Belleayre Music Festival returns this weekend after year off

Above: The Yardbirds play the rebooted Belleayre Music Festival this Saturday.

After taking a season off for the first time in 23 years for financial reasons, the Belleayre Music Festival returns this summer to the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the hamlet of Highmount in the town of Shandaken.

Offering six shows over six weekends, from July 2 to September 3, the festival, helmed by new Operations Manager Garrett Burris, will be a leaner affair, operating inside the 400-capacity Discovery Lodge in the ski center. Previous festivals took place in a 700-person tent atop the slopes.

Several factors led to the break, according to Burris: increased competition from large-scale events at Bethel Woods and Hunter Mountain; a desire to offer more economical alternatives; and a realization that the Belleayre facility could more effectively present up-close-and-personal engagements.

According to the festival's executive director, Mel Litoff, who spoke with the Watershed Post in 2015 about the festival's decision to put itself on hold, the organization simply ran out of money.

Under Burris’ direction, Belleayre 2016 will be a more intimate affair, with several pricing tiers and cost-saving incentives for those who buy tickets in advance. 

Burris, who began as a Belleayre intern in 2012, couldn’t be more excited.

“We’ve put together a team who I work closely with in developing a new marketing strategy, a new brand, new website and updated online presence,” he said in a recent interview. “We also plan to be out there in our community supporting our neighbors, local businesses and other festivals much more often than we were able to in the past.”

Burris is particularly thrilled with the lineup of acts. “We’ll open the season on July 2n with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Yardbirds,” he said. “And on August 27, we’ll have the return of singer Cristina Fontanelli, who played at the very first Belleayre Music Festival in 1993.” (Fontanelli went on to sing with Andrea Bocelli and for President Clinton, among many other accolades.)

On the Americana end of the spectrum, Nashvillian Anderson East hits the Discovery Lodge on August 20.

“We’re catching Anderson East just as he’s starting to really blow up,” Burris said. “He's going to be a star.”

Burris stressed that local musicians will be opening for national touring acts.

“We want to appeal to our traditional fan-base as well as a younger, local fan base,” he said.

Rising Woodstock-based singer-guitarist Connor Kennedy, with his band Minstrel, will support the Yardbirds this weekend. Kennedy can’t wait.

“It's very exciting to be sharing a bill with a band stewed in such legacy as the Yardbirds,” he said. “To be doing it in our Catskill Mountain backyard at Belleayre is an added treat. It’ll be a great way to kick off the summer.”

On July 9, the Woodstock-based Paul Green Rock Academy All Stars—prodigies between the ages of 12 and 18—will play the music of Frank Zappa with acclaimed Zappa percussionist Ed Mann. (Two days later, they’ll board a plane to play the prestigious Zappanale festival in Bad Doberan, Germany.)

Tickets for that show will be free for young adults between the ages of 13 and 19, Burris said, as long as they reside in Delaware County. (To claim the free tickets for teenagers, call the Belleayre Music Festival Offices at  845-254-6094 or email Parents will still have to buy their tickets.)

The mountain gets deeply funky on August 13, when Pee Wee Ellis and Billy Harper come to town. Ellis made his name as a saxophonist with James Brown and Van Morrison. (That’s him on “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”) Saxophonist Ellis has played with iconic jazz drummers Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Max Roach.

The eclectic season closes on September 3 with a triple bill featuring 2016 Grammy winner (for Best Regional Roots Music Album) Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. Openers will be New Jersey neo-bluegrass outfit Sleepy Man and Woodstock’s own “Mountains Meets Motown” talent Simi Stone.

“The community has really missed the festival,” Burris said. “They keep coming up to me to tell me how glad they are it’s coming back. It’s an exciting year of new beginnings.”

The Yardbirds. Saturday, July 2, 8 p.m. 181 Galli Curci Rd., Highmount. 845-254-6094.