Jukebox: Even in memories, music always nearby

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Amy Helm is at Caffe Lena for two nights this weekend.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Amy Helm is at Caffe Lena for two nights this weekend.

Today, Boxing Day, is the wedding anniversary of the late Al and Patricia “Pisie” (PI-zee) von Wellsheim — likely the best-ever in-laws. Al ran a Canajoharie dress factory and Pi — for whom a sister-in-law, a great-niece and my daughter are named — was my toughest critic, quick to pounce on and mark in red any errors I might make in these pages. I still have those corrected Gazette columns she mailed me every week, radiating grammatical rectitude from my attic. She loved odd musician names and signed her notes to me as Muddy Waters; addressing me as Boz after Boz Scaggs.

Their daughter Ellie and I married on the sprawl of lawn before the white gleam of colonial farmhouse in the hamlet of Newville where they raised 10 children, now spread from Maine to Maui. And in October our daughter Pisie married her life and creative partner Tony — they make films together — in the 19th-century church just a short walk down Creek Road.

Al and the first Pisie married on this day, during the war that, along with the Depression and FDR’s New Deal, shaped our parents’ generation’s lives. They aged well with the times, interested in everything. After seeing “Saturday Night Fever,” they had to hit a disco. So we snuck them out of a stiffly elegant extended-family birthday party in Utica to a jumping, strip-mall dance palace where they knew just what to do. They loved seeing Willie Nelson at SPAC and Prince’s film “Purple Rain.” After the wedding of our daughter and Tony, we danced to Prince songs and other soul and R&B in the Grange hall next to the church.

I think Pisie decided to marry Tony after he sprang on her a wonderful surprise.

He suggested she take two days off from her freelance video-editor gig in Manhattan, but didn’t explain why. They drove to Montreal, where he parked in front of a side-street club whose marquee read “PRINCE Tonight Only.” The Purple One played solo, with just a keyboard, then played again in his own after-party in a nearby bistro until 4 a.m. Our Pisie LOVED Prince, and he was gone just weeks later.

Want to impress someone into marrying you? Take him/her/them to a great concert.


Tonight at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs), the Raquette River Rounders play their annual Boxing Day show. Formed in 1978, split up by 1982, they’ve reunited periodically ever since to play spry Adirondack stringband tunes: John Kribs, bass; Danny Gotham, guitar — plus guests. 7 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org

Friday, also at Caffe Lena, the Lustre Kings — at first our own rockabilly local heroes, now an international touring act — bring their big-guitar-and-pompadour-and-sideburns-to-match raw rock to the Caffe. 8 p.m. $18, $20, $10

Then, Saturday and Sunday, the Caffe presents Amy Helm — yeah, Levon’s singing, multi-instrumentalist daughter. She leads her acoustic trio: Byron Isaacs, bass; Daniel Littleton, guitar; and David Berger, drums. Since I first caught her as a shy member of the gospel rock band Ollabelle (opening for the Jayhawks at the Bearsville Theatre, where Levon grinned proudly in the crowd), Amy Helm has become a bandleader confident enough to perform a tribute to Tom Petty in a stunning Massry Center show and release a terrific album, “Didn’t It Rain.” She also co-starred in her father’s last tours and recordings, but has absolutely come into her own. Saturday is sold out; Sunday 8 p.m.: $45, $50, $25

Also Saturday and Sunday, the Dark Star Orchestra plays the Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave. at North Pearl Street, Albany), performing specific-date Grateful Dead shows song by song, but importantly not note for note. 8 p.m. both nights. $41.50 advance, $44.50 day of show. 518-465-4663 www.palacealbany.org

Jazz saxophonist Keith Pray leads his trio Friday at the Cock ’n Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Road, Galway), his regular last-Friday-of-the-month gig. 8 p.m. 518-882-6962 www.thecocknbull.com (On Jan. 7, he brings his Big Soul Ensemble into the Van Dyck, another monthly show.)

Checking venues and www.aplaceforjazz.org, it seems a busy Friday for jazz, including Patricia Dalton and her Jazz Colleagues at Athos Restaurant, while the Hot Club of Saratoga travels to Brown’s Walloomsac Taproom; Mia Scirocco sings at Duke’s Chophouse; the trio of Charlie Tokarz, Dave Bartley and Dave Christopolis plays Gateways Inn; Terry Gordon’s Quartet returns to 9 Maple; the Nate Giroux Quartet plays the Speakeasy 518; and more.

On Saturday, blues and R&B singer/guitarist Thomasina Winslow plays Pinhead Susan’s (38-40 N. Broadway, Schenectady) with her soulful band Nite Train. 8 p.m. No cover. 518-346-6431

Next Tuesday, as our Indiana Nash told us earlier this month, First Night Saratoga presents dozens of performers at venues all over town, with shuttles from show to show. A $20 button admits fans to everything. This time, “everything” includes a homecoming show from The Figgs, who started here in 1987 as the Sonic Undertones and remain astounding for both quality and quantity. “Shady Grove,” their 30-somethingth release since their 1993 (cassette!) debut, hit this year.

Also Tuesday, Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady) presents a two-option doubleheader. Fans attending “The Band’s Visit” get into the New Year’s Eve party free; those attending The First Night of Funny only pay $5 extra for the New Year’s Eve party. Admission to the party only is $20, featuring the dance/show-band Ten Most Wanted, light fare, a cash bar and midnight champagne toast. Doors at 9 p.m. 518-346-6204 www.proctors.org

Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

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