Usually around this time of year, Valentine’s owner Howard Glassman begins booking local and national acts for the coming year.
This year, he’s had to hold off. As reported in the Gazette on July 24, Albany Medical Center is planning to tear down Valentine’s as part of a $110 million development project stretched out across two blocks of New Scotland Avenue. Construction on a five-story medical office building on Myrtle Avenue, new retail and apartment buildings and an 875-car parking garage is expected to begin in early 2014, displacing the current businesses and tenants in the Park South area.
“It’s a shame; I’m booked up literally right through December, and about this time of year in August bands start calling, agents start calling for February and March, putting tours together,” Glassman said.
Glassman, who has owned Valentine’s at 17 New Scotland Ave. for the past 15 years, has been renting the space on a month-to-month basis for the past five years.
Although he hasn’t heard from Albany Med or BBL Construction Services on an exact date, he’s expecting to be out of the building by early to mid-2014, bringing an end to Valentine’s 20-plus years as an integral part of the local music scene.
A new venue
While the end is approaching for Valentine’s, Glassman is far from done with the local music scene. He plans to relocate to a new building once Valentine’s finally does close, although he will most likely adopt a new name.
“We knew this was going to happen eventually,” he said. “We’ve been looking at buildings for the last seven to eight months. I don’t know so much about moving Valentine’s; I think Valentine’s is right here. It’s like picking up CBGB’s [in New York City] and moving it someplace else — not that I’m comparing Valentine’s to CBGB’s in any way.”
“We’ll try to do something else, but still do music — we have to do what we do,” Glassman continued. “It’s really just a building; it’s the people that work here, come here and play here that make it what it is. We’ll take the same people and find another spot. It’ll be OK.”
While Glassman is hesitant to compare Valentine’s with CBGB’s, a touchstone of the early punk scene in New York City known for giving The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads some of their first gigs, many of the venue’s regulars are making the comparison. Tim Branfalt, 29, singer for local groups Nixon’s Spirit and Organic Machines, has been filming a documentary titled “No Pepper: The Story of Valentine’s” for the past three months or so, and CBGB’s has come up more than once.
“Me and my friends, we’ve always referred to it as CBGB’s — the CBGB’s of Albany,” Branfalt said. “I don’t prompt people to say that when I’m doing recording; it just comes out naturally, and that’s how I’ve always felt about it.”
A video tribute
Branfalt’s first experience with Valentine’s came at age 17, when he was living in East Greenbush. “I used to come out to Valentine’s for shows, because it’s the only place you can get in underage, and the only punk rock club, forever.”
He eventually moved to Florida for a time, returning to the Albany area in 2007 to attend school, first at Herkimer County Community College, then at The College of Saint Rose, where he earned his master’s in communications. After graduating, he came up with the idea for “No Pepper” to document the venue before it closes down.
“I did some video production at Saint Rose, and I really liked it, and then I started hearing the whispers that Albany Med was buying out all these buildings in the name of urban renewal. And I just got to thinking, you know, where are we gonna go once Valentine’s is gone?” Branfalt said. “I just wanted to document this place, the history of it, the history of the building. I don’t want everything that Howard’s done and everything that this venue has done for the music community — I don’t want it to be forgotten.”
Before Valentine’s, the venue was known as Popa’s Place in the 1970s and ’80s. After the building burned down, it was rebuilt and rechristened Valentine’s, and began hosting live music through promoters such as Greg Bell, who continues to run Guthrie Bell Productions to this day.
“When we started out, there was a lot of up-and-coming local bands, and they weren’t getting to play any place good — they might play Bogie’s as an opening act once in a while,” said Bell, who was Valentine’s upstairs talent buyer for five years in the ’90s. “We saw the potential in the room upstairs and started having some of the local bands headline the shows.”
Glassman purchased the venue in October of 1998.
“[Glassman] and I played there before he owned it — when we were playing with The Dugans we used to play at Valentine’s as early as ’93,” said Niskayuna-based singer-songwriter Rob Skane, a veteran of the Albany music scene and current leader of The Rob Skane 3. “From being in hundreds of rock clubs in my life, Valentine’s is like — it’s the quintessential rock ’n’ roll club. The bar is cool; the stage is cool; the clientele, the people that go there — basically it’s just a great vibe. It’s a very indie, rock ’n’ roll — it’s just a great atmosphere, very comfortable.”
The B3nson Recording Co., a local indie rock collective, got its start at Valentine’s — at its first annual Funsgiving show in November of 2008, when the collective first announced its existence. Since then the group has utilized the venue for many of its events, with flagship band Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned becoming a regular at the venue.
“I think that all of us — and by us I mean members of Dunbar as well as others in B3nson — remember going to Valentine’s when we were younger,” said B3nson member Louis Apicello, also a member of Sgt. Dunbar. “I was from Kingston, and I remember my first show going to Valentine’s was a huge deal. . . . We had all played so many shows there, and we wanted to have a family feeling around this, with a place we were all so familiar with.”
A shifting dynamic
The loss of Valentine’s will be one more blow to the local music scene, which lost Pearl Street clubs Jillian’s and The Dublin Underground, formerly Savannah’s, last summer.
“It used to be that Pearl Street, which had a lot of the live music downtown, was a place where we could go to and pop around to two or three places, and that’s kind of changed to one place,” said Mike Philip, former manager of Jillian’s and current owner of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen at 79 N. Pearl.
In December of 2012, Philip took over The Hollow Bar, formerly The Bayou Cafe, from Ralph Spillenger, who also owned Jillian’s (Spillenger still owns The Bayou Cafe in Glenville). While The Bayou primarily focused on cover bands, Philip has been bringing in more original acts, both local and national. Pop singer Aaron Carter is scheduled to perform there on Sept. 12.
“The difference is, when you have the jam bands or the original bands, they bring their own crowd a little bit,” Philip said. “For the venue, the difference is people really coming to see that band, as opposed to coming to the venue. In the past, people would come to the bar because they just liked coming to the bar, and the band was secondary, a diversion. Now people are coming to see the band, and eating and drinking is secondary, almost.”
Filling the void?
Spillenger’s son, Shane Spillenger, runs Pearl Street Entertainment, which books the music at The Hollow Bar, as well as putting on Pearlpalooza in conjunction with WEQX for the past three years. He’s hoping that The Hollow Bar can help fill the void left by Valentine’s and the other venues that have closed recently.
“It will be sad to see Valentine’s go; that’s a legendary staple, but we’re hoping to kind of capitalize on that at The Hollow,” Shane Spillenger said. “Albany has a lot of good 200-, 300-person clubs, so losing one I don’t think is detrimental to the scene. Albany really needs a mid-level, almost Upstate Concert Hall-sized venue — Upstate Concert Hall exists, but it’s kind of out of the way. If Albany had a room like that, we could really get a lot more acts in the area.”