Six miles from downtown Saratoga Springs, a new arts venue called The Studio is emerging in a forest of pine and hemlock.
Sean Rowe, the deep-voiced alternative folk singer/songwriter from Troy who tours nationally, performed at the 90-seat Greenfield Center concert hall in November. MotherJudge and Mitch Elrod, powerhouse singer/songwriters of the Capital Region, played an October date with local band Bleak Little World and Vermont’s Luminous Crush.
In December, The Studio: Greenfield’s Performing & Visual Arts Center was the site for a Holiday Brass concert of seasonal music on trombone, tuba and other low-brass instruments.
Express Yourself, a monthly open mic for high school students, and twice-weekly yoga classes are also on the schedule.
“We’re in our infancy. This is the first full calendar year,” says Elizabeth Conant, president and artistic director.
While what’s happening under The Studio’s roof is new, fans of early music know the red wooden structure as the former home of the Festival of Baroque Music, an annual summer concert series.
Elizabeth’s father, Robert Conant, a harpsichordist and a pioneer of a post-World War II revival of early music, created the Foundation for Baroque Music in 1959, and in 1974, the 800-square-foot, open-plan concert hall with superb acoustics was built.
After the final Baroque concert was held in 2011, and her father died two years later, Elizabeth, a jazz vocalist and pianist, wasn’t sure what to do with the place.
“I knew I couldn’t possibly do what my father did,” she says.
Conant, who toured the U.S. and Europe as a professional singer and once managed a café/nightclub in Chicago, consulted with directors of other arts and education centers in the Saratoga area, and then got to work.
First there was a renovation. A kitchen was added and some trees on the five-acre site were logged out to enlarge the parking lot.
For a while, Ceres Zabel, director of the Odyssey School of Fine Arts in nearby Middle Grove, ran an art program for children at the site.
Then, in 2016, in the same space where the sound of music from the 17th century once filled the air, Synclaire Rowen, an 18-year-old hip-hop artist and rapper from Saratoga Springs, started hosting and producing an open mic event on the third Thursday of every month. (The next event is Thursday, Feb. 15; admission is $3. Doors open at 6 p.m. It is sponsored by Saratoga Guitar)
The building, which Conant also rents out for weddings, parties and retreats, has a classroom, two handicapped accessible bathrooms and a ticket office. In the concert hall, colorful folding metal chairs lean against a wall and a Steinway piano once played by George Gershwin stands majestically in one corner. Every window has a forest view.
Conant runs The Studio as a non-profit with a seven-member board.
“It’s a gorgeous venue in a beautiful location and with its own impressive history,” says Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, who lives in Porter Corners, a Greenfield hamlet.
“There are plenty of artists and arts lovers in Greenfield, and of course in Saratoga Springs too. The challenge for The Studio, as for all arts spaces, is finding its audiences, helping its audiences find The Studio, and offering programming that’s unique or compelling enough to persuade those audiences to head off in a new direction.”
The Studio’s mission is to offer musicians and artists a place where they can grow their talents.
“I like to provide professional support for non-professional or aspiring musicians and artists. I provide the space. There are a whole bunch of gifted musicians that don’t have a venue, a platform,” Conant says.
Express Yourself, the open mic event for high school students, usually draws 12 performers and 50 to 70 audience members, says Rowen.
“After performing at a few open mics in town, I found that there were no people my age performing and I wanted to change that. I created Express Yourself because I wanted my peers to have a warm, welcoming space that allowed them to showcase their talents,” she says.
“We have had everything from singing, guitar/ukulele playing, rapping, spoken word, poetry, piano playing to full bands performing.”
At first, it attracted mostly teens from Saratoga Springs High School.
“As word-of-mouth spread, we’ve had performers from Ballston Spa High School, Spa Catholic, Waldorf and even as far away as Guilderland and Schenectady,” says Rowen.
At the Rowe concert, a privately hosted event that was open to public but not widely publicized, the atmosphere was casual and communal, with candlelight and a potluck dinner.
“We’re under the radar,” says Conant. “And we want to keep that off-the-grid feeling.”
Bleak Little World, the Capital Region band that hosted the October concert with MotherJudge, has played a few times at The Studio.
“Elizabeth completely respects artists and musicians and offers a very welcoming atmosphere. The space can be transformed to meet the needs of the performers. And it’s a space surrounded by nature, a very enjoyable environment,” says Bob Donald, the leader of the four-member band, which plays original rock ‘n’ roll with a prog-Americana bend.
During the October gig, light and color projections by visual artist Drew Suto were part of the show.
Michael Meidenbauer, a trombonist and Skidmore College adjunct professor who lives in Greenfield, directed the December brass concert.
“It was a beautiful event in the hall,” says Conant. “He’s (Meidenbauer) a low brass maestro of note. He’s played on Broadway.”
In 2018, the Odyssey School will return, with summer classes in printing, painting and drawing for ages 8 to 80.
Besides the continuing open mic, the next event will be a singer/songwriter night featuring four artists, in March or April, at a date to be announced.
“Each artist gets a half hour,” says Conant, who will host the event.
When she lived in Chicago, she had her own music show on the radio.
“I love hosting,” she says.
The effervescent Conant, who lives down the road from The Studio and raises chickens with Elihu, her 14-year-old son, has big dreams for The Studio.
At the top of her list is a “Mentored Jam,” where adults and young adults could get together once a month, play popular music, and learn from each other. Conant would lead the group, along with Elihu, who plays drums and bass.
An intergenerational storytelling project, in which children would quiz senior citizens in the community about their early lives, is another event she hopes to develop.
“And we want to do some dance…a group dance class that is more pop, more contemporary,” she says.
When asked what Robert Conant the harpsichordist would think of The Studio, Conant says her father always supported her musical career and would support her latest venture, too.
“He would be thrilled that the place is loved and lived in,” she says.