City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
“They're gonna put me in the movies,
They're gonna make a big star out of me…”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Fifty-three years to the day since the Beatles recorded a live performance of their song “Act Naturally” on the Ed Sullivan show, Ringo Starr revisited the tune at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center during an appearance with his All Starr (sic) Band.
The two-hour-long, 24-song set was evenly split between a dozen Ringo-led tunes, and three songs apiece performed by each of the four main other players of the ensemble.
Ringo assumed vocal duties on songs once performed, if not written by The Beatles, including: Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” “Boys” – popularized by The Shirelles, and the previously mentioned “Act Naturally” - a tune originally recorded by Buck Owens.
From The Beatles canon, Ringo tinkled some on the keyboards and sang “Don’t Pass Me By” and took mic in hand at center stage for “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “What Goes On” – which he introduced as “the only song written by Lennon, McCartney and Starkey,” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” – which in 1963 the Beatles wrote for, and gave to, the Rolling Stones. Perhaps the night’s greatest joy was delivered in a full theater sing-a-long of “Yellow Submarine.”
Starr, with a little help from his friends, returned to the venue for the first time since August 1989. At that time, his All Stars Band consisted of Joe Walsh, The Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Dr. John, Billy Preston, and Clarence Clemons and Nils Lofgren, who were on hiatus from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
This time around, the ensemble featured prolific studio musician and Toto guitarist Steve Luthaker who led a performance of that group’s hits “Rosanna,” “Africa,” and “Hold the Line.” Guitarist Colin Hay revisited his time with the band Men at Work, singing “Who Can It Be Now,” “Down Under,” and “Overkill.” Original Santana keyboard player and vocalist r Gregg Rolie revisited the songs “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” and “Oye Como Va,” and 10cc songwriter Graham Gouldman added “I’m Not in Love,” “Dreadlock Holiday,” and “The Things We Do for Love.”
Starr, when he wasn’t at the lead mic at center stage, played drums throughout, aided by a second percussionist. Culling a quartet of ditties from his solo albums, Ringo revisited “It Don't Come Easy,” “You're Sixteen,” “Photograph,” and “Anthem” – the latter signifying one of the evening’s few tracks, if not the only one, written in the current century.
Looking decades younger than his 78 years, the one-time Beatles drummer sported a colorful off-center screen T-shirt depicting a face reminiscent of Nina Hagen, a black blazer and jeans and pyramid-studded belt, a slew of bangles on his right wrist, a timepiece on his left and a gold “Peace” symbol around his neck.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Some people called him “Captain Fun,” others the “unofficial mayor of Saratoga Springs,” but the one sure thing of which you could be certain when running into Al McKenney on one of his strolls along Broadway, was you would hear a story you had never heard before. And he had a wealth of lifetime experiences from which to draw.
McKenney had managed concert tours featuring musicians from David Bromberg to Clannad and performed emcee duties for the Smithsonian’s annual National Folk Festival, and Pete Seeger’s Great Hudson Revival. His voice is forever immortalized at Kent State University on their KSU Folk Festival Recordings, which date back several decades. Beyond McKenney’s omnipresent suspenders, purple Caffe Lena T-shirt and similarly colored beret were the tales of musicians Utah Philipps or Rosalie Sorrels and memories of Lena Spencer, owner of the coffeehouse on Phila Street where so many memories have been made.
When the then 26-year-old hitchhiked a ride from his native Massachusetts to land in Saratoga Springs in 1971, there was no going back. When McKenney died in the summer of 2015, he had amassed more than 1,000 vinyl records and hundreds of CD’s and music-related books.
This week, volunteers at Caffe Lena began unpacking the first 18 boxes containing the vinyl collection and placing them alphabetically in specially designed purple shelves, each standing nearly seven feet in height and located in the café’s entry area.
First out: Joan Baez’s self-titled debut on Vanguard Records – in mono, no less and released in 1960, the same year Lena and Bill Spencer opened the doors of their café. Next came a slew of Louisiana Cajun compilations led by the 1934 Lomax Recordings and a handful of platters by Clifton Chenier. There was a large collection of albums by Joni Mitchell, by Hank Williams, and by Bruce Springsteen. More than a half-century of Bob Dylan recordings spread across the lobby floor.
“The ‘D‘ space will probably have to be larger,” surmised Caffe Lena Executive Director Sarah Craig, eyeballing dozens of record jackets whose vinyl grooves contained the original strains of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” to "Silvio" and "Gotta Serve Somebody," live performances of "My Back Pages" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," to cover renditions performed by The Byrds, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The plan for the collection – named the Captain Fun Listening Library - is to share with the community the kicks the music delivers. Caffe Lena will host a Lunchtime Listening Hour one Friday each month, with the tentative hope to kick off the series the first Friday in October. The listening hour will take place 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a completely free event, curated by Chuck Vosganian aka Rochmon, and attendees are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Fronted by swatches of catchy, smooth, distort-o-chords with a snappy rhythm section and tuneful vocals to boot, Blockhouses are making their way through the northeast to stage a show in Saratoga Springs on Monday.
The band - Guy Lyons with guitar and vocals, Christopher Peifer with bass, keyboards and vocals, and Jim Balga on drums – is touring in support of their debut album, "Greatest Hit Songs of All Time."
The group says their plan was hatched in a bar in Washington Heights in late 2013. Their local connections to this region run deep. Lyons was an original member of the Spa City’s own Figgs, and Lyons’ former bandmate, Pete Donnelly, is tabbed with producer credits on Blockhouses debut album.
The band’s mission, they say, is to bring high-energy, catchy, punk rock and roll tunes to the masses of N.Y.C. and beyond, and they wear their sonic glories on their collective sleeve, mixing together a varied inspiration via The Ramones and The Who, and Husker Du to The Only Ones, not to mention healthy doses of everyone from the Beatles to the Stones. A sonic sample and bio may be viewed at : https://www.blockhouses.net/.
Blockhouses will perform Monday, Sept. 24 at Desperate Annie’s on Caroline Street as part of the Super Dark Monday series.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The mayor-appointed City Charter Commission has completed their work on a 38-page document which proposes a new City Charter. The proposition goes to public referendum on Nov. 6. If approved, the new Charter becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2019 – effectively repealing the city’s existing 2001 Charter.
A second part of the referendum seeks to increase the voting members of the City Council from five to seven. If that second proposal is approved by voters – that referendum also takes place Nov. 6 – the addition of the two council-members-at-large will become effective Jan. 1, 2020. As such, city voters in November 2019 – the next scheduled vote to elect the council – could be headed to the polls to vote for seven council members, instead of the traditional five. It is anticipated there would be a list of candidates for council members-at-large on the ballot, and the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes would then serve as council members-at-large.
Specifically, the Nov. 6 ballot will contain two separate questions about the Saratoga Springs City Charter.
1. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?
2. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?
Voters who choose to approve the first question – changing the City Charter – may also vote on whether to approve the second question. The initiative – adding two council members-at-large, cannot be enacted without a “yes” vote on both questions.
The 2018 Charter Review Commission was formed on March 6, 2018 by Mayor Meg Kelly with the goal of finding efficiencies and organizational improvements to better serve the people who live and work in the City of Saratoga Springs. The ten-member City Charter commission is comprised of the following members: City Attorney Vincent J. DeLeonardis, Chairman; Deputy Commissioner of Finance Mike Sharp, Vice Chairman; Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety John Daley, Secretary; Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan; Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco; Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin; Commissioner of Accounts John Franck; Deputy Mayor Lisa Shields; Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Joe O'Neill; Deputy Commissioner of Accounts Maire Masterson.
City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis served as chairman of the Commission. This week, he sat down with Saratoga TODAY and discussed some of the proposed changes.
- What is the status of the proposal?
- We have completed our review, drafted our proposed recommendations and filed that (on Sept. 6) with the city clerk. The document will now be forwarded to the county Board of Elections and it will be on the ballot on Nov. 6. It will be on the ballot, by the way, as two separate questions.
Through our process of drafting proposed amendments, we have all of those incorporated into a draft charter relating to the first question that the voters will have: whether they will approve the Charter as amended by the Charter Review Commission.
A separate question is whether they will further amend the Charter to incorporate the two additional at-large council members.
If they vote yes for question 1 to amend the charter, they will then vote on whether it will be further amended to address the two at-large council members, but if question 1 does not get approval, then question two does not go into effect.
How would the two at-large council members work?
- If approved by the voters, the two at-large council members will have legislative responsibility only and would not have any administrative or departmental responsibilities at City Hall.
Will they be paid positions?
- They would be, but salaries are to be determined by council. The amount of the salary is not contained in the Charter itself. The amount of any salary to be provided to the council members at-large would be established by the City Council in accordance with Local Law. That would be decided after the vote passes. (Note: at-large members would not have deputies).
Would the council members at-large attend every council meeting?
- They would be expected to. They will be full members of City Council.
What influenced the idea to consider expanding the voting council from five to seven members?
- I think as a commission we were aware of certain public concerns that the responsibilities of the five council members may prevent qualified citizens from seeking public office. So, there is an opportunity to serve in city government as a member-at-large, and not be responsible for running a city department. It would enlarge the opportunity for individuals to participate in city government. They are charged with being fully involved in all voting procedures. They will be full members of the City Council, they just will not run a department.
Would there be a specific criteria or requirement for members at-large?
- No, it’s an elected position and it’s up to the people to decide who they put as members of the City Council.
What are your thoughts about the overall review process with the commission?
- I thought the process was positive. The commission worked well together, and we had a level of respect and professionalism that assisted in the process of getting things done.
What are some of the proposed changes to the Charter?
- Generally we’ve re-numbered and re-organized certain sections, provided amendments to the existing Charter - including new sections. and of course, there’s the separate and distinct question submitted in respect to council members at-large. More specifically, there are a number of things we did not change (such as) term limits. That was one thing that had been raised, but we did not make changes to it. In a number of areas we eliminated things like specific job titles and outlined department functions. We’ve incorporated requirements related to the State of the City (Address) – that it be presented by the entire City Council, rather than just the mayor. We have also required that appointments to the Land Use Boards – including the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the DRC – which are still to be made by the mayor, will now be made with the advice and consent of counsel and will require a vote. And, the Rec Commission and the Recreation Department was moved from the Mayor’s Department to the DPW.
Will there be Public Hearings?
- We did receive an invitation from SUCCESS – who is hosting an event at the Library on Oct. 3 – and so we accepted that invitation and we’re looking forward to presenting at the library on that date. We’re also reaching out to other organizations and entities for meetings.
Note: The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission will give a presentation on the proposed charter changes at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in the H. Dutcher Community Room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. A Q&A session will follow. This meeting is being sponsored by SUCCESS and is open to the public.
Who: Lawrence White
Where: The Grove, on Lake Avenue.
Q. Where are you originally from and when did you come to Saratoga?
A. I’m originally from California. I was living in New York City and first came up to Saratoga in 2002. I was very sick from the terrorist attacks and there was no business (in downtown New York). At that time, Jacques Burgering, who was the director at the National Museum of Dance had been my neighbor in Soho for about 10 years. He gave me an exhibition at the museum. At the same time, my doctor said “you’ve got to relocate,” so I was like: well, this is beautiful here. It reminded me so much of where I grew in Northern California.
Q. Artistically, what have you found in Saratoga?
A. The level of culture here is just so high and has been for so long, that you can hook into that line of heritage very easily. As a photographer, I’m always looking for the light and Saratoga is the ultimate light-catcher. Such beautiful qualities of light here, so it makes my job easy. I just go around and visually feast on how light falls here. Another one of the great things about this area is the history. It goes way back but comes right up through the Industrial Age, so you have these great buildings that were once flourishing and now have this incredible texture.
Q. What is your background as an artist?
A. I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and got a master’s degree in ’75. When I was there I worked with some great artists – everybody from Imogen Cunningham to Eugene Smith, Robert Frank and Kenneth Anger. As artists we got to work next to them. Robert Mapplethorpe. Can you imagine seeing them printing seeing that technique and realizing, basically they’re all a bunch of knuckleheads like the rest of us, but they were able to develop their own technique that worked for them. They understood the rules, but the rules were bent to their shape and not the other way around. That was the key of being an artist: to get within the rules, understand them, become a master, but then break the rules in ways that created art.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming exhibition “Saratoga Fantastique.”
A. It’s finding the incredible things that lurk beneath the surface. All these little nuances - things we may have seen before, but places where I lingered on and playfully manipulated the images. For me as an artist, I’m able to stretch my wings.
Q. Having come to Saratoga only during the past 15 years or so you have seen things with relatively fresh eyes.
A. I hope my photographs help people look at Saratoga in a different way than what they might normally see and that this interpretation allows them to absorb themselves even further into their own history. To see things differently - that’s really the key of life. It’s easy to get bored. We do the same mundane things every day, but as a photographer we see light and the way light falls on the same thing every day as always different. The further we dig into that maybe the further we learn about ourselves. And I think that’s the message here. And that’s why “Saratoga Fantastique,” because it is fantastic. It’s not mundane and we should be continually reminded of that.
As artists, we have different tools to express our voice, which comes from the ether, our muse. Our physical body is our instrument and we can have many different ways to express what this voice is. It’s a gift, but it’s temporary gift. My ability to see. My ability to move is very temporary and I can only use it for so long. That’s why I think it’s so important to respect it for what it is. Time. The sand is falling through the glass all the time and we have to be aware of that. It’s precious. Don’t just squander it.
Lawrence White’s “Saratoga Fantastique” will be on exhibit at The Grove, on Lake Avenue. An opening reception takes place 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Show hours will be 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, by appointment.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The contradictions of the day and the desire to bring meaning to something 17 years later still incomprehensible, were on open display for anyone who sought to look for them: blue-sky morning versus gray cloud rain; trauma rebutted by survival, and the sudden extinguishing of life counteracted by blessings in the opportunity of being alive.
“9/11 was, is, and always will be a reminder that tomorrow is not promised,” keynote speaker Shawn Patrick told a crowd assembled at High Rock Park on Tuesday, Sept. 11 to mark the 17th anniversary of the 2001 attacks. Patrick’s brother, James, worked for the Cantor Fitzgerald financial services firm and was killed at the World Trade Center that day. The Schenectady native was 30 years old. A few days earlier he celebrated his first wedding anniversary. A few weeks later came the birth of a child whom he would never know.
This Tuesday’s morning rain presented a contrast to the blue-sky morning of that Tuesday’s September day. The annual remembrance event marked the third such Tuesday since 2001 - the others being in 2007 and 2011- a calendar connection that won’t happen again for another 11 years, in 2029.
The ceremony took place at High Rock Park, home to a 25-foot-tall sculpture titled “Tempered By Memory,” commissioned by Saratoga Arts and created by artists Noah Savett and John Van Alstine from five twisted pieces of Trade Center steel. Four pieces came from the North Tower, one came from the South Tower.
City Mayor Meg Kelly, her voice choked with emotion, collectively recalled the thousands killed that day and in the event aftermath: those who worked at their desks, those who responded to help, families separated, children killed, she lamented. The number of New Yorkers suffering post-traumatic stress, Kelly said: “immeasurable.” Similarly, city Fire Department Chaplain Rev. Thomas Chevalier paused to remember both - those killed while attempting to help strangers in need, as well as those who continue to battle physical ailments. “Those who still suffer the consequences of their generosity and care,” he said.
A member of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department rang a silver bell 17 times, one for each year since the 2001 attack. And Commander Christopher Tejeda, of the U.S. Naval Support Activity in Saratoga Springs, recited a timeline “to reflect and remember those who are not with us.” Each was followed by a moment of silence.
8:46 a.m. - American Airlines Flight 11 strikes the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
9:03 a.m. - United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
9:37 a.m. - American Airlines Flight 77 strikes the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C.
9:59 a.m. – The South Tower falls.
10:07 a.m. - United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in a field in Pennsylvania.
10:28 a.m. – The North Tower falls.
Stepping outside the somber remembrances of the day, even the music displayed the conflicted emotions. Alongside renditions of and "America the Beautiful," and Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," Rick and Sharon Bolton performed both Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land" – the latter song composed ironically as an angry response to the former.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin is actively seeking citizens charged with representing different segments of the community to form an advisory board that would include members of the city police department.
“I think our police department does a really good job of providing police services, training officers and getting out into the community, but I also recognize there is no human organization that’s perfect, so there’s always room for improvement. One of the ways you can discover where you want to have improvement is to have dialogue with the community,” Martin said.
The idea of forming a board to hold face-to-face dialogue between the police department and the community comes in the aftermath of revived public interest regarding the circumstances involving Darryl Mount, a 21-year-old black man who in late August 2013 suffered injuries that left him in a coma after fleeing police on Caroline Street and allegedly falling off a scaffolding behind The Washington building, which was then under construction. Mount died eight-and-a-half months later. Mount's mother, Patty Jackson, subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit and city Police Chief Greg Veitch has come under public scrutiny following a Times Union last month month which reported the department never conducted an internal probe into police actions, after earlier claiming there was one. Chief Veitch has since posted comments related to the matter on the police department’s Facebook page.
“I can truly understand the grief of a mother who has lost a young son (and) I am certainly aware of and sensitive to the impact of race issues on the interaction of police agencies and municipalities across the United States,” Martin said.
“The recent interest and publicity concerning the Darryl Mount incident of five years ago is certainly the catalyst” for an advisory board, Martin said. There have been public calls for a citizen “review” board, but Martin said, “I do not believe a citizen review board would be beneficial to the city nor its residents,” adding that such panels in some areas have become “overly political” and “rife with controversy,” and citing civilian law enforcement review boards in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Memphis, Tennessee specifically. “If we were to start a (review) board, it would involve changes to the City Charter as well as to the contract with police officers.”
The community “advisory” board being proposed would hold two formal meetings annually at City Hall with the option for additional meetings as warranted regarding issues that are presented.
“My goal is to have a first meeting within a month-and-a-half to two months from now,” Martin said this week. “We’re looking for people who have a desire to really dig in, to learn what police procedures are and why they are, which would involve some reading and study about the rights of policemen, the rights of citizens. So, there would be work involved for those who agree to do it. It’s not just coming in, speaking your mind and going home. This would be a working board.”
Members would work on a volunteer, non-paid basis. The advisory board would include Martin, his deputy commissioner, the police chief and assistant police chief, and approximately nine to eleven civilian members, each representing a different segment of the community.
“One member who represents the youth of the community, one member who represents the unemployed, one member of the working class who resides in the community, one who represents the working class who do not reside but work in the community, at least one member from the minority population, one who represents the elderly. I want to keep the group to a size that is manageable, so I can see some neighborhoods also represented to get the group between nine to eleven,” Martin said.
“I think we’ll be able to get some ideas fully vetted on the table and be able to implement some good ideas, changes that people agree would provide either better policing or better communication,” Martin said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon visited the Spa City Sunday afternoon in advance of primary day, which this year will take place Thursday, Sept. 13.
Nixon announced her campaign for Governor of New York in March, challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I’m running for governor because I believe we can have a New York that works for all of us,” Nixon told a group of about 125 people at Saratoga Arts on Sunday. She spoke for approximately 20 minutes.
“I voted for Andrew Cuomo eight years ago, because I remembered his dad and because I believed he was a Democrat the way he said he was, but since taking office he has governed like he was a Republican,” Nixon told the crowd. She suggested Cuomo allowed Republicans to draw their own districting maps and “hand(ed) over to the Republican Party of New York the ability to block almost every progressive piece of legislation we have had in this state,” campaign finance reform, the N.Y. Dream Act and fully funded schools being among them.
Nixon, perhaps best known for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series “Sex and the City,” is running on a platform includes ensuring more affordable housing - all new housing projects to include a percentage of affordable units; proactively responding to climate change - setting the state on a track to achieve 100 percent renewal energy within 30 years - tending to immigration issues – including abolishing ICE, passing the Dream Act and seeking to make New York a Sanctuary state), as well as advocating for LGBT rights and legalizing, taxing and regulating the recreational use of marijuana.
State primaries will be held noon to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13. The traditional voting day would have been Tuesday Sept. 11. Due to conflicts with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah and the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks, the primary was changed to take place two days later.
In a primary election, only voters registered with a party may vote to nominate their party's candidate.
Registered Democrats in Saratoga County may choose one candidate for the following offices: Cynthia Nixon or Andrew Cuomo for Governor; Kathy Hochul or Jumaane Williams for Lt. Governor; Sean Maloney, or Letitia James or Leecia Eve or Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General. There are just under 41,000 registered Democrats in Saratoga County, according to the most recent report posted by the state Board of Elections.
Registered Republicans in Saratoga County may choose: Karen Heggen or Gerard Amedio for the District Attorney. There are just under 60,000 registered Republicans in Saratoga County.
In the 43rd and 49th Senate District, each of which run through different areas of Saratoga Springs, the Reform Party primary lists Nancy Sliwa or Mike Diederich of Christopher Garvey for Attorney General in each district, as well as James Tedisco unopposed for State Senator in the 49th District. The town of Ballston Conservative Party primary lists Keith Kissinger or John Fantauzzi for Town Justice.
Polling places may be found at the Saratoga County Board of Election website. Note, the Saratoga Springs City Center polling place for districts 3,4,8,9 and 25 in the city has been relocated from the City Center to the adjacent Hilton, ballrooms 1 and 2. The General Election takes place Nov. 6.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the 2018 meet at Saratoga, NYRA executives gathered with construction project contractors and architects at the racecourse for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the 1863 Club - a permanent, new building to be developed at the site of the current At the Rail Pavilion.
The new will replace the seasonal tent and trailers at the end of the Clubhouse with a 36,000-square foot, three-story, climate-controlled building featuring a variety of hospitality options. The building will also be equipped with a full-service kitchen.
A banquet area will be featured on the first floor, a dining club and bar on the second level. The third floor will feature “true luxury boxes with a great view of the entire track," said NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay said, during Tuesday’s event. Kay specifically noted the second-floor rooms will well suit large groups such as college alumni and horse-centered organizations.
Developers and contractors are tasked with completing the job in nine months. Jim Dawsey, president of MLB Construction Services, said the project was on his mind while attending local services at the Church of St. Peter during the weekend. “I said: Lord grant me two things in my life: a dry fall, and a snow-less winter.”
The 1863 Club is named in honor of the year of the first organized thoroughbred race meeting in Saratoga, which took place over the course of four days in August 1863 at a trotting track that was located across the street of the current racecourse site, on Union Avenue.
A two-minute video depicting a rendering of the new building may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cLxEvgUOHY&feature=youtu.be.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For a quarter-century, you could set your watch by his actions. Many of the world’s great equine athletes did: the easy saunter across the race course accompanied by a clanging bell; the casual stroll into the Winner’s Circle; the fussing with his horn’s mouthpiece, the adjustment of the microphone stand and then finally, the swift hoisting of the bugle to his mouth and sounding for all to hear his call to the post.
It is a routine Sam “the Bugler” Grossman performed many times a day and several times a week over the period of 25 years. With the conclusion of the 2018 season at Saratoga on Sept. 3, Sam the Bugler sounded his horn one last time.
“I love the beautiful vibrant people here and the people at Belmont as well,” Grossman mused while standing in the winner’s circle and surveying the crowd on the final weekend before his retirement. “I’ll miss the people, but you know what? Every gig has a certain life, no matter what it is. And when you’re a musician you wake up one day and you know when the gig is over.”
The New York Racing Association, for whom he worked, celebrated Grossman's long tenure by naming Labor Day’s fifth race in his honor and presenting him with a commemorative bugle and plaque.
The Long Island native began playing the trumpet at the age of six. He studied music at the University of Miami, where he earned both his bachelor's degree and a master's degree in music education. Grossman began his career with NYRA at Aqueduct Racetrack in the spring of 1993. “I had never gone to a horse race in my whole life, but somehow, I knew I would get the job,” he explained.
He says some of his fondest memories were watching Rachel Alexandra win the Woodward in 2009 at Saratoga and witnessing Jerry Bailey on Cigar - the thoroughbred nicknamed “America’s Horse” and whose popularity earned him a police escort down Seventh Avenue en route to his retirement party at Madison Square Garden in 1996.
“You know, it’s kind of a weird thing being a trumpet play from Long Island, but when one of your friends wins the Derby – like when ‘Chop-Chop’ won the Derby (jockey Jorge Chavez, 2001), I had just been playing ping-pong with him the day before. He said: I’m going to win the Derby tomorrow. And he did, on Monarchos. So, that’s just a really weird element of my life.”
With his red jacket, black hat and clutching his omnipresent horn, Grossman could often be found In between races among the crowds. “I walk all around the facility and entertain anyone who wants some entertainment: play a song, take a photo, tell a story. I usually make the stories up,” he says with a laugh.
Following his retirement from full-time duties with NYRA, Grossman will relocate to Florida, where he will reside with his wife, Laura.
In 2005, his image was immortalized in the form of a 7-inches tall bobblehead doll, which was distributed to racecourse patrons. “Unreal,” he recalled, standing in the winner’s circle and gazing up at the throng awaiting his bugle call. “How would you feel if you looked up to see people holding up 30,000 dolls with your head on them?”