Greg Haymes: Remembering a Life of Words, Art, and Music

Family members, musicians, and guests holding up signs, playing instruments, and holding up umbrellas as part of a New Orleans funeral tradition, second line. The memorial was held at the Swyer Theatre for Nippertown founder, artist, musician, and poet, Greg Haymes on Sunday, May 19, 2019. Photo by Amy Modesti


It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the city of Albany. The hot sun shone brightly along the Empire State Plaza grounds and the wind gusted heavily through tree branches that swayed in full velocity.

Along the beauty that was glowing along the grounds, there was also a bout of celebration, love, and deep sadness inside The Egg Performing Arts Center. A few hundred guests were in attendance to celebrate and honor the memory of a true local legend, a cheerleader to many visual artists, photographers, writers, musicians, bands, and music fans who needed to be heard and supported in the Capital Region. Through his contributions to The Times UnionMetroland, to founding Nippertown with wife, Sara Ayers, Greg Haymes was truly a ray of sunshine and a mentor to so many creatives whose lives he had touched for many years. The Capital Region was fortunate to have a man who dedicated his time to share his knowledge, express his creativity, and provide insight into the Capital Region’s lively creative scene as great as Haymes.

Greg Haymes was a musician, poet, artist, painter, photographer, actor, and journalist. He was multi-talented, entertaining, and genuine, always giving others a helping hand during a time of need. Haymes, also known by his aliases, Sarge Blotto and Wild Bill Hayes, was involved in various musical projects like The Star-Spangled Washboard Band, Blotto, and Ramblin’ Jug Stompers. Haymes was a lover of animals, New Orleans culture, and all things revolving around the arts, music, and theatre that he would cover in newspapers, publications, and his blog, Nippertown, for nine years until his passing on April 10.

A month has passed since Haymes’ passing. The impact that he had on his family, friends, co-workers, and his fans was enormous, and his passing has left a huge hole in all our hearts. No longer are we able to read a blog post containing information about community happenings that would occur daily, read previews about art exhibitions in “ArtBeat: What to See,” and learn about the artists, bands, and other happenings that were seen and heard in the Capital Region through the reviews and previews that were written by contributors who were involved with Nippertown. Haymes was the ultimate positive cheerleader, often giving praise about upcoming events, previews, and reviews about an artist, band, musician, or event in his work. He was a mentor to all who knew him in the scene and would encourage others to contribute and create their craft that would be shared to the greater area. Haymes was present to lend a helping hand to those that were in need, even performing at a benefit event at McGeary’s for the late Caroline Mother Judge who passed away a month before Haymes. McGeary’s would be the location for Haymes’ memorial after party, a month after Mother Judge’s passing.

Along the fourth floor of the E.P.A.C., event attendees took part in an hour-long reception that commenced the memorial. The room was flooded with a who’s who of artists, musicians, journalists, contributors, music fans, friends, family, and Haymes’ band members who united to share a toast, donated money towards the Mohawk Hudson River Humane Society in exchange of music memorabilia ( Blotto vinyl records, Ramblin’ Jug Stompers CD, Nippertown postcard, Blotto pins, and artist postcards), signed a guest book to leave a message, and placed a dab of sunscreen on their nose, a nod of respect to Haymes who played the titular role of ‘life guard’ in the song that first garnered attention on MTV, “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard.” Hundreds of attendees were sharing their memories, exchanging hugs with one another, snapping selfies, and capturing and recording moments with one another on their camera and cell phone. It was next to impossible to converse with all the attendees one would know in the community at the reception. There were many patrons whose lives were touched by the generosity, love, and support of Greg Haymes at the reception and inside the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre during the memorial program.

The lights flickered on and off, signaling the notion for the attendees to leave the reception and head inside to the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre to attend the memorial service. A PowerPoint slide show began, sharing photos of Haymes as a young child with his sister, Yvonne, with family members, friends, Haymes holding a pet dog, Haymes with his band mates, and other candid moments that were taken throughout the years as patrons were being seated. Once the presentation ended, Peter Lesser, Executive Director of The Egg rose to the podium to welcome the patrons to the memorial and gave his tribute to Haymes. Haymes, a friend of Lesser, would write reviews of events and concerts held inside the Egg Performing Arts Center’s two theaters. Lesser thinks of Haymes often and what he would think of a performer or an act that would soon arrive to perform in the Capital Region.

A young Greg Haymes posing solo at what looks like to be at a train stop. This photograph was shown as part of Haymes’ memorial held at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre, Albany, NY 5/19/19. Photo by Amy Modesti

“What would Greg Think?” asked Lesser to the audience. Haymes would have the first say about a performer, a band, or an event in his publications and in Nippertown. What would he think before and after our community events, we may never know, only to read back upon his previous thoughts through Nippertown and his printed publications.

Sara Ayers rose to the podium and gave a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to her late husband. Ayers told the story of Haymes, a visual artist, writer, poet, actor, photographer, and installation artist. Haymes was a true artist and he would continue to create art until his passing. Haymes typed witty sayings about how blue the sky is in his haiku poems, he was enamored with rust and his incorporation of the rust into his visual art creations and installations, his wooden horses that he would hang from the trees of his home, and his ink and fern mixed media pieces that were on view at the Albany Public Library. Within the final weeks of his life, Haymes created a series of paintings that were made from leftover coffee or bourbon that he would reverse the image with rubber cement to create his masterpieces and tell a story.

“He found art in everyday things in life… Carry his inspiration with him in your heart,” said an emotional Ayers as she ended her beautiful message. Her words had left guests, including myself, forming tears. Haymes is an artist and a hero in her life. He remains a hero in the eyes of many others that continue to create and express themselves.

Musician/vocalist, Bryan Thomas, watching Sara Ayers, the wife of Greg Haymes, pay homage to her late husband inside the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Paul Jossman (Bowtie Blotto), embracing Ayers in a giant hug, gave attendees a history into the music career of his friend and band member. At the age of sixteen, Haymes’ first job was playing a sheriff’s deputy in a Wild West Show at Fantasy Island Amusement Park around Buffalo, NY. Through his early involvement in his early gig, Haymes would use that job for the creation of his own style. He always made things look easy, he did things his own way, and he enjoyed attention from his fans and followers. In 1971, Jossman met Haymes at the Inside Out Coffee House in Troy, NY. Jossman joined Haymes’ college band as a banjo player in their group, The Star-Spangled Washboard Band, inspired by the stars on Haymes’ washboard. It was in this group that he developed his first alter-ego, “Wild Bill Hayes,” dressing up as a cowboy as he did in his first job at the amusement park. Haymes had owned the stage, through his elaborate stage appearance and the props that he would use to turn into his alter-ego. He was always in character, both in theater and in music. The Star-Spangled Washboard Band would travel to Disney World, be a part of the 1976 People’s Bicentennial in Washington D.C.,  the Maury Povich Show, and appear on the Mike Douglas Show. In 1978, Blotto was formed as was his alter-ego, “Sarge Blotto”. Haymes liked attention a whole lot as he was the star and lead singer in his hit songs, “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” and “Metal Head.” In the mid-’80s, Blotto took a break and Haymes went into music writing. The three main things that he had focused on in his music writing and his music style were research and preparation, developing his own style and voice within his writings, and through his writings, garnering new fans that took pleasure in his writing.

Paul Jossman (Bowtie Blotto) speaking on behalf of his band member and best friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

“Welcome to Greg at The Egg,” said Bill Polchinski (Broadway Blotto) at the podium. Haymes and Polchinski’ s friendship began in the Spring 1970 when he was a transfer student at SUNY Albany. Haymes was a second-year theater major and invited Broadway Blotto to join his inner circle. Together, they performed in an anti-war play and as pirates in a 1971 version of Peter Pan. The Star-Spangled Washboard Band was born in the village of Lake George and Polchinski would join that group as a guitarist. Haymes, according to Broadway Blotto, had star qualities. He had the combination of Elvis, Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, and with his good looks, he was all The Beatles rolled into one. Haymes was a driven man and he was always in motion with his mind and body. Everywhere he went, he made many friends and learned plenty of musical knowledge. Haymes had a positive effect on all of us.

At a band photo shoot that Broadway Blotto and Haymes were a part of at a playground in 1994, Broadway’s three-year-old son, Will, had fallen. Haymes rushed over to Broadway’s son and picked him up from the fall and checked to see if he was okay. When Polchinski contacted his son to let him know that Haymes was ill six weeks ago, Will told his father to tell Haymes to get well and thank him for picking him up in the playground. A memory that his son had remembered twenty-five years ago, he thanked Haymes for helping him get back on his feet before he passed away. Even in the past, his memory continues to live on in their hearts.

Bill Polchinski (Broadway Blotto) speaking at the podium on behalf of his friend and band member, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Michael Eck of Ramblin’ Jug Stompers and best friend of Haymes was next. Emotional and not holding back his tears at all, Eck gave a powerful story to honor the memory of his friend. He held in his left hand, a century old, mother-of-pearl, extra fine Mabie, Todd and Company school pen that Haymes and Ayers had given to him for his writing in 1991 when he moved briefly to Austin, Texas. Eck used this tool of creativity to pen his writings, his music, and his visual art.

“If you are a musician in this room, he wrote about your band. If you are a writer, he whispered in your ear. If you are an artist, he stood in awe before your work. He participated in beauty. He offered support. He gave joy,” exclaimed Eck.

Besides a pen, Eck held up another item that he was given after his passing, a set of Oblique Strategies, small written cardboard notes by Haymes himself. Each creative suggestion that Haymes wrote was his own invention, his own words of wisdom, a path or a suggestion that he had written down. Haymes always kept everything, even the cards that Eck was given as a gift. The cards, like the pen, symbolized creativity. Eck acknowledged everybody to “Write the words. Sing the song. Paint the picture. Create.” That’s what Greg would have done, and he did just that. Haymes continued to create art, dedicated his time to watching movies about New Orleans, and focused on Nippertown until the end.

Michael Eck (Mr. Eck) of The Ramblin’ Jug Stompers speaking about his best friend and band member, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Greg Bell, promoter of Guthrie/ Bell Productions, was inspired by Haymes to start his promotion business. Haymes was one of the first friends that he had met as a student at Siena College through a mutual friend. Bell had seen Haymes perform in The Star-Spangled Washboard Band in Siena College and he enjoyed that band. Haymes introduced Bell to the Albany music scene, the Lark Street music scene, members of Blotto, and other area musicians. When Bell started his promotion business, Haymes would give Bell an extra push for his shows in The Times UnionMetroland, and Nippertown. Bell would rely on Haymes on his opinion about certain acts that he wanted to ring into town, and he would pick up a Metroland and The Times Union to read his columns about what was going on in town.

To conclude his remarks, Bell recalled a funny moment that he had with Haymes at The Star-Spangled Washboard Band show. At the time, Bell had brought his date to see the show. When the band was performing “Rocky Racoon,” Haymes, pretending to be Rocky, purposefully fell onto their table that was full of drinks and spilled a drink all over Bell’s date. Although it was a funny incident, his date wasn’t amused and that was the final time that the woman went out with him.

Greg Bell, promoter of Guthrie/Bell Productions, at the podium giving remarks about his friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Singer/songwriter Bryan Thomas had known Haymes since 1998, when he had sent him his first ever mix tape for him to review for a publication. From that day on, Haymes and Thomas were friends. According to Thomas, Greg knew where you were coming from. If you were featured in a preview or a review in Nippertown, you knew that you were going to be big enough for Nippertown. Haymes would encourage Thomas to get his music out there to be heard in the public eye.

Thomas recalled a moment when he attended a benefit event with his daughter, who was four years old at the time. When the acts performed, Thomas’ daughter, Zoe, was coloring in a coloring book with Haymes who came over to color with her. Thomas was in awe that such a local celebrity and personality as Haymes would come and color with her. He later explained to his daughter who this man was that was coloring with her and his impact that he had on art and music. Now in his late 40’s, Thomas thanked his friend for pulling him out of the shadows.

Singer/songwriter, Bryan Thomas, speaking on behalf of his friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Kristen Ferguson, a music writer, and Greg Haymes reviewed shows together for Nippertown or for her other publications. Ferguson had first met Haymes through Nippertown contributor, Andrzej Pilarczyk. As with Haymes’ “Top 10 Best Lists” for the popular blog, Ferguson created her own top ten best things about her friend, Greg Haymes.

10. Haymes had a “live and let live” attitude. Haymes told Ferguson that there are no rules in Nippertown, that you can be creative and as expressive as you want.

9. Haymes and Ayers had a love for animals, dogs and cats. Often, Haymes and Ayers would share photos of their dogs and cat on Nippertown at the end of the week wearing funny hats or sunning in a field.

8. Stamina: Haymes was always in the community. He would send the contributors a schedule to let them know where he was going to be and what he was going to be covering. He would attend and review 2-5 shows, anything that was of interest. Sometimes, he would attend multiple events in a single day, ranging from a Ramblin’ Jug Stompers gig to an art opening.

7. Mentorship: Through Nippertown, Haymes was a mentor to all the contributors and had welcomed the contributors to be a part of this excellent platform.

6. Haymes had a funny sense of humor. At a Bootsy Collins Alive at 5 show, Haymes posed in a fan’s motorcycle jacket and helmet to replicate the “Metal Head” look for a fan.

5. Haymes was always kind and warm. He always made you feel included and important in Nippertown.

4. Haymes was always supportive and always there to lend anybody a helping hand.

3. He always showed positivity and fairness in his reviews that he would publish in publications. He never posted anything negative and was able to capture the show well.

2. Haymes was a humble person. He was never competitive and allowed people to contribute to Nippertown. There was always more room for creatives to write, photograph, and create locally.

1. Greg Haymes appreciated the arts and culture. He continued his love for arts and culture by listening to records, creating art, and watching movies. Haymes’ spirit continues to live on. Ferguson encouraged everybody to continue to see some live shows.

Music writer, Kristen Ferguson, listing her top 10 things that were special about her friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Stoic in his stance on the podium, WEXT DJ Chris Wienk knew Haymes since Wienk was a DJ of a local show for WBNY at Buffalo State College. Wienk first saw Haymes at The Continental in Buffalo. Around March 2007, Wienk and Dave Michaels were establishing their radio station, WEXT Radio, and sent an email to Haymes, through a lunch meeting with Bryan Thomas to see if he could provide any insight. Haymes provided the station with the names of local musicians, band names, and favorite records. Haymes was generous with all the musical knowledge that he had provided to them in order to establish their local roots station.

“He loved all art. It was his passion,” said Wienk and that was indeed true. Wienk thinks about Haymes. Without Haymes, there would be no WEXT.

Chris Wienk, WEXT DJ, speaking on behalf of his friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Ed Conway, a photographer/ writer and Nippertown contributor, was a huge fan of Blotto. In the past, he had seen Blotto perform with their female singer, Blanche Blotto in the late ’70s. An early date that he had with wife, Kathy, was at the Colonie Coliseum to watch Blotto and The Sharks. Later, he would bring his son, Evan, and daughter, Kimberly, to see Blotto perform live. The Conway’s first discovered Nippertown in 2010 through a blog posting that Kathy had noticed about adding your name to the contributors. He wrote a review of Blue Oyster Cult performing a show in Pittsfield, MA. Using just a regular point-and-shoot digital camera and a notebook, Ed was able to complete his review and sent it to Greg. To his surprise, Greg accepted his review and Conway officially became a Nippertown contributor. In 2011, Conway wrote a review about Blotto at the Tulip Festival. Conway looked up to two Nippertown contributors, photographers and friends, Andrzej Pilarczyk and Rudy Lu, as mentors in developing his photography and writing reviews. Through Sara’s help, Conway was able to photograph the Viva Las Vegas music festival show this year and he was a nominee for best photographer in the Eddie’s Awards show in April. Haymes had given Conway a new passion for writing and photography. Conway also gave a shout out to three other Nippertown contributors, Stanley Johnson, Timothy Reidy and Amy Modesti, and many others who were given the support, mentorship, and enjoyed the friendly open atmosphere that Greg and Sara created. Nippertown was a great platform for Conway and other photographers and writers to express their creativity, share stories and enjoy their peers’ work, and help inform the community about the great community happenings.

Ed Conway, photographer, writer, and Nippertown contributor, speaking on behalf of his friend and mentor, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Steve Barnes, Times Union writer and friend of Haymes, was the last speaker to pay homage to his friend. Barnes knew Haymes for over thirty-one years since their first encounter at a show held at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “Sarge Blotto”,,according to Barnes, was one of his greatest creations. Haymes was a rock journalist and was great at record keeping, stating facts, and had great organization. Whenever he would see Haymes, he had “on the fly” education about anything that was occurring in the scene. He was full of wealth and knowledge and he always got the scoop about the latest show or event first. Haymes, and now Barnes, were learning from the best people in the entertainment scene. Instead of going to Google to search for community events to attend, people were going to Nippertown to search for events as their own personal community event Google search.

Steve Barnes, Times Union writer, speaking on behalf of his friend and colleague, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

The final moments of the memorial were spoken by Ayers who returned to the stage. Ayers reflected back on Haymes’ love of New Orleans culture. Haymes loved New Orleans. He and Ayers were married in New Orleans. At the time of a person’s passing, Ayers had mentioned a tradition held in New Orleans called second line. The second line is the tradition in brass band parades, and it features the first line, or the main line, that consists of the members of the brass band. The second line consists of patrons that enjoy the music of the brass band who walk behind them during the performance. It is also a traditional dance in which patrons can be seen holding a parasol or a handkerchief in the air, also known as the second lining. It is an art form that is performed as a funeral ritual, performed with jazz without the body.

Rosanne Raneri and Stephen Clyde (Cousin Clyde) of the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers performed a beautiful tune as a duo. With Clyde on acoustic guitar and Raneri on vocals, every note you heard sung and plucked was beautiful. As soon as they finished their song, The Driveby Jazz Band became the second line. A man holding a trumpet along the far-left end of the stage singled the start of the song with the sound of a toot and marched right into the center of the theatre to meet with other performers that were congregating from all sides. Meeting at the center, the band marched back and forth along the front of the stage and joining them was Ayers, Yvonne Haymes, and other friends and family members holding up parasols, playing kazoos, and passing along Mardi Gras beads to spectators that were seated in the audience as they awaited the end of the event. The audience followed the band out of the theatre and watched the band perform “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” along the main lobby of the Swyer Theatre, concluding the memorial.

Rosanne Raneri (vocals) and Steven Clyde (acoustic guitar/vocals) performing a song together during the memorial for their friend, Greg Haymes, at the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre in Albany, NY 5/19/2019. Photo by Amy Modesti

Thank you, Greg Haymes and Sara Ayers, for everything that you have both done for Nippertown for the past nine years. Thank you for all your contributions, your mentorship, and for being the true, ultimate cheerleader that you were in the Capital Region arts and music scene. May your memory and your impact continue to be a blessing and shine within our hearts. Rest in Peace, Sarge Blotto. Rest in Peace, Greg Haymes. Thank you for everything!!

This article was originally published by The Spot 518, is property of Spotlight Newspapers in Albany, N.Y., and appears as a special to NYSMusic. TheSpot518 and NYSMusic work in partnership to provide readers with in-depth coverage on the local music scene in the Capital District and New York state, respectively. For more, visit TheSpot518.com

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