Outlook 2023: Niskayuna couple’s Nippertown.com aims to promote, celebrate Capital Region arts scene

Nippertown publisher Jim Gilbert works at his Niskayuna home recently
Nippertown publisher Jim Gilbert works at his Niskayuna home recently
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NISKAYUNA – Don’t tell Jim Gilbert there’s nothing to do around here.

As co-owner of the local arts and entertainment website Nippertown.com, Gilbert’s raison d’etre is spotlighting the cool and interesting things to do in the greater Capital Region.

The site’s primary focus and strength has always been music, but Gilbert is keen to expand Nippertown’s scope.

In addition to concert reviews, announcements and interviews with musicians, visitors to the site will find a wealth of information about theater, dance, gallery shows and more. In one recent Nippertown post, Jim’s wife and Nippertown co-owner, Laura DaPolito, wrote about the three-day Albany Chefs’ Food and Wine Festival.

“The whole mindset that there’s nothing to do [in the Capital Region] — I want people to know that there is,” Gilbert said. “Not only is there great music, there’s great art, there’s great theater, there’s great food.”

Gilbert and DaPolito took over Nippertown in 2019 after the death of Greg Haymes, the beloved Capital Region music writer and musician who co-founded the site with his wife, Sara Ayres.

The Niskayuna couple has carried Haymes’ vision of a site that promotes and celebrates the Capital Region arts scene while pushing it in new directions. Unlike Haymes, who posted regularly on Nippertown, Gilbert rarely writes, preferring to run the site behind the scenes and serve as a publisher, showcasing a full slate of contributors.

“I do not want the site to be my voice,” Gilbert, 49, said. “You might see my photos, but you don’t see my byline very much at all. I want it to be more of a community thing. I want a lot more voices.”

He added, “We don’t make people cover anything. We want people to cover what they like because it comes from a more authentic place. We don’t really assign anything. It’s very free form. Very grass-roots.”

It’s been an effective formula: Hundreds have written for Gilbert and DaPolito. Some have contributed just one or two pieces, while others are featured regularly.

“I don’t think I say no to anybody about writing,” Gilbert said. “If somebody says, ‘Hey, I want to write,’ I’m usually like, ‘Yeah.’ And if they’re terrible, we try to build them up. … We’re not going to turn people away, because this is about community.”

“Jim lets us run wild,” said Rudy Lu, who covered jazz for Nippertown under Haymes and has continued to do so for Gilbert. “He always says, ‘Nippertown is you.’ ”

Michael Eck, an Albany writer, musician and close friend of Haymes, said Gilbert has built upon Haymes’ foundation by introducing new multimedia features such as podcasts; posting content from other publications, such as Spotlight News; and broadening the depth of reporting with enhanced arts and culture coverage.

“When Jim first changed the [Nippertown] layout I was a little taken aback, just because I’m an old geezer and I was used to the way Greg Haymes did it, in that WordPress style,” Eck said. Over time, he said, the site has become “more of a one-stop shop for arts and culture than it even used to be.”

Since its inception in 2009, Nippertown has been an invaluable source for Capital Region music lovers and concertgoers, promoting and documenting events that might otherwise go unnoticed, like a recent performance at Troy’s No Fun by Albany dream-pop duo Laveda, while also covering better-known and bigger acts such as Darlingside and Trombone Shorty.

The site’s rise coincided with diminished arts coverage in local media outlets; the region’s long-running alternative weekly newspaper, Metroland, ceased publication in 2015.

Lu credits Nippertown with expanding his horizons by alerting him to theater productions he might not have known about.

“I never used to go to plays,” he laughed. “Now I go to plays.”

Nippertown has always been a labor of love.

DaPolito, 51, is a social worker for the Schenectady City School District; Gilbert also has a full-time day job as director of operations at the Albany-based marketing agency Overit. He spends his nights and weekends working on Nippertown, and estimates he puts 40 hours per week into the site.

“Everybody there basically works for free,” Lu said. “Some of this is because it’s necessary, and some of it is because we’re doing what we love.”

Nippertown’s headquarters are on the second floor of Gilbert and DaPolito’s Dutch Colonial home.

A novelty street sign proclaiming “Mayor of Nippertown” hangs from the door to Nippertown’s base of operations, a tidy office with two computers and Nipper-inspired memorabilia and art, much of it commissioned from local artists.

The website is named for Nipper, the thoughtful-looking terrier who became part of the famed trademark of the Radio Corporation of America. A 28-foot-tall steel and fiberglass sculpture of Nipper sits atop an old concrete building in Albany’s warehouse district, making the canine an iconic figure locally.

The greater Nippertown area, as Gilbert defines it, is “one hour from the dog.”

During his interview with The Gazette, Gilbert pulled out a map to show the diverse geographic territory his website covers.

“It’s pretty darn special,” he said. “[Nippertown] is Queensbury, it’s North Adams, Pittsfield, Kingston, Woodstock. … It’s Bennington, almost to Manchester. It brings us past Gloversville. But the majority of Nippertown is Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga. That’s our home base.”

An extrovert with more ideas for Nippertown than he could ever possibly implement, Gilbert credits the more introverted and cautious DaPolito with keeping his wilder impulses in check.

“Laura is my voice of reason,” Gilbert said. “Without her I’d probably go off the rails. Nippertown would be a little on the crazy side. When I have an idea, I usually bounce it off of her.”

“He wakes up sometimes in the morning, and he’s like, “I have all these ideas,’ and I’m like, ‘Slow down, cowboy,’ ” DaPolito said.

One of Gilbert’s big ideas has come to fruition: Nipperfest, a daylong festival at Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park in July 2022 that featured some of the Capital Region’s top homegrown musical talent such as Sawyer Fredericks, Girl Blue and The Figgs. The event was a success and will be held again this year.

When Gilbert took over Nippertown.com, he’d already established himself in online music journalism by founding NYSMusic.com, a repository of information on all things musical in the Empire State. A prolific concertgoer, he’d been photographing musical performances for years. Some of his pictures were featured on Nippertown when Haymes ran it.

“Everyone from Metallica to B.B. King — you name it, I’ve photographed them,” Gilbert said.

An enthusiastic music fan and booster of the Capital Region’s creative community, Gilbert also views the local arts and entertainment scene as critical to the area’s economic development.
“We need more of our talent out in the world,” he said. “The vibrant scene we have will attract talented people, and that’s what’s going to help our economy grow and thrive.”

“I love supporting young musicians,” DaPolito said, citing Reese Fulmer, a talented Saratoga Springs-based singer-songwriter in the indie-folk vein, as a favorite. “These are the people we should be celebrating in our community.”

Reflecting on his stewardship of Nippertown, Gilbert said, “In the beginning I was trying to keep Greg’s vision alive, and then the more I did it, it became what my vision would be, which is very much in line with Greg’s vision.”

At times Gilbert has wondered what it might have been like to join forces with Haymes, combining his technical know-how with the Nippertown founder’s musical knowledge and writing prowess.

“What would it have been like if we did this together?” he said. “Sometimes I daydream about it.”

Jim Gilbert
COMPANY: Nippertown
TITLE: Publisher/co-owner
EDUCATION: MBA from University at Albany; bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Plattsburgh; associate degree in engineering
science from SUNY Canton
BEST LESSON IN BUSINESS: “Be honest, be humble and be consistent.”
WORDS TO BE LIVE BY: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon

More Outlook 2023: Looking Ahead – Our annual report on Capital Region business

Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Outlook 2023, Your Niskayuna

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