The Upstate Beat: Felicia Collins returns home to jam before a ‘Summer of Soul’ screening

Felicia Collins, above, and her combo inducted Sister Rosetta Tharpe into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2018. (YouTube)

Felicia Collins, above, and her combo inducted Sister Rosetta Tharpe into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2018. (YouTube)

When Felicia Collins last played the Music Haven Stage in Schenectady’s Central Park, she wore a red t-shirt that said, “Music Is Everything.” The year was 2015, and the guitarist with local roots was just finishing a 22-year run playing in the CBS Orchestra, the house band for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which aired its final episode that spring.

The talented Collins truly played and sang like music is everything during her season-ending show that summer, which melded fiery blues, soul and funk in front of a Music Haven crowd filled with her friends and relatives. Collins grew up in Albany’s Arbor Hill, where she acquired her first guitar from a pawn shop at the age 12 and taught herself to play.

After graduating from Albany’s Bishop Maginn High School, Collins moved to New York City, where the masterful self-taught guitarist went on to play with high profile artists like The Thompson Twins, Cyndi Lauper, Al Jarreau, Madonna, George Clinton, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and many more before she landed the gig with keyboardist Paul Shaffer and his band on David Letterman’s late-night show.

Collins returns home to the Capital Region this Saturday for a free show dubbed “Bellbottom Soul” with her band The Variant, which includes several prominent local musicians: guitarist Bobbie Van Detta; keyboardist Bruce Winn, percussionist Bob Halek; and keyboardist Azzaam Hameed, the longtime organist and pianist for the Friendship Baptist Church on Union Street in Schenectady (who played with Collins during her 2015 Music Haven show).

Starting at 5 p.m., the band plans to jam until dusk, leading up to a giant screening of this year’s Oscar-winning film “Summer of Soul.” The documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots presents sublime, yet previously forgotten, footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, an amazing six-week series that featured performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.

The pairing of Collins with the screening of “Summer of Soul” couldn’t be a better fit. In 2018, after her tenure with the CBS Orchestra ended, Collins reunited with Paul Shaffer to jam with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Questlove on drums as the ad hoc combo inducted Sister Rosetta Tharpe into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. 

In addition to Felicia Collins & The Variant, the live festival before the screening includes a step show, art, gospel and food by Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen, Michele’s Charcoal Pit, Alotta Empanadas, The Cornerstone Bakery and ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s. Beverages from Wolf Hollow Brewing Company, Frog Alley Brewing Company and Nine Pin Cider will also be available. 

Don’t miss this free outdoor concert and party for the people at Music Haven (500 Iroquois Path, Schenectady) on Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.

The Week Ahead

Today, jazz trio GNP enlivens downtown Schenectady during lunchtime for Jazz on Jay, the free concert series that takes place on Thursdays in summer at the corner of Jay and State streets. GNP is a classy combo featuring Tyler Giroux on piano, Matt Niedbalski on drums, and Dylan Perrillo on bass. The group got their start playing at the Speakeasy 518 in Albany, a cocktail bar known for its Prohibition-era ambiance. 12 noon- 1:30 p.m.

The Meridian Brothers are an acclaimed group from Colombia that meld futurist electro-rock with more traditional Latin rhythms and genres. The five-piece group is the mastermind of Eblis Álvarez, a Colombian guitarist and composer who creates collaborations with made-up bands as he re-interprets Latin Tropical styles with an experimental and theatrical flair. At the Colony in Woodstock (22 Rock City Rd.) on Thursday, August 18. 8 p.m.

Town and Country Skateboards, a small local skateboard shop and record store in downtown Scotia (110 Mohawk Ave.), with a full-size half pipe for skating, also hosts all-ages rock and punk shows. This weekend, on Saturday, is a mid-day rave called Phantom Limb put on by local arts magazine Hyper Saturation with 100 Psychic Dreams, Capital City Crooks and more. 2 to 7 p.m.

The legendary Commander Cody, aka George Frayne IV, died last September after living for decades in Saratoga Springs. His band, Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen, rose to prominence in 1971 when their single “Hot Rod Lincoln” became a national hit. On Sunday, former members of his band present a Celebration of The Life, Music and Art of the late Commander Cody at The Hangar on the Hudson (675 River St., Troy). Performing will be original members John Tichy, now a professor at RPI, Bill Kirchen (Austin, Tex.), Andy Stein (New York City), and Buffalo Bruce Barlow (Marin, Calif.), together for the first time on the East Coast since 1975. 6 p.m.
Reach Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady


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