision sees the club becoming a lounge/coffeehouse-style hangout on nights when proper shows aren't happening.
After May's run of marvelous music (Chris Maxwell, Ultraam, Buried Treasure), the summer is shaping up nicely as well, with, among others, Luis Mojica and Rebecca Moore (June 23), Daniel Bachman (July 1), Kool Keith, the Nude Party, and It's Not Night: It's Space (July 29), and Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson (August 1). "People seem really excited about the new direction of the club," says guitarist Joel Harrison, who will perform at Colony with Marc Ribot and other players from Harrison's nearby Alternative Guitar Summit Camp (June 8) and in a release show for his new album, The Other River (June 29). "It's really filling a niche in Woodstock."
"Being artists ourselves, I think my wife and I are really able to relate to that side of things in a way other club owners can't," says Howard. "For us, this whole thing is a dream come true."