Ziggy: Bardavon leaves COVID in the Stardust with David Bowie YouTube stream

by Robert Burke Warren

The Bardavon 1869 Opera House is looking to the stars for the latest installment of its “Albums Revisited” music streaming series.

“Albums Revisited #6: David Bowie’s ‘The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars'” is a step closer to the concert experience we’ve all so dearly missed—and one we’re getting to know again as we all emerge from the worst health crisis in generations.

I’m thrilled to say I music-directed the “Ziggy” songs recorded onstage at the Broadway Theater at Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston, where the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie stages shows. It will all unfold at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16, on the Bardavon Presents YouTube channel. The stream is free to view, but donations are encouraged to support the Bardavon—which has lost millions during the pandemic.

Another reason to be thrilled is the Bardavon’s August return to staging live shows after closing its doors in March 2020 on Market Street in Poughkeepsie and on Broadway in Kingston.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue Aug. 22 at UPAC; Acoustic Dispatch Sept. 25 at the Bardavon; and David Sedaris Oct. 16 at the Bardavon are among the offerings. Visit bardavon.org to learn more about all the upcoming shows and for information on purchasing tickets.

As for “Ziggy,” viewers will catch me singing “Starman” and “Hang On to Yourself” and playing rhythm acoustic guitar in The Bardavon Spiders—a combo of my friends Josh Roy Brown, Lukas Lerner, Mark Lerner, Nancy Howell, Dennis Yerry, and Calder Mansfield. We’re the backup for two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris (“Hedwig,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Tommy”) on “Rock & Roll Suicide”; Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric on “Five Years”; Rhett Miller (Old 97’s) on “Lady Stardust”; Calder on “Soul Love”; and Frank McGinnis (Frankie & His Fingers) on “Star.”

From their studio in Marlboro, The Restless Age recorded “Moonage Daydream” with Living Colour’s Corey Glover, and “Suffragette City” with Alexis P. Suter. They tackled “It Ain’t Easy” themselves. Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey sent in a solo acoustic “Ziggy Stardust” from Paris. And viewers will be treated to “bonus tracks” from my neighbor, Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, who recorded “Space Oddity” with John Medeski. New Jersey phenom Remember Jone sent in “Life On Mars.”

Gathering my friends to rock a 1500-seat theater was exhilarating. Even without a full house, we were giddy to lay it down after an excruciating year-plus performance hiatus.

Mark Lerner, Robert Burke Warren, Nancy Howell at UPAC in Kingston for the filming of the Bardavon’s Bowie tribute. Photo by Phil Mansfield. philmansfield.com.

As vaccinations continue to leave the coronavirus in the rear-view mirror, it feels right to turn the pandemic page celebrating one of David Bowie’s most revered albums, released on June 16, 1972. Not only because it’s an extravaganza of an LP, but also because in his last years, Bowie called Woodstock home.

Although his artistic output suggested the most urban of souls, Bowie turned out to be a bit of a country boy. He fell for the Catskills while making 2002’s “Heathen” at Allaire studios in Shokan and purchased a Woodstock home in the early ‘aughts. After his 2016 passing, grief-stricken me may or may not have made a pilgrimage to the driveway of this secluded residence to gaze a few minutes from the blacktop, paying homage.  

Bowie and his wife, Iman, and their daughter, Lexi, spent quite a bit of time hereabouts in the first years of the 21st century.

My son crossed paths with Lexi at Woodstock Day School summer camp. My wife came home agog after seeing Bowie (and mysterious longtime aide-de-camp Coco) ordering coffee and chatting at the Cub Market. A carpenter friend worked on his house (“He’s a regular guy, pretty laid back,” my friend casually said, as my eyes bugged out). At the Golden Notebook, Bowie helped bookseller Gaela assemble a cardboard display while she attended to customers, none of whom recognized him. Musicians I got to know and play with ended up in various iterations of his latter-day bands.

Josh Roy Brown, Amy Rigby, Mark Lerner, Wreckless Eric, Robert Burke Warren, Nancy Howell, Calder Mansfield at UPAC for the filming of the Bardavon’s Bowie tribute. Photo by Phil Mansfield. philmansfield.com.

To my eternal dismay, I never saw him (as far as I know). But I did my best to invoke his spirit with “Acoustic Stardust,” a Bowie birthday tribute at the Colony. It sold the place out in January 2019 and 2020. I rearranged select songs for an intimate, acoustic evening, a kind of folky Bowie cabaret. These events turned into ecstatic communal sing-alongs, some of the best nights of my long performing life. Bardavon Presents’ Production Manager Stephen LaMarca (also my neighbor) was there. The Bowie tribute returns to the Colony on Bowie’s 75th birthday, January 8th, 2022.

Fast forward to COVID times, and the “Albums Revisited” series, brainchild of Stephen and Executive Director Chris Silva.

Begun in August 2020, this series celebrates classic albums, with video’d versions of songs from performers obscure and renowned, local and far-flung. Performances were captured on iPhones or HD cameras or whatever, and all were heartfelt, exciting, and original. Albums in the series (all still on the Bardavon’s YouTube channel) include Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty,” The Velvet Underground’s “Loaded,’ Van Morrison’s “Moondance” (for which I performed “Everyone” with The Mammals and The Restless Age), and Carole King’s “Tapestry.” Participants included Annie Lennox, Rickie Lee Jones, Ian Flanigan, Carly Simon, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Jorma Kaukonen, to name a few.

The “Albums Revisited” series was the Bardavon’s way of keeping music performance in everyone’s lives, in whatever way possible. The YouTube channel has racked up tens of thousands of views, from deeply grateful folks far and wide, who huddled around screens in dark pandemic days for flickers of hope. Even before vaccines appeared on the horizon, and before anything was on the books in the venues, both Chris and Stephen repeatedly, confidently said, “We’re giving you this music to tide you over and entertain you until we reopen in 2021.”

And here we are.

For the “Ziggy” celebration, Stephen asked me to get a house band together and invite singers to do the tunes live onstage—a kind of transitional “Albums Revisited.” It would be filmed and recorded like a live concert. COVID was retreating, and most of my friends were getting vaccinated as soon as they could. I made a few calls, and The Bardavon Spiders were born.

Hopefully like you, we will gather around screens on Wednesday, June 16, to watch “The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars” come to life in live, rock and roll glory. FYI—we imagined you in the audience when we played, knowing we wouldn’t need to imagine much longer. That, and David Bowie’s joyous music, is why we’re smiling. 

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