The first time I went to the Towne Crier Café was in 1985… to heckle my boss Tom Rush.
The Café was then at it’s original location in Beekman, NY. My wife, Mary Ellen Bernard and I were spending the weekend in nearby New Milford, CT with David Buskin and his wife Abra. We were brain storming with them and Robin and Wendy Batteau about how to launch their new B&B album. David, Robin and I were in Tom’s band but he chose not to use us that evening so we went seeking revenge!
Our host was proprietor and music maven Phil Ciganer who gleefully conspired by seating us all near the stage. It helps to have low friends in high places. It’s a night Tom would like to forget. All was forgiven by the next gig.
In 1972 Phil transformed what was once the Old Beekman Hotel and General Store into a music room and café-restaurant. Phil is equal parts hipster, promoter, carnival ringmaster and restaurateur. In that post-Woodstock era, upstate New York took on a certain mystique with regard to music. There was something in the air and the Towne Crier Café seemed to epitomize it. One of the first people to play there was Pete Seeger. There would be over 5,000 more shows in Beekman before he moved The Café to Pawling, NY.
Phil loves musicians and music. Dedicated to presenting the best music experience possible, he installed a state of the art sound system in the new Pawling room. He also had a separate bar with glass so customers could gab and not disturb performers while watching the show. And he reminded the audience to be respectful of the performers. That’s old school, baby! As always he personally “curated” the shows he presented. Pairing up just the right combination of headliner and opening act. This offered new or young artists the chance to find an audience. I have memorable nights backing up Tom Rush and Buskin and Batteau on that stage for some of the best audiences ever.
So when the Bacon Brothers were looking for a place to do their first public show I called Phil and asked if he would book us. It took a little convincing. Like most people he was skeptical when it came to “actor bands”. Are they for real? Could they play? Fortunately he trusted my opinion. Which made me feel good. When the big night came Michael and Kevin were understandably a bit nervous with friends, family and show biz buds filling the room. Meryl Streep, Ron Howard and Giancarlo Esposito, among others, packed the room. I must say it was a triumph. Everyone was ear-to-ear smiling, including Phil. To paraphrase another legendary club owner… this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The Bacon Brothers appeared many more times including a raucous New Years Eve. I have a clear picture of me jumping off stage and dancing with Mary Ellen and Kyra Sedgwick during Footloose. Champagne was flowing.
Mary Ellen and I went back to the Towne Crier on many occasions, opening for Richie Havens, Rockapella and Sloan Wainwright, and to be in the audience for other artists.
It’s fair to say that on the Americana music circuit the Towne Crier Café has become an institution. But I know that Phil thought about closing shop from time to time. Running a club and restaurant is a relentless grind no matter how much you love it. So everyone in our end of the music biz was thrilled when Phil announced the move to Beacon. The Café fit right in to this town which already has an arts and music heritage of its own. There are not many music rooms that have carried on since 1972 and none, to my knowledge that have been run by the same person. So it is with great pride and pleasure that I find myself heading back to the Towne Crier Café stage to give this new one a test drive. On June 6th 2014 I’ll be there opening for one of my favorite songwriters Al Stewart.
Here’s to the next chapter Phil!