Not too long ago, Woodstock had one of the most vibrant live music scenes in the world. There were (and are still) a number of renowned studios operating in the area, like Levon’s studio, Dreamland, Bearsville, Utopia Soundstage, Applehead, and many more.
Artists like the Butterfield Blues Band, Muddy Waters, Richie Havens, Van Morrison, and Leslie West would be in town recording albums, and in their off-hours, they’d head into the village, to places like Joyous Lake, Tinker Street Cafe, Cafe Espresso, Gypsy Wolf, Watering Trough, Colony, Pinecrest Lodge, Sled Hill Cafe and Deanie’s Restaurant.
They would drink and carouse with the locals, but another thing would happen: they’d end up performing in impromptu, late-night gigs that mixed local musicians with superstars. Going out in Woodstock meant that you might see the B52s on stage at the Tinker Cafe, playing the theme to the Patty Duke Show. The Band was known for downing a dozen “Go Fasters” at the Sled Hill Cafe and picking up instruments at 3 a.m. The Cafe Espresso might have had Van Morrison sitting in on a random Sunday afternoon.
Sadly, many of the former venues for music closed down without being replaced, and with that, the character of Woodstock changed, leaving just the Bearsville Theater and Levon's Barn to prop up the music scene. In 2004, the NY Times wrote, “For a place synonymous with music, Woodstock is eerily silent at night.” In 2015, they said more of the same, with “...sounds have been muted at so many of the [Woodstock] music spots that once hummed with activity.”
A couple of new developments: a revamped Colony Cafe is set to re-open at some point, and then there's The Lodge, where our new manager, Brian Parillo, is on a decade-long mission to re-establish Woodstock as a musical destination, both for local artists and the visiting celebrity set.
“We want Woodstock to be a hot spot for music again,” he says. “There are still musicians here, but we need more places where they can hang out, play a low-key gig, and feel comfortable.”
Parillo’s playing a familiar role: around 2002 or 2003, he was part of a group that helped Levon Helm start up and sustain their legendary Midnight Rambles for almost a decade; he even was a producer on two of the Ramble Sessions albums.
“Levon really loved Woodstock, and he really loved the art and music scene here,” he says. “We want to continue that tradition, so we need to support the art and music community in the present.”
The Lodge has its own history in Woodstock; formerly the Pinecrest, it’s been tucked away since 1945 in various forms as a rustic hotel, restaurant, bar, and music venue. This year, new owners came in, and are set on placemaking to return it to its glorious Woodstockian roots.
“Amy Helm played here, John Medeski… in the 70s, the Rolling Stones and Peter Tosh stayed here while they were recording at Bearsville,” says Parillo. “There has always been music and musicians here .”
What’s Parillo’s plan for attracting more musicians to Woodstock? First, they need a place to stay: The Lodge currently has 10 on-site rustic cabins with 30 rooms, tucked away in the woods outside of Woodstock. Sometime next year, they'll replace the existing cabins with new ones designed by Walker Architecture (pending town approvals).
Next, a healthy music scene needs food, especially late at night.
“Woodstock needed a place for late-night food,” says Parillo. “Waiters, waitresses, musicians, anyone visiting town. We created a high-end, comfort food menu that goes until at least 12 every night, and 2 a.m. on the weekends.”
The menu is heavy on burgers, gourmet grilled cheese, lots of vegan options and nightly specials. Diners have the choice of eating in a famously revamped dining room, at the bar, or on The Lodge’s large outdoor deck, where there are beautiful sunsets, the sound of crickets, and the occasional deer.
And finally, they need places to perform. The Lodge is becoming host to some eclectic music choices, with a new Thursday Open Mic night for local performers, Saturday nights rotating between local and faraway DJs and music acts, and Sundays always ending with a Latin Jazz party.
The ultimate goal? Making The Lodge into a destination again.
“We want to eventually be a place for people who want to come eat, drink, relax, listen to music of all different styles and arrangements, and stay here too,” says Parillo.