LIVE: Rosanne Cash Wows A Thrilled Crowd at UPH Grand Opening, 2/29/20

Proctor’s Collaborative CEO Philip Morris wore a tie with his jeans and loafers, and I don’t think I’d ever seen that many people with perfect hair as giddy as the full house opening night, Saturday, February 29th, of the Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs.

Philip Morris
Photo by Jim Gilbert

UPH CEO Teddy Foster who’d spent years as an unpaid organizer of this resurrection threw her hands in the air at a pre-concert ribbon cutting and press conference, siting a history of the former Methodist church with the highest steeple in Saratoga, and shouted, “How do you like us now?”

Kathleen Fyfe, president of the UPH Board of Directors, was nearly overwhelmed, saying that it was surreal that we were HERE. Daniel Mackay, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation from the OPRHP, lauded the joint local and governmental cooperative effort, and Saratoga Mayor Meg Kelly beamed.

Teddy Foster, Kathleen Fyfe, Meg Kelly, and Philip Morris
Photo by Jim Gilbert

Here was a spectacularly renovated century and a half old church that had fallen into such disrepair that the floor dropped a foot during a Sunday Service in 1948. It was eventually condemned in 2000.  Thirteen and a half million dollars later, the building has the resplendent grandeur of London’s Royal Albert Hall. And the mood wasn’t just celebratory, it was downright over the top.

It was no accident, if you’ll excuse that word, that opening night took place on leap day of a leap year. “How many years did it take to pull this off,” asked four-time Grammy winner Rosanne Cash to a sold-out crowd that literally and figuratively surrounded her with love and appreciation. “Eighteen years,” someone shouted.

Photo by Rudy Lu

The eldest daughter of American musical icon Johnny Cash could have sung nursery rhymes a cappella and played the kazoo and this crowd would have cheered. But she didn’t. She and her husband of 25 years John Rosenthal fronted a crack five-piece band for a two hour tour de force of Rosanne’s lengthy repertoire culled from her last three albums including four of daddy’s favorite songs; “Long Black Veil,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “Bury Me Beneath The Weeping Willow”  and Hank Snows’ “I’m Movin’ On” from her 2014 album The List. She was the perfect headliner to host this joyous occasion.

The lyric from Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” suddenly took on stark new meaning: “There was a virus going ’round: papa caught it, and he died last spring. And now Mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything.” It was a week when the stock market lost more points in a shorter period than at any time in history, and the coronavirus legitimately earned the distinction of becoming a worldwide pandemic closing every school in Japan for at least a month and cutting off China and northern Italy from the rest of the world. That said, a tireless group of civic-minded people from private citizens to public figures had pulled their resources together to create a theater that promises to be Saratoga’s answer to Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry, and they were going to party.

Photo by Rudy Lu

“Why don’t you sing a happy song,” someone shouted from the audience halfway through. “I don’t have one,” Rosanne answered. “Let me check. Nope! No. No. No.” Then she launched into “Bury Me Beneath The Weeping Willow” taught to her by Carl Perkins and The Carter Family from her 2014 album The List.

Mortality was a constant them running through her two-hour set. While her husband John played the hottest guitar lick of the night during her encore, she commented on her upcoming 25th wedding anniversary with him, danced a sexy dance, and made eye contact on “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” a number she had recorded with her dad decades ago.

The two-hour show included several cuts from She Remembered Everything including the title cut, “The Undiscovered Country,” “Crossing to Jerusalem,” “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” and “Not Many Miles to Go” after which she said, “See, you can have fun with mortality.”

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

Photo Gallery by Ed Conway

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2 Comments
  1. P Sims says

    I don’t know; maybe we were at two different shows?
    I’ve seen Ms Cash a few times in a few different settings. She is a pro and was able to adjust to the strange layout of this room. She delivered a good — if not great — performance.
    Yes, kinks always need to be worked out of a new performance hall. The acoustics here are sub par. Let’s hope they can be improved with effective strategies.
    But back to the room layout: this putting the stage mid-room, surrounded on all sides by seats is just plain mind boggling. That problem cant be fixed unless they re-do the whole place.
    My honest to goodness take as a local resident is mixed. Yes, it is nice to have a Roseanne Cash playing in town. But the negatives of the building put damper on that enthusiasm. All of which has me scratching my head when the writer makes the Carnegie comparison.
    Universal Preservation Hall : you let me down.

  2. don wilcock says

    I really didn’t want to rain on the Hall’s parade about the in-the-round issue, and my comment about Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall was addressed more from the perspective of being classically appointed than it did the issue of sound in the room. And I agree Rosanne Cash is a pro, but she played to front of the hall for about 85% of the show.

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