The area music scene might just be standing at an important crossroads. Where it goes from here may well be in the hands of a few motivated individuals, with a vision for a rejuvenated Downtown.
Over the course of the last two to three decades, Plattsburgh has lost both venues for live music, and the number of bands playing live music has declined. For the bands that are playing now, the fees that local venues seem willing to pay has risen very little over this time. Inflation, however, has risen consistently.
“There’s an expectation that musicians will come into a place and just play to get their music out. That’s the assumption of a lot of restaurateurs and bar owners,” says local musician and entrepreneur James Ward. “You wouldn’t ask a plumber to come do work for free, and if it works out maybe you’ll ask him back and pay him a little bit more the next time.”
Ward has been playing in the local music scene since he was 18. He thinks, however, that this is a local, and not national issue. Some cities such as Rochester, he points out, have a very vibrant music scene that seems to be expanding. While Rochester is obviously much larger than Plattsburgh, the difference, he says, is strong community support for the arts in Rochester, and a willingness by patrons to pay for that art. It will also take the type of investment in the arts from local government that hasn’t been seen in recent years with increasingly trimmed down municipal budgets.
But there are important signs of life on the horizon. The first, according to Ward, is the rebirth of the Strand Theatre. The long anticipated opening of the venerable performance hall will add an exceptional venue, which might be able to lure regional, if not national performers to Plattsburgh. But the Strand, which caters primarily to a slightly older demographic arts-wise, may not be the right venue for younger bands, struggling to make a living at their music.
Enter First Weekends in Plattsburgh, who just completed a successful first year of working to bring local musicians, performers, and artists into the fore in Downtown.
“I think (if) we can concentrate with new energy towards things like first weekends or community concerts, that we can start to push up that kind of culture from the community,” says Ward. “To share the cost of putting that on, rather than somebody purely entrepreneurial, that is going to make the difference.”
Finally, Ward is currently in the process of renovating a space in Plattsburgh which he plans to make into a professional-level rehearsal and recording studio for local bands. Ward, who is pursuing the renovations with his own money and labor, plans to have the rehearsal hall open in about a year. The hostel-like recording studio, with space for musicians to relax and decompress, will take slightly longer to complete. He estimates it will take one and a half to two years.
“Things like that take time…and I’m not going anywhere.”
Where the Plattsburgh music scene goes from here is far from certain. What is certain, however, is that there is an increased energy and a confluence of events that are setting the stage for a possible rebirth in local music.