Hudson and Club Helsinki Hit High Notes
It isn’t any wonder that great musicians are drawn to Hudson, New York – a beautifully preserved yet still very real, gritty, and up-and-coming town of 7,000 – despite the absence of a music college or well established institution like Tanglewood. Hudson’s burgeoning music scene is the result of the efforts of individuals who have recently settled here —from aging hipsters to the most nubile Williamsburg expatriates — who have strapped on a guitar or saxophone to perform at a low-key venue such as The Spotty Dog, or create special events such as the Basilica Music Festival (August 10-11), the Hudson Music Fest (August 10-12), and the weekly al fresco shows of Hudson Water Music (Wednesdays through August 15).
Leading the way has been Club Helsinki, which for two years now has had one lustrous act after another appear in its gorgeously retrofitted performance space. Sometimes, however, on the way, let’s say, to a delicious meal in its restaurant, the posters promoting Helsinki’s upcoming events can stop you dead in your tracks. Loudon Wainwright III (right) on August 2? Sandra Bernhard (below) on August 4? The Cowboy Junkies (above) on August 14? These are people whose work I have admired, if not idolized, for a good part of my life: Bernhard, the scabrous but humane monologist and ironically self-expressive singer and star of screens large and small; Wainwright, wonderful songwriter and sire to a whole family of same (Rufus and Martha, in particular); and the Junkies, part of the soundtrack of much of my life in various clubs and bars during the late 1980s and ‘90s.
The sudden realization that they will all be performing a block away from my dingy doorstep within a couple of weeks of each other is almost too much of a jolt, like being awakened from a propofal-induced coma, not in the Recovery Room, but in a seat at the Museum of Modern Art, staring directly into the face of Marina Abramovic —oh right, she’ll be here, too, talking about her in-the-works Rem Koolhaas-designed Hudson performance arts space, in conjuction with the Hudson Music Festival on Sunday, August 12. (My last Abramovic sighting was in the sinus congestion aisle at CVS on Warren Street.)
Although I have seen Sandra Bernhard in clubs and on Broadway many times over the past 25 years or so, and one feels as if one knows Loudon personally, if only from his son Rufus’ songs about him, I’ve never had occasion to chat with either of them. I did, however, catch up with Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies in a phone call to her home in a farm house in the Beaver Valley, two hours north of Toronto.
The Junkies’ appearance at Helsinki marks no small jump for the club stylistically; as Pandora describes the group, “Their music is grounded in traditional country, blues, and folk, yet drifts along in a sleepy, narcotic haze that clearly bears the stamp of the Velvet Underground.” Finally, a narcotic haze at Helsinki! (So far, with many notable exceptions, the music at the club often veers a bit to moonshine, hallucinogen, and hard-cidered hazes for my own taste; we’re speaking metaphorically here, of course.)
“Hudson is my kind of thing,” says Timmins, right, even though she doesn’t exactly recall it. “It’s difficult living on a tour bus, and when you get into a small town it’s quiet and peaceful; you’re able to walk the streets, feel more a part of it. This tour is in fact all small towns; frankly, I don’t really remember one from another until I see them again when I get there.”
Of the band’s one-night stand at Helsinki, says Timmins, “There’s so much material that we have to do two different sets, one with all new material off the Nomad series, and the second with old stuff like Sweet Jane.”
I tell her that I’ve read that as a child she wanted to be a go-go dancer before realizing it was all about men ogling her. Does she still wear the go-go boots? (The songs sound as if she might.) “No, those years are gone. I always try to look nice on stage. It’s a very male-dominated band and the feminine side is what I want. And besides, my sister is a higher-up in a Neiman Marcus-type place; she would be upset if I wore them.” Alas, we’re all growing up. —Scott Baldinger
Club Helsinki Hudson
405 Columbia Street
Loudon Wainwright III - August 2
Sandra Bernhard - August 4
Cowboy Junkies - August 14
Hudson Music Festival
All over town
Basilica Music Festival
110 Front Street
Hudson Water Music
The Henry Hudson Waterfront Park
Wednesdays through August 15