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Creating Community Through Music: Phase 3 of Strand Theater Looks to the Future | Local

HUDSON FALLS – About two weeks before Ace Frehley’s much-anticipated performance at the Strand Theater, Jonathan Newell realized he had breached the Kiss guitarist’s contract for the concert.

Frehley requested that he have his own green space backstage before the show, separate from the rest of his band and stage crew. The Strand Theater had only one Green Room at the time.

So, within two weeks, Newell and his team converted a second upstairs green room for Frehley’s crew of about 15 people.

“We had to create a space,” said Newell, executive director of Hudson River Music Hall Productions, which owns The Strand.

New green room

A view of the new Green Room upstairs at the Strand Theatre. The space was completed during the second phase of the Strand Theater’s capital projects. Work on the new space was accelerated when Kiss guitarist Ace Frehly specified in his contract that he needed his own dressing room.

Drew Wardle

Newell said the show sold out in a day, filling all of the theater’s 350 seats.

“Frehley’s booking agent kept calling, wondering why there wasn’t much publicity for the show in our area. I had to explain to him that the show was already sold out,” Newell said.

Much of the story surrounding Newell’s work with theater had as much to do with withstanding the blows of everyday change as it did with staying true to the original mission statement of Newell’s production company.

“The ultimate goal has remained the same over the years, but the business model has changed from year to year. Our motto has always been ‘Create Community through Music’ as opposed to ‘Creating Music through the Community’.”

The Strand Theater lives up to this motto as it survives on grassroots donations from the community. The front doors of the Strand are unlocked during the day, inviting the public to stroll.

Grassroots donations are the smaller monetary gifts from individuals in the community as opposed to the larger government grants – although the latter have also played a significant role, particularly for the theater’s capital projects.

During the second phase of the Beach Capital’s renovation, Hudson Falls’ historic theater proved to be a maze of gifts that just passed on. Newell and his team finished renovating a room or section of the theater and then discovered new rooms in the theater.

“There always seems to be a need, the more acts we book — the more different types of acts — there always seems to be a need that we don’t have,” Newell said.

The theater started booking big acts after first booking Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre in 2019, and things started to snowball after that.

Some of the productions include 50-piece orchestral bands and dance companies with around 60 dancers.

When Newell isn’t overseeing renovations or upgrades at the theater, he’s busy answering emails from booking agents representing big artists.

And when he’s not booking bands, he’s performing and writing his own music or teaching music.


The new marquee above the main entrance of the Strand Theatre. It will be ready in time for the Julie Slick concert on August 13th.

Drew Wardle

The next big act is Julie Slick, a virtuoso electric bassist known for her work with the Adrian Belew Power Trio and members of King Crimson.

That show is on August 13, and concert-goers can also expect to see the completed work on Phase 2 of his capital projects.

Trim new white building

Part of the Phase 2 refurbishment was an upgrade to the exterior of the Strand Theatre. A new cornice can be seen at the top of the building, embellishing the theater.

Drew Wardle

A new marquee will greet customers, as will a brand new cornice that now crowns the top of the front of the building.

Aesthetically, no theater is complete without a marquee, but there’s also a very practical purpose, Newell said.

“Recently a villager came to the theater to pay her taxes,” Newell said.

The theater originally opened as a cinema in 1923 and became Kingsbury Town Hall in the 1960s until it was purchased by Hudson River Music Hall Productions in 2016.

Conversion phase 2

Phase 2 began just before the outbreak of COVID-19, when theater officials began fundraising and beginning outreach.

The actual start of construction was not until 2021.

Now, a year and a half and over $500,000 later, improvements to the beach include a canopy, two new green spaces with two bathrooms, a new lighting area and more back room storage.

Most notably, theater officials renovated 1,500 square feet of upstairs office space (four rooms) that had not been touched in nearly 50 years. One of the rooms will be leased to North County Public Radio, while two of the other rooms will be a music library with vinyl records and hundreds of books dating back more than 50 years.

The books were donated by Marie Fontaine, a teacher, who collects them.

A fourth office space would possibly be a mixing room for concerts and would also serve as a recording room.

Rare Book

A rare book entitled “Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew” is in the library at the Strand Theatre. The book features songs written by Don McLean and Pete Seeger while they were cruising the Hudson River.

Drew Wardle

Ultimately, the office space, each about 350 square feet, costs a total of $120,000.

Currently, to get upstairs to the offices, a person must exit the theater and enter a separate door on the side. Newell’s plan is to create a stairwell connecting the upper floor to the theater’s lobby area.

“The idea is to expand the concert-goer’s experience,” he said.

Before an evening show, attendees can stroll upstairs with a coffee from the Java Turntable Shop, browse the library, listen to vinyl, and then watch the show.

Newell has worked as general contractor for all renovations to the theater. Creative Studios’ Dave Hutchinson is the architect; Dan Lynch the carpenter; Tyler Monahan did the roof; and Mahoney Alarms was responsible for the electrical work.

Phase 3 deals with education

Now that Phase 2 of the renovation is complete, Newell hinted that Phase 3 could see the theater expand its programming and continue its primary goal through education.

As a music teacher at SUNY Adirondack, he hopes to eventually bridge the two institutions.

The Strand would be a real and hands-on experience for students looking to break into the music industry in general.

Ultimately, Newell hopes to put Strand and Hudson Falls on the national music industry map and even build larger campus life for incoming students.

“We could offer students recording courses, box office experience, work as a lighting technician, songwriting – anything that comes with music production. We could offer them master classes,” Newell said.

Newell in the library

Jonathan Newell flips through some of the books, which are more than 50 years old, in the Strand Theatre’s newly refurbished library on Monday.

Drew Wardle

“With phase 2 gone, capital projects can now take a back seat,” Newell said.

However, Newell said more renovations are still needed, such as renovating the theater’s basement.

The next chapter for the theater’s programming could begin next year, Newell said. His production team would try to apply for educational grants – but the first part of Phase 3 has to create the narrative of such a plan.

The vision of Newell and his production company always went beyond the physical space.

“It was never a question of whether or not we would do that,” Newell said.

Despite that unwavering trust, the theater relies on government funding, and that could theoretically go away.

“When we started the production company — Stu Kuby, Nicholas Buttino, myself and the late Judith Johnson — we knew we wouldn’t do it,” Newell said. “We were really just a production company that didn’t have our own premises; We would only rent rooms. Now we have a piece of the rock, as they say. So we have a responsibility to the theater and to the community.”

Drew Wardle is a reporter for The Post Star. You can reach him at 518-681-7343 or email [email protected]

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