Saratogians looking for more local, live-streamed entertainment just hit the jackpot. Saratoga Living has learned that Caffè Lena is going to “reopen,” still without an audience, but with new, live Stay Home Sessions to be live-streamed from the Saratoga venue’s iconic and intimate stage in Downtown Saratoga. The decision comes after the venue was granted “essential” business status earlier this week by New York State. In addition to more Stay Home Sessions, Caffè Lena is also already moving ahead with plans for a special live-streamed 60th anniversary celebration, which will take place on Thursday, May 21.
“I applied four times to be designated an essential business for purposes of broadcasting live performances,” says the venue’s Executive Director Sarah Craig. “Not having heard back, I’d given up hope. So, yesterday’s letter of approval came as a big surprise!” Craig says that her first priority is to fulfill some commitments to a handful of local artists she had to un-invite when the full shutdown went into effect back in March. During that month-long “hiatus,” the renowned folk venue kept its audiences entertained by offering online viewing parties of pre-recorded performances from its private archive. Now that staff can return, the venue plans to have its Stay Home Sessions up and broadcasting live by Monday, April 27. Going forward, expect a nightly mix of live and pre-recorded Stay Home Sessions.
As for how Caffè Lena attained essential business status, Craig says that it was a little complicated. “The rules kept changing, and each time they changed I had to reapply,” she says. “Broadcasting is one of the qualifying categories, and it’s also valuable that we’re generating financial support for independent musicians.” Craig notes that many artists have fallen through the cracks of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion COVID-19 aid package passed by Congress last month. So far, the Stay Home Sessions, which started in mid-March, have raised almost $20,000 through donations or “tips” to the venue’s musicians.
For social distancing purposes, the venue will remain off-limits to everyone except essential personnel and musicians. For extra precautions, temperatures will also be taken of staff upon arrival, and the venue’s stage and facilities will be regularly sanitized. “Onsite, our operation is going to be a bit hospital-like,” says Craig. “The big payoff for all that work and scrupulous attention to safety is that we get to provide a stage for out-of-work musicians to do what they do best: fill hearts and bring us together.”
Looking ahead to the 60th anniversary celebration on May 21, the historic folk venue will be working with Rich Schlansker of Electric City Pictures to help produce the highly anticipated event. The special anniversary concert will feature four to five guest performers streaming from their home studios, interspersed with interviews and short segments on the folk venue’s impressive history. “It’ll be free to tune in,” says Craig. “We’ll be seeking donations for our endowment. We need that security if we want to be here as a home for the creative community 60 years from now.”