The Upstate Arts & Culture Scene

  |  February 1, 2021

Magpie Bookshop in Catskill specializes in like-new books.

All I Need Are My Books & My Records

Every square inch of shelving space I have outside the kitchen is covered in books and records. (To be fair, the lion’s share of my 200+ vinyl collection was gifted to me by a reformed hippie, and I’m still working my way through it years later, but the books are all me.) Upstate, we may not have the Strand (although we have a Strand-curated hotel library), but we do have scores of quaint, quirky bookshops housed in everything from historic railroad depots to ramshackle roadside sheds to old firehouses. With fluorescent lighting and industrial carpeting, Half Moon Books in Kingston doesn’t score high marks on aesthetic appeal, but it smells of old books, and every month the window display features a fresh installation of clever book art. Owner Jessica DuPont is a funny, well-read, and humble oracle of taste. With a few choice questions and reference reads, she can guide you with chilling precision to your next favorite read.


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The first place I ever stepped foot in in Hudson all those many years ago was the Spotty Dog Books & Ale. Opened in a refurbed c.1889 firehouse in 2005, the Spotty Dog was the early local adopter of that most winningest combination: books and booze. Recognizing a million-dollar idea, others have since followed suit—Rough Draft in Kingston (another fave), Barking Goose in Newburgh—but it’s worth a trip to the OG spot. It’s fair to say that the Spotty Dog is equal parts local watering hole and bona fide bookshop. Meaning: people come to drink and shoot the shit with their neighbors without any intention of buying a book. But there are also over 10,000 volumes for sale, and come nightfall, the book bar is a hub for live music, trivia, and literary readings, with a well-attended local author series.

If you’re looking for rustic charm and a wayfinding adventure, strike out in search of Rodgers Book Barn in Hillsdale (heed the hand-lettered road signs). I only just found out about this bucolic bibliophiles’ paradise and I’m itching to go. Since 1972, book maven Maureen Rodgers has been operating a used bookstore out of an old wood-sided barn set amidst lush gardens several miles up a winding back-country road in the middle of nowhere. Inside is a warren of small rooms, tall stacks, narrow aisles, and cozy nooks. The floors are lined with vintage rugs and antique arm chairs and oddities are tucked into the corners. And there’s coffee upstairs. Sort of how I imagine heaven.


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There’s also local powerhouse Oblong, with two locations that draw big names, like Hillary Clinton and Neil Gaiman, for signings. And there’s the historic Woodstock gem The Golden Notebook, which cosponsors the town’s annual Book Fest. I could go on and on, but you should really just bookmark our comprehensive list of Hudson Valley bookstores.

However, if the volume you seek is the kind that goes to 11 (I apologize, I couldn’t help myself), our music editor Peter Aaron will send you to Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie. I am a novice vinyl enthusiast myself, but he assures me that the massive emporium is a “digger’s dream,” with 9,000 square feet of new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, stereo equipment, books and magazines, T-shirts, and gift items. Rhino Records is also a favorite of local music junkies with locations in New Paltz and Kingston. They stock both vintage vinyl and mainstream releases plus movies on DVD, and books. Still searching? Browse our full list of Hudson Valley record shops.


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Venues on Venues

The Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie

Fellow dilettantes, when it comes time to impress your music aficionado friends, Marlboro legend the Falcon is a great backpocket venue. Many a weeknight, I’ve strolled into the Underground, the casual downstairs bar, for a beer and a burger and been awed by virtuoso blues, jazz, or old-school country musicians I’ve never heard of (no surprise). Upstairs, big names (Chris Thile, Medeski, Martin & Wood) who have opted for a quiet country life play to crowds of diners in a more elegant, though still pay-what-you-can, setting.


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My first show at the revamped Colony Woodstock was a last-minute impulse excursion to see my newest Spotify discovery: rising star Emily King. The small, historic venue was packed with Millennials and older Woodstockers drinking pints and belting along. King was glorious with Prince-like hair and a colorful tux. She had people hanging from the ballroom’s balustrades. (I bought a vinyl, duh.) Nearby Bearsville Theater is another fave of mine, with its sunken bar and hometown ramshackle feel. I’ve seen local legends The Felice Brothers here at least three times. It’s always been a blast—even when the PA system was garbage and the roof was leaking. But now it’s under new ownership and a major glow-up means sound quality will be much better in the future.

You’re likely to find musician (and our veteran arts editor) Peter Aaron lurking in the corner of Tubby’s in Midtown Kingston. This newish bar has carved out an unlikely niche for itself, specializing in tater tots, mezcal, and underground punk/garage rock and free jazz. (Head to the fenced-in astroturf backyards to find the cool kids and smokers.) Boss Brian opts for avant-garde jazz with his ramen noodles at Quinn’s in Beacon, though in his college days, he was more likely to frequent the endearingly divey Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie for a Phish show. These days, the standing-room-only venue features mostly classic rock cover bands and metal shows, but it’s on the market now, so only time will tell what’s next on the playbill.


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And of course for big-name headliners, there are the classic venues: the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie and its sister venue UPAC in Kingston, both beautiful historic theater spaces that offer a mix of music, comedy, theater, and dance (I saw Beninese star Angelique Kidjo take the Talking Heads’ Remain in the Light to thumping new heights at UPAC). Bard College is a cultural powerhouse in the community. In the same year on the same Fisher Center stage, I saw the foul-mouthed irreverent standup of “Orange is the New Black” star Lea Delaria and the pensive, eloquent reflections of Salman Rushdie. When the kids are away for the summer, the pop-up Spiegeltent becomes a raucous, raunchy cabaret with a revolving suite of drag performers and local bands.

Read On, Reader...