After a few stops and starts, Caffè Lena is finally ready to reopen its space to live audiences. Beginning on April 2, the famed Saratoga Springs listening room, which holds the bragging rights of being the longest continuously operating folk venue in the country, will reopen at 33 percent capacity.
While the state’s new guidelines technically allow 35 ticket-holders to be present inside the 110-seat venue, Executive Director Sarah Craig says that the audience limit will be capped at 24. That will be to ensure that the venue can accommodate bands with multiple members onstage and her various staff members that will be onsite to collect tickets, run the soundboard and produce the live streams, which will continue to beam to the venue’s YouTube page. “Rather than the chaos of trying to figure out the math on every single show,” says Craig, “we’re kind of in the ballpark here with this setup that we had created when we were beginning to welcome a live studio audience. So we’re just going to use that setup that we’ve already taped out and measured.” That’s at least for the month of April. “That’ll give everybody the security of knowing that we’re beating the standard, not just scraping under it,” says Craig.
Ticket sales for April shows will begin next week, and members with free tickets—at the Frequent Folkie membership level and up—can start claiming seats immediately by emailing or leaving a voicemail at the venue. “An important part of our income stream is membership donations,” explains Craig. “It gives people little perks like sometimes getting first crack at tickets or first choice of seats. It’s mostly intended to be a charitable donation to enable the mission to be accomplished at Caffè Lena. But we haven’t been able to give them anything. I’m just so eager to be able to thank members properly by giving them a seat at a show.”
Also during April, the venue won’t be serving food or beverages, and patrons will be required to wear masks for the entire time they’re in the venue—including while they’re sitting at their tables. “Really, this is the model we pioneered for the live studio audience,” says Craig. “The only difference is that now we’re allowed to sell tickets, and it doesn’t have to just be a handpicked, invited group of people.” Additionally, the venue is in the process of getting a new air filtration system in place. To that end, the venue will be cracking windows during shows, so ticket-holders are being asked to bring a sweatshirt or sweater, depending on that evening’s outdoor temperatures.
Craig says that the shows will continue to have a regional hue until the national touring machine kicks back into gear. “You need to have a density of performance opportunities for people to get on the road and make it economically viable, and that does not exist yet,” says Craig. In other words, don’t expect “name” acts like Judy Collins or John Sebastian back anytime soon. Regardless, now’s a better time than any to “support local.”
Caffè Lena has had the luxury of being one of just a handful of regional venues deemed “essential” during the majority of the pandemic. Since last April, the venue has been allowed to welcome local and regional bands in to perform in front of no audience, with the shows being livestreamed to the venue’s YouTube page. The livestreaming wasn’t a pivot so much as a convenience: The venue has had its streaming capability since 2012.