The Pride Of Saratoga: Meet 20 Locals Who’ve Tasted Fame And Never Looked Back

One of the benefits of being a product of Saratoga Springs and its public school system—this year marks my high school class’ 20th reunion—is that I’ve had the chance to get to know a number of Saratogians who’ve ended up becoming way more famous than this guy. While I don’t know every single one of the people on this list personally, I’ve had a chance to see many of these stars shine, up close and from afar—and for that, I can’t help but be honored that we share a common hometown.

Tony and I both graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in the class of ’98—and that’s where our similarities end. An absolute beast for the Blue Streaks’ football team—he completed his high school career with 1305 rushing yards and 11 TDs, offensively, and 192 tackles and 15 sacks on defense—Tony ended up bringing his skills to the University of Notre Dame, where he starred as a defensive end and was named a team captain. Entering the National Football League draft in 2002, he was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens, where he played for four seasons. Tony ended his NFL career with the Houston Texans, where he currently works as Defensive Line Coach. (He previously coached for the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns.)

Pride of Saratoga
Josh Greenbaum with Stephen Colbert, who’s featured in his latest documentary, ‘Too Funny To Fail.’ (Josh Greenbaum)

A year ahead of me at Saratoga High, Josh got his undergraduate degree at Cornell University and landed an MFA in film from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s since become a highly sought-after documentarian and director, with films to his name such as The Short Game and Becoming Bond, both of which took home the Audience Award at SXSW (you can watch them on Netflix and Hulu, respectively). He’s also the man behind the TV docu-series Behind The Mask, which picked up Hulu’s first Emmy nomination, and he’s landed directing credits for episodes of Fox’s New Girl and ABC’s The Neighbors. Josh’s latest film, Too Funny To Fail, about comedian Dana Carvey’s failed attempt at a comedy series, is currently streaming on Hulu.

Pride of Saratoga
Gabriel Boyers (center) at his Boston art gallery, KABINETT. (KABINETT)

Gabe and I grew up together in Saratoga and became fast friends because of a number of shared interests, including music (he’s a concert violinist), collecting (I’ll get to that shortly) and the fact that we were both “fac brats” (i.e., sons of Skidmore College professors). Gabe and his husband now run Schubertiade Music, a Boston-based auction business focused on hard-to-find music items, such as signed manuscripts and jazz LPs, and they recently launched the KABINETT art gallery in Beantown’s trendy SoWa district. Gabe’s also President of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association, with expertise in authenticating the John Hancocks of many of the world’s top musicians. “I’m the person that people call to authenticate music material from all over the world,” he tells me. See, kids? It pays to know that old-fashioned cursive.

Pride of Saratoga
Scott Valentine (Bader Howar)

Fun fact: I shared a class at Lake Avenue Elementary School with Scott Valentine’s nephew, and the kid’s claim to fame was being related to Scott. It makes sense. If you grew up in the ’80s, Scott was about as famous an actor as Saratoga had ever produced: From 1985-89, he had a recurring role as the gritty Nick Moore on the hit sitcom Family Ties, starring Michael J. Fox. He went on to have a busy acting career, doing turns on everything from Murder, She Wrote to NewsRadio and JAG. These days, Scott’s no longer in the acting biz, and in fact, has gone in a completely different direction: Based in Los Angeles, he’s now Managing Director of Excelsior Capital Partners, an investment banking firm. But Scott has fond memories of his days in the Spa City: “It was one of the most iconic places to grow up,” he says. We, of course, agree.

Pride of Saratoga
Sawyer Fredericks. (Lawrence White)

Hailing from Connecticut by way of Montgomery County, where he grew up on a Fultonville, NY, farm, Sawyer was a quick study as a singer-songwriter, getting some of his earliest gigs in at Saratoga’s Caffè Lena. After releasing his debut album in 2015, he found himself on the national stage, competing in NBC’s The Voice. After performing a range of covers that could’ve easily been a playlist on local radio station PYX 106—including a medley performed with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty (who’s playing a headlining gig at Saratoga Performing Arts Center this July)—the then 16-year-old ended up becoming the show’s youngest ever male winner. He’s toured tirelessly since—selling out a trio of dates at the end of May at Caffè Lena—and has released a pair of well-received albums, A Good Storm (No. 48 on the US charts) and the independently released Hide Your Ghost.

Pride of Saratoga
Pia Carusone

Pia and I—along with Gabe—attended The Beagle School over on Regent Street in Saratoga. Fast forward to the aughts, and Pia had been named the youngest Chief of Staff to a Congressperson in history. Her boss? Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head by a mentally unstable gunman at a public event in 2011. Overnight, Pia was thrust into the spotlight, keeping the world informed of the Congresswoman’s condition on the national news—and running her office. Now semiretired from politics, Pia’s cofounded Republic Restoratives, a distillery based in Washington, DC, with her longtime friend and fellow Saratogian, Rachel Gardner.

The Figgs (left to right): Mike Gent, Pete Donnelly and Pete Hayes.

I’ve seen The Figgs perform at Caffè Lena, The Parting Glass, Putnam Den (now Putnam Place) and the Bowery Electric in New York City. I own most of their albums—including some rare cassette tapes and EPs. In short, I’m a superfan. The band, consisting of Saratogians, reached its mainstream peak in the ’90s, with Pete Hayes on drums, Pete Donnelly on bass/vocals, Mike Gent on guitar/vocals and Guy Lyons also on guitar/vocals. By ’96, they’d been signed to a major label, Capitol Records, and were all over the radio. Guy eventually left the band, but The Figgs continued touring as a trio—and just last year celebrated their 30th anniversary as a band. For interested parties, start with Low-Fi At Society High and fan out from there.

Phantogram. (Timothy Saccenti)

If The Figgs were Saratoga’s Great White Hope in the ’90s, Phantogram would be that for the Millennial generation. Founded in nearby Greenwich, NY, in 2007, the duo consists of Sarah Barthel (vocals/keyboards) and Josh Carter (vocals/guitar). They’ve put out a trio of albums, the last two of which, Voices and Three, hit No. 11 and No. 9, respectively, on the US charts. (Four singles have charted as well, including the most recent and a personal favorite, “Same Old Blues.”) A close friend of mine also worked with Josh at saratoga living’s neighbor, Uncommon Grounds, so, I’m guessing, at least 50 percent of Phantogram can make a killer latte.

Scott Underwood, former drummer for the pop band Train. (Cheryl Underwood)

If his name doesn’t ring a bell, his former band’s certainly will: Train. The graduate of Saratoga High, class of ’90, was the San Francisco pop band’s drummer from its inception in ’94 through its era of superstardom, during which it battered the charts with songs such as “Meet Virginia” (No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100), the Grammy-winning “Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me)” (No. 5), “Calling All Angels” (No. 21) and “Hey, Soul Sister” (No. 3). Scott left the band in 2014, but, I’m sure, not before making whomever his instructor was in the Saratoga High jazz band very proud. These days, Scott runs Thunderwood Sound, a music studio in Nashville.

Pride of Saratoga
Dottie Pepper. (Timothy Kuratek/CBS)

I was at local French restaurant Chez Pierre with my parents recently, when Dottie Pepper walked in. Whispers and rubbernecking abounded—including from my mom, who confirmed Dottie’s existence out of the corner of her eye. She’s one of an exclusive cadre of elite athletes from the area—a decorated LPGA golfer who won a pair of major championships in 1992 and 1999, and 17 total tour events. Since she retired in 2004, Dottie’s worked as a golf analyst for NBC, the Golf Channel, ESPN and CBS, and recently launched her own brand of sunglasses, Pepper ProEyes. They help improve your shade…not your handicap.

Pride of Saratoga
Giacomo Smith. (Choi David)

Giacomo and I missed each other at Saratoga High—he’s a tad younger than I am—but our families are close, and we have a Skidmore connection (his mother, Shirley, is an Italian professor there, and my parents had a number of overlap years with her). A talented jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, Giacomo now runs Kansas Smitty’s jazz club in London and regularly plays with his band there and at the historic Soho venue, Ronnie Scott’s. (The head of music and promotions there is an old friend of mine, and I connected the two.) Did I mention that Giacomo’s played for Prince William, Duchess Kate and even the Queen of England? He most recently landed onstage at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, introduced to the crowd by actress Glenn Close.

Laura Hajek

A former Miss Glens Falls and graduate of The Waldorf School in Saratoga, Laura’s an actress known for roles in the Richard Gere movie The Dinner and the TV series The Deuce and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She’s also an indie musician, performing as Edith Pop, in the duo Schlomi Bagdadi and in A Place Both Wonderful and Strange.

Pride of Saratoga
Steven Brundage, appearing on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ (Getty Images)

Steven was born in Brooklyn—but made a name for himself performing magic on the streets of Saratoga. After gaining fame in 2014 for a viral video that features him talking his way out of a speeding ticket by wowing the cops who pulled him over with a Rubik’s Cube trick, he went on to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today and impressively, was a semifinalist on America’s Got Talent. Luckily, you can catch him on June 21 in Saratoga at the ESSAE Annual Conference & Expo.

Mike Brown. (Death Wish Coffee Company)

In 2012, Mike founded Death Wish Coffee—“The World’s Strongest Coffee”—in Saratoga. Three years later, he had a 30-second advertising spot running during the Super Bowl, and soon thereafter, a joe-brewing empire for the ages. Death Wish has since been an official sponsor for the New York Comic Con and NASCAR driver Ty Dillon—and you can buy it at supermarkets all over the Capital Region. Maybe they’ll sponsor saratoga living’s next deadline crunch?

Pride of Saratoga
James Charles. (James Charles)

Growing up in nearby Bethlehem, NY, James is nothing short of a groundbreaker. At the age of 17, he became the first-ever male spokesmodel for CoverGirl. Now 19, he’s built himself a YouTube empire too, servicing more than 4.2 million subscribers with makeup and pop culture tips—not to mention showing off his ethereal mug—and racking up multiple millions of views on everything he uploads. We’re not worthy!

I didn’t have MTV on my rabbit-eared TV on Second Street until I was 15, so I really didn’t grow up on music videos or VJs. But when I was able to mainline a half hour here and a half hour there at my grandmother’s place in Schenectady (she had cable), I fell hard for the format—and VJ Martha Quinn. She always seemed to be interviewing my favorite hair-metal bands—Van Halen, Poison and the like. My young Spidey senses must’ve been going off for another reason too: Martha and I were both products of Upstate New York; she’s originally from Albany. These days, you can hear her on SiriusXM and iHeartRadio. And, she’s still as good as ever.

Pride of Saratoga
Dion Lewis (The New England Patriots/David Silverman)

DION LEWIS (Football)
If Tony Weaver was our area’s most famous NFL defensive player, Dion’s got the offensive category wrapped up. An Albany native, the running back/kick returner starred for Albany High and Albany Academy before winding up at the University of Pittsburgh and being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles (he’s currently on the Tennessee Titans). But it would be his handful of seasons with the New England Patriots that solidified his career in the annals of football history: He won a Super Bowl ring in 2016 with the Pats, who pulled off the largest comeback in the championship game’s history.

Pride of Saratoga
Adam Gray.

ADAM GRAY (Entrepreneurship)
Sometimes it’s good to give people labels. Adam Gray was just 14 and still attending high school in Lake George in 2003 when he—incredibly—launched SheetLabels.com, an Internet start-up that bought and sold labels of all kinds—for food, wine, chemicals and cars, to name a few. “I had a special arrangement with our Vice Principal, where I could actually leave class and take a phone call, because he understood I was trying to get a business started,” he tells me. By the time he left high school, the business was banking six figures in revenue, and the company’s now worth well into  the seven-figure range. (He serves as its President and CEO.) SheetLabels.com is headquartered in a 33,000-square-foot facility in Glens Falls, has 30-plus full-time employees and serves 50,000 customers nationwide. Talk about a high school job.

William’s that actor whom you can’t quite place, but you know you’ve seen in a million things. Born in Albany, William was the son of then New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt’s chauffeur (yes, that Franklin who ended up becoming President of the United States). William’s acting career, which kicked off in 1967, is a Leonard Maltin movie guide’s worth of the greatest TV shows of all time, including the mini-series From Here To Eternity, Gunsmoke, Knots Landing, The X-Files, The West Wing, and most recently, 24, where he played the fictional POTUS. His father would’ve been proud.

I’ll never forget this: I played cello in the Saratoga High Chamber Orchestra, and we were accompanying the chorus one day, when this young soloist just tore the roof off the place. Everybody was like, “Who’s that?” It turned out to be Jes Hudak, who would soon become a mainstay at Caffè Lena, self-release an album and hit the fast track to superstardom. Among her accomplishments: She toured as the lone backing vocalist to Enrique Iglesias and performed at the rebooted Lilith Fair in 2010. The following year, she landed on Bravo’s songwriting competition reality show, Platinum Hit—featuring pop/folk star singer Jewel as a judge and host—and came in a close second. She’s since released a follow-up album—and a number of singles, EPs and side projects with a range of players in the pop world.

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