How Amazing Music Has Come To A Beautiful Location
In July and August, music and more will fill the Town of Caroga and the surrounding communities. The Caroga Lake Music Festival features multiple styles of music performed by excellent musicians from all over the country. The quality and quantity of performers and performances is well beyond what one might expect to find in a small town of 500 souls in the southern Adirondacks.
The festival presents a variety of musicians from nationally recognized orchestras, chamber ensembles, and bands who regularly perform on reputed stations and shows including NPR, PBS, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live, Ellen, Steve Harvey show and more. GRAMMY award winners include artists from multiple genres, including Sierra Hull, Geoff Saunders, Sandeep Das, Mike Block, and Cara Samantha.
But festivals of this size and breadth don’t happen spontaneously.
Like most worthwhile community efforts, it started small.
Kyle Barrett Price grew up going to musical gatherings. His mother, Deborah, included her children in her well known Chamber Music Connection in Worthington, OH. Both Kyle and his sister, Stephanie, not only were exposed to music and musicians, but also formed life long friendships with the other participants. And a number of these friends would come to visit Caroga Lake during the summer. The groundwork was laid for a network of young musicians who would provide talent as time went on.
The Caroga Lake Evangelical Chapel is not far from Kyle’s family cottage on the lake. When he and Stephanie heard music trickling out of the Chapel, they couldn’t help but wonder if they’d found a place to practice and perform. The divinely inspired Board Chair of the Chapel allowed the undergraduate music majors from various universities in the Midwest and Northeast to continue their collaboration within.
Seeing that the chapel was now a place the musicians could at least temporarily call “home”, a concert was slated there for the end of the week. They worked to fill the other weekend dates with other locations. After a few days of practice together, the young musicians spontaneously arrived at the Canada Lake Store and Marine for a popup performance under the rooftop canoe on the porch of the Canada Lake Store and Marine.
They followed the warm reception at the store with a cold-call to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where Yo-Yo Ma was performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much to their surprise, they were allowed to perform a pre-show. They were also enthralled to meet Yo-Yo Ma.
A number of concerts in the Caroga Lake area, supported by enthusiastic local audiences, would follow. Since many of the artists hailed from the New York City area, the Ensemble traveled to Sleepy Hollow Church, also known as the Old Dutch Reformed Church, for a final concert. This would be repeated the following year, and the next at St. John Divine Cathedral in NYC.
“You know, we need a name for what we’re doing,” said the family as they were hand-drawing the “concert” poster that first year.
“How about the ‘Caroga Lake Chamber Music Festival’?”
The Caroga Lake Chamber Music Festival was born. The following year, the name was aptly shortened to the Caroga Lake Music Festival, since many additional musical styles are currently included.
In the following years, more artists and more concerts expanded the festival. Early on, Kyle’s Grandmother housed all the musicians, but soon, community involvement became imperative. Many local residents have opened their houses and cottages to the visiting musicians.
But the Festival had no permanent home.
On the shore of Caroga Lake lay the remains of Sherman’s Amusement Park, which had been a thriving tourist destination in the mid-1900s. No longer open, the property was owned by George and Ruth Abdella, who had hopes for revitalization in some undetermined form.
The musicians approached the Abdellas, asking if the old Park could be used for the Festival, but it was determined that the property was not a good fit, due to lack of lavatory facilities and other inadequacies. The property was donated to the Town of Caroga.
In 2014, The Caroga Marina was pursued as an additional performance space for an outdoor show. Unfortunately, as performance time approached, this site became unavailable. Bret Fielding, and his father, Bill Fielding, owner/operators of nearby Canada Lake Store and Marine, suggested that the back lot of the store adjoining Canada Lake would be a good place to hold a concert.
At first glance, the sandy slope down to the lake full of boating equipment did not look promising. However, a good cleanup radically transformed the space. The addition of a pontoon “barge” stage provided a venue to be enjoyed by both a lawn chair based audience and a floating contingent of music lovers. The barge concert has continued every year since.
The Town of Caroga Board was approached for use of Sherman’s. In September of 2016, Kyle flew in from the University of Wisconsin for a board meeting to solidify a commitment, only to find that it had been decided that the Festival would not be allowed on Sherman’s property in 2017. Behind the scenes activity did result in use of the property that year, but approval came only a few days before performances began. An intense flurry of activity readied the park for the musicians and audience. Chris Jamison, finalist on “The Voice,” performed.
The Festival, a part of the non-profit Caroga Arts Collective since 2016, persisted in the desire to use Shermans, and in 2019 made an offer to purchase the property from the town. The Town Board had other plans, but George Abdella, the donee of the property, reclaimed Sherman’s since these plans did not conform to the terms of the donation agreement. Mr. Abdella donated the parcel once again, but this time the recipient was the Caroga Arts Collective.
Finally, a home in the beautiful Southern-Adirondack village of Caroga Lake! The collective has engaged an Albany Architectural Firm (Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson) to transform the old amusement park into an even better arts and performance space. The carousel on the property, with its beautiful stained glass, will turn again!
The Caroga Lake Music Festival and many additional activities of the Caroga Arts Collective promise to continue to invigorate Caroga Lake. The amusement park, dormant for many years, is seeing a new life. And an additional donation of nearby land, from the Schine family, will enable long-term housing for resident artists.
Kyle Price and company are making reality of the vision of an artistic endeavor that serves not only to entertain, but to make Caroga Lake a memorable summer destination once again.
The 2021 schedule of events is available here: https://carogaarts.org/events/