Best of 2022: Mike Stampalia’s Sweet Sixteen Music Stories
After two Covid-devastated years, 2022 proved to be a most welcome return-to-almost-normal as far as the local music scene was concerned. There was plenty of local music to be had, some notable local appearances by national artists, and the continued evolution of the superb music scene we are blessed to have here in Nippertown. Our scene continues to punch way, way above its weight class, and that is directly attributable to the immensely talented and passionate artists, venues, promoters, and fans.
On a personal note, this was the year I was fortunate enough to assume the role of Editor-in-Chief of Nippertown. I cannot express enough the admiration and respect I have for the entire Nippertown team. Nippertown is almost exclusively a labor of love for everybody concerned, from top to bottom. The writers, the photographers, the volunteers, the partners…they do this because they want to promote and give back to the scene. Period. We have some of the most talented folks in the area – many whose creds go back decades. And yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a whiff of ego. Publisher Jim Gilbert said it best at this year’s Eddies – Nippertown is all of them, and all of you reading this.
Here are some of what I consider to be the top local stories of the year. (Note – I intentionally did not include folks we lost this year out of respect – I’m not comfortable putting those on a list.)
16. Saratoga New Year’s Fest: First Night, Version 2.0. The organizers of this version wanted to be able to bring in bigger names for the entertainment and to include more venues. Leading up to the event, it feels like more of a music festival, and perhaps less of a family-friendly community event. Will it prove to be more or less successful? We’ll know soon enough – it’s happening as this article goes to press.
15. Empire Live: The two-room venue completed its first full year of business, and has impressively settled in as the backbone of the Albany music scene. It delivers on both quantity and quality…there’s almost always a good show happening any random night of the week, sometimes both upstairs and downstairs. Every time I see the line of people waiting to get in on North Pearl Street, I’m reminded of how wise the decision to move from Clifton Park was.
14. The Sharks reunion: The Sharks have local credibility and loyalty that very few others can claim. The sell-out show at the Hollow in April channeled that history and somehow exceeded the high expectations everybody had going into it. The best kind of walk down memory lane.
13. The Clay People: When the Clay People played Empire Underground in June, it was their first live show since 2019. It was also the launch of their new album, “Cult Hypnotica”, and a comic book, “Colossus,” based on their song of the same name. A lot of pressure, but they absolutely killed it that night. “Cult Hypnotica” holds up exceptionally well six months on as well.
12. Barns Courtney at Empire Live: In perhaps the most surprising show I saw all year, Barns Courtney put on a manic master class at Empire Live in October. It was over the top, it was punishingly loud, and it was exquisite. It was also probably the last time you’ll get to see this frontman in a room this small for a long, long time.
11. St. Vincent at Empire Live: In September, Anne Erin Clark took a break from her arena and stadium tour where she had been opening for the likes of Roxy Music and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to instead play a headlining gig at Empire Live. She and her band delivered an exhilarating set to a crowded, enthralled audience. A performer’s performer.
10. Plush: Plush, fronted by local favorite daughter Moriah Formica, spent a good part of 2022 playing the biggest of amphitheaters with Breaking Benjamin, Alice in Chains, and Bush. But in February they played their first-ever Northeast date to a sold-out crowd in the intimate Empire Underground. They crushed it in front Formica’s hometown crowd. Brooke C – we were glad to have seen you.
9. Sean Rowe: Sean spends a good amount of time on the road because, well, he can. He has fans across the country and beyond. But he is very much a local boy, through and through. So when he plays a local show, as he did at the Hangar in February, it’s a special event. Anybody there that night was not the least bit surprised when he won the Eddie for best song (“Squid Tattoo”) and best album (“The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights”) two months later. Rowe showed up as my 2nd most-played artist on Spotify for 2022, and I am quite fine with that. And “Squid Tattoo” is the best song to come out of Nippertown in a long time…
8. Woodstock: There is some kind of geographic dissonance around here. The same people who will drive an hour north every weekend to Lake George without complaint act like the hour drive south to Woodstock involves a space shuttle. If you haven’t plugged into this music scene, you are missing a world-class opportunity on every level. The big three – Levon Helm Studios, Bearsville, and the Colony – all regularly have top national talent in an oh-so-intimate setting. And they are far from the only thing going on in town.
7. Caffe Lena: We are blessed to have many stunning venues that host live music. But only one can claim to be truly world-renowned. Caffe Lena isn’t just a great place to see a show, it is a prominent piece of musical history, still as relevant today as it was in the 60s. The Ryman, CBGBs, Tipitina’s…this is the company Caffe Lena keeps. And it’s here in our backyard, better than ever.
6. Music and politics: Two of the Nippertown articles that generated the most online debate in 2022 were the reviews for Roger Waters at MVP and Todd Rundgren at the Egg. Both artists leaned way in on the politics. (Arguably, to the detriment of the quality of their show.) Neither should have been surprising to anybody with even a passing familiarity with the artists. But people were still upset. I would argue that if you go to a Roger Waters show, or a Ted Nugent show, and come away miffed at the politics, that’s on you. Artists don’t owe us anything, and we vote with our wallets.
5. Nipperfest: Look, I know I’m biased here, but I’m honestly trying to be as objective as I can. 15 local acts on two stages, all day long at beautiful Music Haven at Schenectady’s Central Park. And – in the spirit of Nippertown itself – free to one and all. All original music. This is a celebration of our scene and our artists. And that’s pretty damn cool. Now, if the temperature can be less than triple-digit this year…
4. Cover Bands: I like cover bands, I really do. If you’re so snobby you can’t enjoy a good cover band, you’ve lost the joy of music that found you in the first place. And – it should be noted – some are particularly good and creative (I’m looking at you, Start Making Sense). But there’s a limit. This year’s Live Nation schedule at SPAC included a Dead cover band, and (another) Pink Floyd cover band. SPAC is our largest venue (and by no means the only example). If the very biggest shows we go to see are cover bands then that says…something. And it’s not good. Imagine if everybody in 1967 San Francisco skipped “the new stuff” to listen to Skillet Lickers tribute bands.
3. The rise of Super Dark / No Fun: I know these are two different things, but they are of a kindred spirit. Super Dark has been delivering the area’s most adventurous music for a while now, at Desperate Annie’s, Rare Form, and now at No Fun. No Fun is now a fully mature venue committed full-time to the same kind of music. This scene is the spiritual descendant of the Low Beat, and the QE2, and others. They move the scene forward, and without that, you’re dying.
2. Samara Joy: If there’s a little bit of justice in the world, Samara Joy will win at least one of the two Grammys she’s nominated for (Best New Artist, Best Jazz Vocal Album). And Nippertown fans of hers had plenty of chance to see this young star explode. She played the Falcon in May, two jazz festivals in a week, in Albany and Lake George, in September, and just capped the year off with a terrific show at UPH. She’s the real deal, likes our area, and plays it. If you missed her, that’s on you. (Make plans to see her at this year’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at SPAC).
1. Brandi Carlile at Tanglewood: Brandi Carlile and her band are the best act anywhere now, on record and live, full stop. She will be recognized as among the greatest ever, and she is in her absolute prime, right now. Attentive fans have been able to watch her rise locally, with excellent shows at the Egg in ‘10, and the Palace in ‘15 and ‘18. Her show this year at Tanglewood was a coronation – a concert you’ll tell your grandkids about. A chance to see the greatest artist out there, in cozy little Tanglewood on the eastern edge of Nippertown. I hope you made it.
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