The Upstate Beat: Caffè Lena and SPAC offer a free weekend of folk and world music

Dreamers’ Circus is piano and accordion player Nikolaj Busk; violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen; and cittern player Ale Carr. (photo provided)

Dreamers’ Circus is piano and accordion player Nikolaj Busk; violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen; and cittern player Ale Carr. (photo provided)

SARATOGA SPRINGS After several months of live music under the towering pine trees at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the SPAC season is now largely over for the year.

Highlights of the SPAC summer for me kicked off with British music legend Robert Plant and bluegrass figure Alison Kraus conjuring magic on tunes like the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love” and Led Zeppelin classics like “When the Levee Breaks.” And it concluded with Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival, as Nelson plucked his trusty guitar Trigger and brought his well-worn voice to classic Americana tunes like “On the Road Again.”

Fortunately, the SPAC season isn’t quite over yet, as the venue and legendary Saratoga Springs folk coffeehouse Caffè Lena are jointly curating two days of music this weekend, Oct. 1 and 2, on the smaller Charles R. Wood Gazebo Stage. The event and parking are free, and no reservations or tickets are needed. Just bring a chair or a blanket to the SPAC grounds and settle in for sets from global and American folk artists.

Saturday’s lineup includes Asheville, North Carolina, bluegrass and dark-folk band the Resonant Rogues, who draw inspiration from the Appalachian Mountains to the Balkans by way of New Orleans. Cocek! Brass Band promises dance music influenced by Eastern-European and New Orleans music as well as Afrobeat, Klezmer, reggae and Western classical. And Dreamers’ Circus is a string trio from Copenhagen, Denmark, that tours the world with inventive interpretations of Nordic folk and traditional tunes.

Sunday’s schedule includes indie folk minimalist vocal trio Hold on Honeys, social-justice lyricist Crys Matthews, and the Oshima Brothers, composed of siblings Sean and Jamie Oshima, raised in a musical family in rural Maine where they honed a harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop. For more information and a full schedule, visit

Bacchanalia Fest Takes Over Troy

James and Erin Kehoe, who own the Whiskey Pickle, one of Troy’s hippest bars, dreamt up the idea for a multi-venue music festival in downtown Troy in the spirit of South by Southwest (SXSW), the well-known music showcase in Austin, Texas. The Kehoes got a handful of downtown Troy bars and restaurants involved, and this weekend from Friday, Sept. 30 to Sunday, Oct. 2, the inaugural Bacchanalia Arts & Music Festival showcases talent from around the state and globe, with a main outdoor stage on Fulton Street and live performances in venues across the city.

For $75, a wristband gets you access to all the events, but single-event tickets will be available at the door of various venues for cheaper. Visit for the entire schedule, which includes Chali 2na and Cut Chemist from hip-hop group Jurassic 5 on Saturday on the main stage, New York City soul DJ Jonathan Toubin on Saturday at No Fun, and the Nude Party and King Buffalo on Sunday on the main stage.

More: Life & ArtsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa

Yo La Tengo Thrill Fans at Lark Hall

After the lengthy hiatus during which COVID-19 put a halt to most live music, it seems that live music is back in the area—and better than ever. We now have the new venues of Empire Live and Lark Hall booking tons of shows in Albany, while Troy continues to add music venues (or bars with live music) like No Fun, the Whiskey Pickle, Rare Form Brewery and the El Dorado Bar at a fast clip. Meanwhile, area mainstays like Proctors in Schenectady, The Egg in Albany, and SPAC and Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs have largely returned to full programming.

Of all the new spots, Lark Hall — located in a painstakingly refurbished former theater in Albany’s Center Square neighborhood on Lark Street — is one of the highlights for audiophiles and music fans all around. The sound and vibe there is great, as Yo La Tengo discovered on Monday night when the long-running indie rock group made a detour from their tour to play in Albany on the venue’s upstairs stage. The first set showcased their hushed, hypnotic side on tracks like “You Are Here” and “Deeper into Movies,” while the second set got much more raucous, with guitar freakouts from Ira Kaplan on tunes like “Shaker” and “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind.”

The Week Ahead

— Massachusetts folk-pop group Darlingside bring their lush sound — characterized by classical strings, tightly-woven vocals and clever lyricism — to Universal Preservation Hall (25 Washington Street, Saratoga Springs) on Friday, Sept. 30. With Caitlin Canty. 7:30 p.m.
— Long-time audience favorite Cheryl Wheeler returns to the 8th Step stage at Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady) on Friday, Sept. 30, bringing her droll New England wit, alluring folk ballads and trenchant social commentary to the GE Theatre. With Kenny White. 7:30 p.m.
— The first-ever Wild in The Trees Music & Skate Festival takes place this weekend, Oct. 1-2, at the Lake George Skate Plaza (17 W. Brook Rd, Lake George). The two-day music festival and skateboarding competition, a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of the Capital Region, features indie, punk and jam bands, including Annie in the Water, Glass Pony, Neon Avenue, El Modernist, The Sugar Hold, The Hauntings and The Skunches. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
— Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright graces the stage of Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday, Oct. 1. One of the great vocalists and composers of his generation, the New York-born, Montreal-raised Wainwright tours on the back of “Unfollow the Rules,” his latest album, which finds him at his peak. With Carsie Blanton. 8 p.m.
— Catch a rare duo appearance on Sunday, Oct. 2, by instrumental greats Sonny Landreth  and  Cindy Cashdollar at the Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). Louisiana slide guitar master Landreth and Cashdollar, a dobro and steel guitar icon, will perform a mix of original songs along with contemporary and traditional blues and roots music. 7:30 p.m.
Reach Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected].

More: Life & ArtsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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