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Jukebox: How a round of golf, secret rehearsals and Frank Sinatra led to a James Taylor performance

Jukebox: How a round of golf, secret rehearsals and Frank Sinatra led to a James Taylor performance

TU Center's Bob Belber explains how grand reopening show came together
Jukebox: How a round of golf, secret rehearsals and Frank Sinatra led to a James Taylor performance
James Taylor performs last summer at Tanglewood.
Photographer: Hilary Scott/Tanglewood

Golf, secret rehearsals — oh yeah, and Frank Sinatra. That’s how plans began for the Times Union Center’s Grand Re-Opening celebration set for Jan. 26.

“Believe it or not, it started with a phone call from Sam [Feldman] asking if there were a golf course I could get him out on,” said Bob Belber, SMG regional general manager and SMG Northeast Region director of live entertainment at the Times Union Center. Owner of the Feldman Agency, Sam is James Taylor’s manager. “He was in town because James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt rehearsed for their tour in June in our building for 12 days,” Belber recalled.

He took Feldman to the Mohawk Club, where he’s a member. “We played 18 holes, just the two of us.” Taylor and Raitt didn’t actually play a show in Albany at the Times Union Center, so Belber and Feldman “talked about trying to get James back and perform, knowing we had this multimillion-dollar renovation with completion in the fall.”

John Scher of Metropolitan Entertainment is the promoter of the Grand Re-Opening celebration. “John was the promoter of the Frank Sinatra concert in January 1990 when the building opened,” said Belber.

Taylor is nearly as big a star as Sinatra in his prime and has played mainly at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He once started a show there by being wheeled onstage in an amp case whose padding was cut out so he and his guitar fit snugly inside; he pushed it open and popped out, giggling. Taylor has also played Proctors, as did John Legend, who’s also set to play the TU Center’s reopening.

Belber said Feldman recommended Legend for the show and the William Morris Agency said he was available. So Scher made an offer. “John Legend is absolutely phenomenal,” said Belber. “There are not many artists with his vocal talent,” he added, citing Legend’s multiple Grammys (10 to Taylor’s five). “He has so many songs that are just monster songs.”

Feldman and Scher also chose local hero Moriah Formica to open the show. “She did so well on ‘The Voice,’ ” said Belber, “and she is absolutely capable of being a superstar.”

Belber said actor Jim Belushi “will be our MC and will do stand-up comedy as well.” Albany County Executive Dan McCoy will present a check (partial proceeds from the concert) to James Barba, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center, to support the hospital’s pediatric emergency department. Formica will follow Belushi, playing with her band, then Legend will play solo, at the piano, and Taylor wil lead his regular touring crew.

Meanwhile, Belber said, “We’re booking now into 2019 already.” He’ll attend Pollstar’s convention next month in Los Angeles, an industry meet-up of agencies and promoters. “We have some great concerts that will be announced in the next 30 days and more major concerts to come,” Belber promised. “One artist will play two shows in October; we have a big show in May and a huge artist booked for March 2019.”

He added, “We’re very happy with who we hear is on the road and available.”


Bill Buell’s story “Palace, Proctors don’t expect a turf battle” on Sunday suggests venues can cooperate to fill their seats. This promising idea has a long history here. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose cooperate in co-presenting the Bridge Jazz Festival, for example. However, scheduling conflicts still hurt ticket sales and frustrate fans.

In the 1980s, the Albany League of Arts’ Community Box Office (located in the Palace offices) tried to prevent bookings that would divide audiences: two jazz shows on the same night, or two country shows, for example. This didn’t always work, but the attempt is still sorely missed. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (where Executive Director Jon Elbaum has upped the Hall’s game) presents jazz singer Gregory Porter the same night (Feb. 16) that Proctors presents the Birdland All-Stars. That’s bad for jazz fans; so is the way both Caffe Lena and the Van Dyck present first-Tuesday-of-the-month jazz shows.

After CBO closed, Fred Daniels, then running Proctors, launched a count of concertgoers to assess the size of audience spending as a first step toward cooperation. Peter Lesser, executive director at The Egg, led a similar, later, effort. Sadly, neither proved conclusive, so audience-splitting continues.

What’s the answer? Reviving the Community Box Office seems unlikely, but some similar consulting or coordinating function would help would-be ticket-buyers who now must flip a coin to decide between two similar shows.


Nora Jane Struthers and her band the Party Line play WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany) on Friday. 8 p.m. $18. 518-465-5233

Rachael & Vilray may be a new band name, but singer Rachael Price (of Lake Street Dive) and guitarist/whistler/singer Vilray are old friends from the New England Conservatory. They team up at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) on Saturday. They’re tasty, torch-y and Dan Hicks-y, in an easy-swinging way. Another duo opens: the Brother Brothers are twins Adam (fiddle) and David (cello and guitar) Moss. They make Appalachian roots music of lighter-than-air grace. 7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children. 518-583-0022

It’s another big Caffe weekend: Chris Smither sang all last weekend!

Tonight terrific troubadour Tracy Grammer introduces songs from her new album “Low Tide,” her 11th. Wielding a voice clear as snowmelt, she’s adept at guitar and violin, and totally at home onstage telling tales or singing songs. $18 advance, $20 door, $10 students and children

Wild Adriatic brings amped soulful rock to the Caffe Friday, including fresh tunes from last year’s “Feel.” They play funky, basic and bluesy: Travis Gray, guitar; Rich Derbyshire, bass; and Mateo Vosganian, drums. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children

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