SCHENECTADY -- The Spin Doctors -- headlining Schenectady SummerNight on Friday -- began in 1989; so did free music on State Street.
In 1989, blues journalist Don Wilcock (my first editor when he ran Kite in the 1970s) started “Takin’ It to the Streets.”
This street festival peaked in 1991 when Mona Golub, soon to found Second Wind Productions and now impresario of Music Haven, added world-music while Wilcock’s wife, Shelly, presented The Shangri-Las and local tribute acts.
On the State Street main stage, 1950s rock guitarist Lonnie Mack and soul-gospel combo the Holmes Brothers headlined, with the Unknown Blues Band, Mystery Ranch and Rockhouse also performing. The next year, Takin’ It to the Streets moved to Central Park, where performers included Joan Osborne (playing Caffe Lena July 29).
“We wanted to … present all kinds of music free in the middle of State Street and later Central Park,” said Wilcock, “from the blues of the Holmes Brothers to Shangri-Las’ oldies, from Americana act Joan Osborne to Memphis R&B veteran Lonnie Mack. It was novel then. Now, everybody does it.” (Albany’s Alive at Five free shows started on Pearl Street, moved to Broadway, then Jennings Landing in the Corning Preserve).
New York City veteran indie/jam-rockers the Spin Doctors have proven as persistent as the community and arts leaders who’ve re-energized State Street. The Docs have made six studio albums and played every stage here, at full strength and in side projects. Singer Chris Barron played solo at the Van Dyck, for example. Another local connection: our own Sal Cannavo played drums on the Spin Doctors’ single “Two Princes.”
When Barron (who wore mad-bomber hats long before Gregory Porter) lost his voice in 1999, keyboardist Ivan Neville (now with Dumpstaphunk) filled in. Then they broke up, but they re-formed to play farewell shows at New York’s now-closed jam-band club the Wetlands Preserve. They've rocked on, with the original members: Barron, vocals; Eric Schenkman, guitar; Mark White, bass; and Aaron Comess, drums and keyboards. Like moe., they’re punchy and direct on record, elastic and free-flowing onstage.
Schenectady SummerNight presents music for free on State Street on Friday between Broadway and Barrett Street and on the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, starting at 5 p.m. with openers Bendt and Lucy, winners of previous Schenectady Battles of the Bands contests.
Albany-based Bendt (Matt Plummer, vocals and guitar; Carl Blackwood, guitar; John Longo, bass; and Cole Mead, drums) recently released a self-named six-song EP.
Formed in Saratoga Springs as Better By Morning and now renamed and based in Brooklyn, Lucy is singer/songwriter Jake Brooks, guitarist Johnny Gravitt, singer Ali Genevich and drummer Kyle Squires. Lucy recently released their debut single “Hotel Room.”
The Spin Doctors play from 8:30 to 9:45 p.m., with fireworks sponsored by Price Chopper and Market 32 as a noisy, bright coda flashing over State Street. 5 p.m. Free. www.schenectadycounty.com/content/summernight