15 Sizzling Summer Festivals
Say “summer in the Hudson Valley,” and what do you think of? Soft breezes wafting off the river? Long, lazy walks in the ’Gunks —or along the back nine at the local golf course? Backyard barbecues with friends and family? All these pleasures are surely part of our warm-weather lifestyle. But if the words “summer festivals” didn’t spring immediately
to mind — well, they should have! Music, theater, food, agriculture, outdoor fun, local culture, environmental education — the Valley plays host to
a wide variety of festivals and happenings that (just like the weather)
are hot, hot, hot. Check out our list of 15 not-to-be-missed events.
By Polly Sparling
The Clearwater Festival
Officially known as the “Clearwater Music and Environmental Festival/The Great Hudson River Revival,” this two-day event weds top-shelf entertainment with environmental awareness. Five stages (all powered by alternative energy sources) host continuous music that runs the gamut from Cajun to pop. The Green Living Expo offers eco-friendly products, you can browse handmade crafts, and there are more than enough puppets, dancers, jugglers, and storytellers to keep the kids (and you) amused.
Highlights: ’60s folk favorite Buffy Sainte-Marie, Grammy winning saxophonist Paul Winter, folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn. And don’t miss taking a sail on the sloop Clearwater itself. June 16-17.
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
This ever-popular (and critically acclaimed) festival attracts close to 30,000 theatergoers to two annual outdoor productions, which are held on the verdant grounds of the Boscobel Restoration. (Arrive early with a picnic and take in the site’s showstopping views of the
Highlights: One of the most popular of the history plays, Richard III, begins the season (June 12-Aug. 18). Things lighten up a bit with the pastoral comedy As You Like It (June 20-Sept. 2). Boscobel Restoration. Rte. 9D, Garrison. 845-265-7858 or www.hvshakespeare.org
Old Songs Festival
If you love listening to — and performing — traditional acoustic music, head to the Capital Region later this month for this annual fest. The sounds of fiddles, banjos, guitars, dulcimers, penny whistles, mandolins, and accordions ring out at three main-stage concerts and during more than 120 workshops and classes (taught by those very same folk, Celtic, and world musicians who appeared in concert). Instrument makers, food vendors, a juried craft show, and activities for the kids turn the event into a fun family affair.
Highlights: The Jeremy Kittel Acoustic Trio plays folk/jazz/Celtic fusion; hear old-time string music and songs from the Whippersnappers; Brian McNeill plays Scottish fiddle; move and groove with contra dance bands Crazy Quilt and Stillhouse Rounders; in all, over 20 performers will entertain. June 22-24. Altamont Fairgrounds, Altamont. 518-765-2815 or www.oldsongs.org
Great Hudson River Paddle
Intrepid types will want to take advantage of this 10-day, 150-mile kayak trip from Albany to New York City. Not that ambitious? The event offers one-day river excursions for new or less experienced paddlers. You’re a landlubber? Community festivals — held in Albany, Kingston, and Cold Spring — let you celebrate our wonderful river without getting your feet (or anything else) wet.
Highlights: The onshore festivals highlight river culture with natural resource programs, info booths, and demonstrations. This year’s paddle also includes plans for several shorter “getaway” trips of three to eight days. July 1-11. 518-473-3835 or www.hudsongreenway.state.ny.us/ghrp
Hudson Valley RibFest
Summer wouldn’t be summer without barbecue. This Ulster County event elevates the preparation of our favorite finger-lickin’ foods to high drama: 50 teams will vie for the title of Barbecue Grand Champion (with the winners advancing to the national finals in Kansas City). Barbecued ribs, chicken, corn on the cob, lemonade, and tempting desserts are all on the menu from local vendors. Entertainment-wise, you can catch cooking demos, live music, kids rides and activities — and, of course, the barbecuing and grilling contests.
Highlights: Saturday’s cook-off features teams competing for the best grilled fish, sausage, pork chops and steaks. On Sunday, they hit the barbie with ribs, chicken, pork butts and beef brisket. Aug. 17-19.
Bard Summerscape/Bard Music Festival
You’d be hard-pressed not to find some entertainment that suits your fancy at this seven-week-long multi-arts extravaganza. British classical composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and his contemporaries provide the focus for the opera, drama, music, film, dance, and cabaret performances — most of which take place in Frank Gehry’s much-lauded Fisher Center or the Belgian Spiegeltent (an ornate, one-of-a-kind pavilion).
Highlights: Two one-act operas by Zemlinsky based on works by Oscar Wilde; Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer, conducted by James Bagwell; a new theatrical production of Shaw’s Saint Joan; dance performances by Doug Varone and Susan Marshall; a film series of British postwar classics; family fare and cabaret. Elgar’s music is explored through panel discussions and performances during the Music Festival (Aug. 10-12, 17-19, and Oct. 26-27). July 5-Aug. 19.
Mountain Culture Festival
Now in its eighth year, this festival spotlights the culture and creativity of the Catskills. Originally conceived as a local celebration, the event now draws well over 5,000 people each year. Music, crafts, food, and lots of fun family activities (horseback riding, anyone?) are crammed into several venues in and around the village of Hunter.
Highlights: Musical guests include John Sebastian (formerly with The Lovin’ Spoonful) and Shirley Alston Reeves (original lead singer with the Shirelles). The always-popular Catskill Region Quilt Show and Mountainfilm on Tour (which screens movies on mountain life) both return. July 7-8. 518-263-2066 or www.catskillmtn.org/events/mountain-culture-festival
Caramoor International Music Festival
This summer fest, held at the impressive Caramoor house museum, is a must for serious music lovers from throughout the tri-state (and beyond). Close to 40 concerts touch on a wide range of genres, from classical and bel canto to jazz and cabaret. (New this year: Sonidos Latinos, a series of concerts of Latin American compositions.) And the musicians and ensembles — including HÃ©lÃ¨ne Grimaud, Andrea Marcovici, Gil Shaham and contralto Ewa Podles — are some of the best around.
Highlights: Grimaud plays Brahms on opening night; Podles sings Verdi’s Il Travatore; the Caramoor Cavalcade on June 30 features six concerts in one day (including a July 4th celebration). June 23-Aug. 5.
Classics on the Mountain Music Festival
In only its third season, this relative newcomer on the Valley’s crowded summer music calendar offers five evening performances of works that run the gamut from Vivaldi to jazz. Several of the players are fresh off performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall this past spring. Held at the Mohonk Mountain House, concert packages can include dinner and an overnight stay at the swank Victorian inn.
Highlights: Violist Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists Orchestra perform Vivaldi and Piazzolla on opening night. Neo-romantic composer Igor Raykhelson, clarinetist Julian Milkis, and the Igor Butman Jazz Trio also appear. June 12-16. Rte. 44/55, New Paltz. 914-466-5284 or www.classicsonthemountain.com
At 92, the Maverick is the oldest continuous summer chamber music series in America. Held in the rustic 1916 Maverick Concert Hall nestled in the woods, the series presents classical, jazz/world/klezmer, and children’s concerts by nationally known performers at a fraction of what you’d pay to hear them elsewhere.
Highlights: Many of the season’s programs are built around musical tributes to composers John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius, and Beethoven. Featured players include a slew of respected string quartets — the Ying, Tokyo, Daedalus, Shanghai, and Rossetti — as well as the Imani Winds, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, and soprano Patrice Michaels. Sat.-Sun. from June 23-Sept. 3. Maverick Rd.,
Dutchess County Fair
Farmers first started showing off their livestock in Dutchess back in 1845. Today, the county fair has mushroomed into the second largest agricultural event in the state — and the 1,600 goats, sheep, hogs, cows and other animals still steal the show. But the six-day event has more modern attractions too, including a large midway with carnival rides and games; live entertainment; a children’s area; and various shows, exhibits and demonstrations.
Highlights: Southern-rock band .38 Special appears in the Grandstand; championship bull-riding is a new event this year; reduced-price admission and ride tickets are now available on-line. Aug. 21-26. Rhinebeck Fairgrounds. Rte. 9, Rhinebeck. 845-876-4001 or www.dutchessfair.com
Brand-new works by well-known playwrights — often performed by top stars of stage and screen — are the hallmarks of this highly regarded fest. Over a dozen different events, including complete productions, dramatic readings, and free outdoor performances, make up the six-week season. It’s not uncommon for plays first performed at Powerhouse to pick up Tony awards a year or so later (recent examples: John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and Tru by Jay Presson Allen).
Highlights: Romantic Poetry, Shanley’s latest work, consists of six interrelated plays that are all about love; Stephen Belber’s Geometry of Fire looks at the relationship between a Marine sniper just back from Iraq, and a Saudi-American looking for the cause of his father’s death. More plays (and their casts) to be announced. June 15-July 29.
Great Hudson Valley Pedal
For those who like to take their summer entertainment sitting down — on a bicycle seat — this six-day, 200-mile bike tour winds its way from Albany to Manhattan. But don’t worry, all that pedaling is mixed with pleasure: the tour makes stops at numerous historic sites, cultural hot spots, wineries, and other Valley landmarks along the way.
Highlights: Guided tours of FDR’s Hyde Park home, Olana, and West Point; entertainment and historical presentations keep cyclists busy in the evenings; terrific riding routes include three panoramic bridge crossings and many scenic roads and trails. (And think of all the calories you’ll burn.) Aug. 14-19. 518-434-1583 or www.ptny.org/hudsontour
Chamber Arts Festival of Marbletown
If you hurry, you can still catch a performance or two from this music festival’s third season, which takes place on the weekends of May 25-27 and June 1-3. The six concerts feature an array of ensembles and musical genres, each one more unique than the next.
Highlights: Celtic trio Ferintosh plays Scottish and Irish tunes as arranged by Beethoven; the up-and-coming Amelia Piano Trio perform works by Mozart and Schubert; jazz pianist and vocalist Dave Frishberg offers original cabaret songs. Quimby Theater, SUNY