The Upstate Beat: Nighthawks block party raises funds for safer streets, Candy Ambulance to rock with Lita Ford

The Wand-ers perform last Friday at the Nighthawks block party in Troy. (Kirsten Ferguson)

The Wand-ers perform last Friday at the Nighthawks block party in Troy. (Kirsten Ferguson)

Editor’s note: “The Upstate Beat” debuts today.

Last spring, the Nighthawks Restaurant & Bar block party on the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway in downtown Troy was a revelation.

Due to the pandemic, it was still dodgy to spend time in closed spaces with large groups of people, but restaurant owners Howard Glassman — a Schenectady native and former owner of Albany music venues the Low Beat and Valentine’s — and star chef Josh Coletto wheeled a mobile stage to the middle of 5th Avenue, dished up food from an outdoor stand, and put on a street party that made music fans giddy with excitement after being cooped up indoors for so long.

Last Friday, June 17, the now-annual event was back in downtown Troy, with the same mobile stage in the street — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute looming behind it on the hill — and pulled-pork served up streetside. Like last year, the party raised funds for Unity House, a community group located a block from the popular farm-to-table restaurant that works to break the cycle of domestic violence and gun violence that plagues Capital Region streets.

Unity House lined Broadway with raffles to benefit its gun violence awareness and prevention programs and posted handwritten signs with sobering statistics like “Black women are twice as likely to be shot by an intimate partner compared to white women.”

“Gun violence prevention is underfunded,” said Unity House Program Director of Specialty Services Sarah McGaughnea, who helped organize the event in recognition of Gun Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. She told me that “word of mouth” had grown the fundraiser since it launched in 2020. “It’s been so amazing. We’re doing better every year.”

Against the backdrop of such an important cause, the music was pure entertainment. The Wand-ers from New York City were a Wanda Jackson tribute band dressed in cowboy boots, denim and picnic-blanket-checkered skirts who played songs from the Queen of Rockabilly (“Rock Your Baby,” “Let’s Have a Party”) sped up like the Ramones with a garage-rock flair.

DJ Mercy!!! played tunes in between sets by Coal Palace Kings and Brule County Bad Boys. Glassman’s outfit CPK opened with the Replacements’ “I Will Dare,” covered “Town Car” by 1990s Albany band Beef, and ripped through their own “Bend in the River” with new member Dave “Rico” McDonald from Schenectady on the drums.

Like the event, Brule County Bad Boys — featuring Nighthawks co-owner and chef Colleto — get better every year. The seven-piece spaghetti western band cranked through boogie numbers like “Badlands” and a swampy cover of Willie Nelson’s “Midnight Rider” — probably best known for the Allman Brothers version.

Candy Ambulance Opens for Lita Ford

On Thursday (June 23) Candy Ambulance opens for hard-rocker Lita Ford during Alive at Five: Classic Rock Night, a free concert at Albany’s Corning Preserve — Jennings Landing. (4:30 to 8:00 p.m.).

A Troy rock and roll trio known for their soul-baring, scorching performances, Candy Ambulance won a Capital Region Thomas Edison Music Award for alt/indie artist of the year in 2021 and followed in 2022 with another Eddie for punk/hardcore artist of the year.

The fiery trio managed to stay busy over the last two years despite the pandemic putting a halt to many live shows. Although forced to ditch a tour when COVID first hit, the trio (featuring guitarist/vocalist Caitlin Barker, drummer Jon Cantiello and bassist Jesse Bolduc) played an audience-less livestream at the Hollow Bar and Kitchen in Albany that was filmed by Mirth Films.

Candy Ambulance also recorded an E.P. with Ellen Kempner of indie rock group Palehound and Nick Kinsey — drummer for indie rockers Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby — at Kinsey’s recording studio in a Hudson Valley barn. And they landed a placement for their song “Road Valium” in the Hulu series “Pam & Tommy,” a docuseries about Pamela Anderson and heavy metal drummer Tommy Lee.

After a lot of COVID-forced introspection and self-reflection, the members of Candy Ambulance are back to performing live and ready to explode onstage. “I think we’re going to seem tighter,” Barker told me last year just before the band resumed its live shows. “I’m ready to just pack a punch. I’m so excited to play.”

It’s hard to imagine a better opener for Lita Ford, who was the lead guitarist for women-rock pioneers the Runaways in the late 1970s before going glam metal in the 1980s with a solo career best known for fist-raising anthem “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” the 1989 duet with Ozzy Osbourne.

For more on Candy Ambulance, visit or

The Week Ahead

This weekend, the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival takes over Saratoga Performing Arts Center with two days of must-see jazz, funk and Latin music. A few more highlights from the week ahead:

— The Figgs bring their Chemical Shake Tour to the Hangar on the Hudson (675 River St., Troy) on Friday to celebrate the brand-new album release from the long-running Saratoga Springs-born band. 8 p.m.

— Also on Friday, Black Opry Revue celebrates Black artists performing country, blues, folk and Americana music at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). The show will also stream virtually for up to a week on Caffe Lena TV, the venue’s live streaming platform. 8 p.m.

— On Saturday, Super Dark Collective presents the well-regarded underground rock band Mountain Movers, from New Haven, Conn., at Rare Form Brewing Company (90 Congress St., Troy) with stellar local psych-rock outfit Sky Furrows and Animal Piss, It’s Everywhere. 6 p.m.

— The long-awaited Mavericks show with seminal British songwriter Nick Lowe, which was rescheduled in 2021, is finally coming to Tanglewood (297 West Street, Lenox, MA) on Sunday, although Los Lobos is no longer on the bill. 2:30 p.m.

— Nude Party is an under-the-radar but amazing six-piece rock band from the Appalachians of North Carolina who relocated to the Catskills a few years ago. Catch them at Empire Underground (93 North Pearl St., Albany) on Wednesday. Not to be missed for fans of unadulterated and unabashed rock and roll. 8 p.m.

Reach Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected].

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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