New York is a vast state with pockets of local scenes throughout. While a “scene” these days isn’t what it was in the ’80s or ’90s where bands of similar genres created scenes out of necessity, the music scenes of the 21st century are, more or less, regions where live music is simply a way of life. Some regions are even cross-pollinating. So while we aren’t seeing strictly area scenes, live music is no less prevalent around the state.
We polled our staff looking for the best music towns across the state and this year, our state’s capital came out on top. The Albany area’s diverse scene includes small venues such as Parish Public House, The Hollow Bar + Kitchen and The Low Beat, mid-size venues that include The Egg, Cohoes Music Hall and the Palace Theatre along with the storied Times Union Center.
The Times Union Center, then known as Knickerbocker Arena, was christened on January 30, 1990, by none other than Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Other big-name acts that have performed at Kickerbocker/Pepsi Arena/Times Union Center over the years include the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion and Phish.
The Palace Theatre opened in 1931 as a movie and vaudeville house and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. This not-for-profit building has also hosted the Stones and Springsteen and has been the New Year’s Eve home for moe. and Twiddle.
When it comes to smaller venues, Albany has plenty to choose from, attracting national and international acts that are on the rise. The Hollow Bar + Kitchen has served as host for numerous Capital District acts as well as up-and-coming national acts such as White Denim and Barns Courtney.
Add all these venues to the varied acts in the local scene and you have a diverse music community that draws from influences from all over.
Glass Pony, Wild Adriatic, Hartley’s Encore and Annie in the Water are spearheading the next wave of jambands not just in the Albany area but across the state and beyond. And while the term “jamband” may bring a certain style to mind, these bands are all unique in sound, all based in rock, but drawing from disparate influences.
When you look at Albany’s music history, venues such as Valentine’s come to mind. moe., the Ominous Seapods, God Street Wine and others of the third wave of jambands got their feet wet in and around the Albany scene.
In the late ’70s, the comedic rock band Blotto burst onto the Albany scene. Comprised of members with names like Sergeant Blotto, Broadway Blotto, Lee Harvey Blotto, Bowtie Blotto and Cheese Blotto, the band received significant play on MTV’s airwaves with the UAlbany student-shot video for “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard.”
In later years Sarge Blotto (real name Greg Haymes) became a writer for the Albany Times Union and later went on to found the Capital District website Nippertown, which champions the Albany area music and arts scene. Haymes died on April 10 of this year, leaving a large hole in the Albany music scene.