Singer/Songwriter creating scene in New Paltz |
by Philip H. Farber
Wandering through the countryside of Ulster County, you may hear the strains of acoustic music coming from any number of homes hidden up in the hills. We seem to have an abundance of singers and songwriters who have made their homes in the area, but it's not all that common for them to play out in local clubs.
Now, with some help from singer/songwriter Vickie Russell, the Le Soleil-Lune Cafe in New Paltz has become the center of a new songwriters scene in the Hudson Valley. For the past few months, area musicians including John Herald, Paul McMahon, Amy Fradon, Tim Moore, and Charles Lyonhart have been coming out of the hills to entertain audiences at Le Soleil-Lune. On Saturday evening [Jan 31, 1998], organizer Russel will herself perform.
"I've been living here for four-and-a-half years. I came from the city. I needed to get someplace beautiful quickly. I picked New Paltz," Russell explains. "When I got here, there was nothing happening that I was interested in, musically, so I decided to start that. Since then, I've met a lot of writers and have been booking this thing once a month and opening for up for it. Soleil-Lune Cafe is a really nice place, anyway. I'm doing my solo gig on the 31st [Jan 1998] (Saturday), but then we're having another songwriter's night on Feb 4."
Russell bgan by contacting another successful area organizer.
"I called Judy Whitfield, who used to book the 'Women in Music' night at Tinker Street," she explains. "She gave me a whole bunch of names. From there, different songwriters gave me names, so it'sbeen word of mouth, mostly. Sometimes people who come give me tapes. It's strange for me to be on the other side of this. I decided I much prefer performing."
Nonetheless, Russell's promotional efforts have not gone unnoticed.
"Everyone's been thanking me," she says, "because it's a relly great thing. I'm just thankful that there's something going on now. I'm happy about it. Mindy Jostyn's going to be playing, Artie Traum, some really good people-- and some locals that no one's heard of, too, which is really nice."
Audiences, as well as performers, have been finding the Le Soleil-Lune singer/songwriter's nights to be enjoyable events.
"All the seats are filled," Russell tells us. "I'd like to have standing room only. The word of mouth is slowly spreading, so I think more and more people will be coming... I don't play around here too much by myself, so it's really nice to be playing here. I play in the city a lot and I play in Europe a lot. I was in Europe for five months this past year touring and doing some TV, and I just did a CD, so it's actually nice to play where I live."
Russell usually opens the events with two of her own songs, then acts as host for the evening, interviewing the artists and encouraging discussion about song writing. Saturday evening's concert will be Russell's first full solo performance at Le Soleil-Lune, a chance to showcase her own talents as musician.
"I played classical piano as a child," she tells us. "My mom is a classical pianist. My great-grandparents on both sides were classical pianists. My mom is from Vienna. So I have a very strong European classical background, growing up, on piano. When I was 16, I picked up guitar and started singing, which surprised everybody, and decided I was going to be a professional singer. They all went, 'What?' I've been sinigng ever since, playing guitar and piano, accompanying myself. I didn't start writing until six or seven years later. I got tired of playing other people's music and started writing my own."
As for what she does now,she explains, "It's a very acoustic sound. I'm playing keyboard and guitar and singing. It's got elements of folk, pop, blues, R&B, a little country, a little jazz. I don't know what you would call that. I'm a songwriter, not a stylist. I've been influenced by all kinds of music, so it's whatever pours out of me. I say singer/songwriter or Americana... A lot of my stuff is kind of spiritually oriented."
When not hosting nights at Le Soleil-Lune Cafe, Vickie Russell often plays at clubs in New York City including the Bitter End, the Dark Star, the People's Voice Cafe, and Tramps. She also tours Europe, has recorded tracks for a couple of compilation CDs, and is about to release her own full length CD.
The CD is purely a solo effort, Russell without a band.
"I did the CD because I was touring Europe a lot and people wanted to have a recording of what I sounded like when I was soloing," she says. "So it's just me playing by myself, without a band. The name of the CD is As Written. It's just the way I wrote it with no accompaniment from anyone else. It's just bare, stripped down songs, which is what I really enjoy hearing."
While Russell maintains that she prefers performing to promoting, she has some ambitions for the local singer/songwriter scene.
"I would just like to get all the people out who are hibernating in the woods," she says. Get the people who have been established and aren't playing anymore to get out and play. And the people who are starting out. I'd like to get a community of all the songwriters out, and get them talking to people... I want to hang out with them. It's just really inspiring for me to see these people.... Everyone seems so enthusiastic about it. I don't want to become a promoter. I'm a performer. But I was thinking about doing some kind of festival this summer, a Best Of the Songwriters from Le Soleil-Lune Cafe. Some kind of outdoor festival. Maybe even do a live CD out of it. I want to get New Paltz on the music scene."
If you want to be part of that scene, get over to Le Soleil-Lune Cafe in New Paltz, Saturday night. And keep on checking Le Soleil-Lune's schedule-- there are plenty more great evenings of music on the agenda.
Philip H. Farber is a freelance writer who lives in the Hudson Valley. He writes for a variety of area publications, including the Kingston Daily Freeman and the Woodstock Times, as well as national magazines, books, web sites and anyplace else that will offer him money or gratification.
He can be reached at PStuart@aol.com
Posted on January 28, 1998
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