Stephen Clair strikes another chord in Beacon
By Sommer Hixson
Sadly, the summer season of live outdoor music concerts is drawing to a close. If you attended one recently in the area, chances are Beacon’s Local 845 made it happen. If you haven’t, there are still opportunities throughout September.
On Saturday, Sept. 7, Local 845 will present the fall edition of In The Pines at the University Settlement Camp on Route 9D. The lineup features five bands: Luray, Raquel Vidal and the Monday Men, The Vontons, The Loom, and the Jack Grace Band, plus the latest graduates of rock band boot camp.
On Sunday, Sept. 8, Local 845’s Beacon Music Factory will host an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. at their brand new, expanded location at 12 Hanna Lane. It’s also a big month for Stephen Clair, the man behind the curtain of both organizations, who is celebrating the release of his fifth album, Love Makes Us Weird, with a set of local performances.
Clair launched Local 845 in 2007, shortly after moving to Beacon with his family. A veteran musician and songwriter, he wanted to draw other musicians to the area and create an active hub in the Hudson Highlands. His early efforts included one-off concerts and shows he produced wherever possible, from the Howland Art Center to the parking lot of the Piggy Bank, which is now Dim Sum GoGo. The success of these early grassroots efforts led to the launch of Beacon Riverfest in 2010 and Rhythm on the Riverfront (with Scenic Hudson) in 2011. In The Pines started around the same time and is presented bi-annually.
On a rainy night last week, an enthusiastic live rendition of Bob Marley’s Jammin’ could be heard drifting across the parking lot of Beacon’s former Tallix complex. Inside what used to be a school for disabled children (the property was recently sold), a five-man ensemble was rehearsing for their performance at the upcoming In The Pines. Once satisfied with their reggae licks, they moved on to The Ramone’s Sheena is a Punk Rocker, followed by Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. These guys were signed up for a boot camp on memorable hits from 1977.
Clair has been organizing rock band camps for kids since 2009, first out of the University Settlement Camp and then, after launching Beacon Music Factory in 2011, in the basement of The First Presbyterian Church in Beacon. The school, which moved to its new location this past August, offers a wide range of curriculum taught by professional musicians and composers. Instruction in almost every genre from jazz to classical to choral, from keyboards to drums to banjo, are offered year-round to kids and adults.
All boot camp sessions, which last anywhere from eight to 12 weeks, culminate with a public performance. The concept was inspired by a teaching gig Clair had at the Gowanus Music School in Brooklyn, with a nod to the School of Rock franchise. The program has evolved to include adult sessions in which campers study and perform one seminal rock album from beginning to end, track for track. Recent shows have featured David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, The Clash’s London Calling and Television’s Marquee Moon.
“The experience of these records is an emotional thing for people,” said Clair. “I hope for that connection when choosing an album, but I also look for ones that have good, teachable stuff and offer interesting places to go. The camps really strike a chord with this community, but I’m hoping to broaden the school’s brand and reach out to a larger pool of potential students.”
In a recent email newsletter from Clair, he includes a thoughtful note about amateurism in which he says: “Long before there was ever a recording industry, music-making was a way of socializing, or being on a team. In the back forty, on the front porch, in the parlor, on a street corner, in church, in a pub. A hundred years ago, if you wanted to hear some music you got together with your peeps and you made some music.”
Upcoming sessions include The Pretenders’ debut album and The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. A classic country boot camp for adults and a teen rock camp are also on the fall schedule.
With such explosive growth all around, it’s surprising that Clair, who is by no means an amateur, had time this year to record his own album. Produced by Al Hemberger at The Loft in Bronxville, N.Y., Love Makes Us Weird features 10 new songs written by Clair, who plays guitar, with Cold Spring residents Todd Giudice and Jay Nicholas on drums and bass. The premiere of Clair’s first-ever music video and a live performance will be held on opening night of the Beacon Independent Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 13. His official hometown CD release party and performance will be at the new Towne Crier Café in Beacon on Saturday, Sept. 28.
“Local 845 has come to a new phase where it’s all working in tandem. People come to discover one piece of what we’re doing and learn about everything else,” said Clair. “It’s a lot of administration, but everything seems to be taking root. Importantly, it’s not so all-consuming that I have to stop being a musician.”