The Felice Brothers at Rockin' on The River in Troy (photo by Michael Hallisey/TheSpot518)
ALBANY — Value Penguin, the New York City-based data resource group, created a stir earlier this year when its research revealed our Capital District as among the best music scenes in the nation.
Employing several different analytical factors — number of radio stations, quality of venues, number of musicians and level of education, to name a few — the Capital District ranked sixth overall, just behind the Live Music Capital of the World (Austin, Tex. — No. 5), and ahead of Rochester, N.Y. (No. 8), San Francisco, Calif. (No. 10), and Boulder, Colo. (No. 19).
When the report was released in June, it gave local fans added incentive to puff out their chests with pride. But, when looking at the report, it appears the analytics favor communities with smaller populations. Nashville, Tenn. (No. 1, population 1.8 million) and Seattle, Wash. (No. 3, population 652,000) are named among the top five, and not surprisingly. Each city’s contribution to the music world has been substantial. The Pacific Northwest’s grunge movement of the ‘90s defined a generation. But, Honolulu and Madison, Wis.? No one would be found guilty of naming Honolulu (No. 2, 375,000) among the top music scenes in the county, let alone Madison (No. 4, 243,000).
Naturally, when factoring in the number of musicians, radio stations, singers, recording studios, music stores, and bars per 1,000 residents, communities with smaller populations would rank higher than larger metropolises. New York City (8.4 million) and Los Angeles (3.9 million), the nation’s two largest media centers, ranked 26th and 27th respectively in the report. Albany, Schenectady and Troy have an aggregate population of 809,000.
Nevertheless, when you’re dealing with a city that boasts 8.4 million people, there’s a larger likelihood of dealing with people who don’t give a flip about music. So, maybe the numbers don’t lie, after all.
Our friends at NYS Music.com conduct a series of Best Of articles each year, highlighting the perennial achievements of artists from in and around New York state. The web magazine employes a network of over 60 freelance writers and photographers across the state and neighboring regions, covering shows and interviewing artists. And, again, the Capital District was in the conversation for best music scene along with Buffalo, Rochester and New York City.
“The NYS Music staff represents every region of the state, and while they see the most music in their hometowns, they are not afraid to travel a bit to see quality music,” wrote Jim Rizzo. “When asked about the best music town in the state, there was a wide variety of responses. One would expect New York City, being, by far, the largest city in the state, to come out on top. However, that was not the case. The two cities with the most votes from the staff were Buffalo and Syracuse. Our readers, on the other hand, did choose New York City, which tied with Albany.”
New York City had received the most votes in NYS Music.com’s poll last year. Despite Syracuse (No. 56, population 145,000) and Buffalo (No. 43, 1.1 million) earning top honors for local music scenes with NYS Music staffers, the Capital District appears to have earned more respect from voters in 2016. Rizzo listed off several reasons why that would be.
“The area is home to many musical happenings throughout the year,” wrote Rizzo, which includes Alive at Five in Albany, Rockin’ on the River in Troy and the Summer Concert Series in Freedom Park in Scotia. There are also the one-day or weekend events such as Larkfest, Tulip Fest, Pearlpalooza and Albany’s Move Festival. “[And,] the national and regional performances at various venues around the city.”
The Capital District has long since been a thoroughfare for traffic destined for Boston, New York City, Buffalo or Montreal. It has been since the Erie Canal, and continues to be with our network of highways. So, whether acts are stopping by as they pass through or legitimately choose the Capital District as a destination, local concert-goers see their fair share of quality music. Rizzo suggests that some of the larger acts may be lured by the superior acoustics at The Egg or the Picotte Recital Hall at the Massry Center for the Arts in Albany, or maybe that of The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in the Collar City. There is also the larger seating capacity of the Times Union Center or the historical draw of the Albany Palace Theatre.
The Palace Theatre’s largest contribution to the local music scene would be that it plays host to the Grammy Award-winning Albany Symphony Orchestra. Its recognition by the Recording Academy places it ahead of its peers in the aforementioned cities. And, its musical director, David Alan Miller, continuously draws internationally renowned musicians to play in the Capital City and in Troy.
However much weight you want to place on Value Penguin’s report, here’s something to think about. The report identified the Capital District as only the Tri-City area of Schenectady, Albany and Troy, omitting a substantial arts community in Saratoga County (population 223,000) that includes Skidmore College, the village of Saratoga Springs, and several more great venues highlighted by none other than the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
It is negligible to omit Saratoga’s contribution to our local music scene, and if it were to play a factor in yet another study, perhaps the outcome would be more plausible. Regardless, we’re just not going to accept Madison’s music scene as being any better than ours.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.