Upbeat on the Roof takes summer concerts to new heights

Upbeat on the Roof takes summer concerts to new heights

Above: Wurliday is set to play Upbeat on the Roof on Thursday, July 19 at 7PM. Photo by Kiki Vassilakis

This year, Saratoga’s Upbeat on the Roof at the Tang Teaching Museum & Art Gallery has organized its 18th annual lineup as one of the key free summer concert series in the region. The Alt recently corresponded with Tom Yoshikami via email, who has been involved in the program over the past two years, to find out just how far the series and its lineup have come over nearly two decades.

The Alt: So it’s the 18th annual series of Upbeat on the Roof, how did the gallery originally get into throwing shows?

Tom Yoshikami: The series has always been thought of as an interesting and fun way of welcoming the community to the museum. We want people not just in our galleries, but to engage with all of our spaces. To that end, we decided to use music to live up to the design ideas of architect Antoine Predock.

ALT: How far has this series come over the years?

TY: The mission and vision of Upbeat has remained the same, but our audience and the sound quality has grown. I recently looked at some old photos taken at some of the first concerts we held on the roof and it’s charming to see speakers propped up on chairs and an audiences that only took up half of the roof. These days we regularly have packed houses with audiences spilling onto our staircases and always work with professional sound engineers.

ALT: Do you know of any other venues or parts of the community been inspired to do more in the local music scene after seeing the Tang hold up such a long-standing series?

TY: I can’t speak for others, but we hope that the platform we give local musicians enables them to find larger audiences both within the region and beyond.

ALT: Are there any specific shows that stand out to you as a defining moment for Upbeat?

TY: Some of the most invigorating moments for us have included the hundreds of people who showed up for Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra, so many that we had to move the concert to the lawn so we could accommodate such the large crowd who wanted to dance! Our long term commitment from our campus partners also really stands out. We’ve had some amazing performances by the students in the Skidmore Jazz Institute, and our ongoing relationship with the Decoda Chamber Ensemble is also a highlight.

ALT: It’s such a cool space to throw a show, what other elements of the series do you think sets Upbeat apart from the summer music show crowd?

TY: One of the defining features about Upbeat is our commitment to bringing in new acts every year. While we do have a few old-time favorites that return over the years, we work hard to bring in musicians whose work is likely unfamiliar to our audience. We also strive for a stylistically diverse lineup so that no matter what your musical taste, you’ll find something you love.

ALT: Upbeat tends to book some solid local bands, a lot of them from Albany and Troy. What part does this summer music series play in the city’s music scene?

TY: As an interdisciplinary institution, we like to think of ourselves as part of the broader cultural scene, not just a particular music scene. By bringing musical performance into (or I should say onto) an art museum we hope that we can serve as a catalyst for our audience as well as our performers (many of whom have their hands in multiple artistic disciples) to think beyond disciplinary boundaries.

ALT: Do you think Upbeat has an effect on up and coming Saratoga musicians who might want to play a space or series like this one?

TY: I would hope so! Every year I get dozens of requests from not only local musicians but also from acts all over the country to play Upbeat.

ALT: How do you go about making a lineup for the season? Are there trends you are looking for, in terms of sound?

TY: There’s no one sound that we’re looking for. As I mentioned earlier, we strive for a diverse lineup of musical styles, so a lot of what goes into programming a season involves coming up with a good mix types of acts and then balancing them over the course of the summer. We also always strive to showcase acts who have never before played at the Tang.

ALT: What should people know about the space before coming to see a show?

TY: This year we have a couple of acts that have so many musicians we don’t think that everybody will comfortably fit on the roof! So at least twice this summer (July 19 for Wurliday and August 2 for Taina Asili) we’re going to move the show from our rooftop to our lawn, which will allow for a much larger audience. For those shows in particular, we encourage people to bring blankets and lawn chairs and perhaps even a picnic dinner!

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