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Talent with Taste: The Rosendale Cafe
Chronogram Magazine, September 25, 2007
The original article (with photos) is available here

It's just before 5pm and the phone is ringing. On the other end is the Rosendale Cafe's Mark Morganstern with an update on tonight's sure-fire sell-out by septuagenarian blues legend Louisiana Red.

"Listen, Red's wife, Dora, just called," Morganstern says. "They're in New London, Connecticut. She thinks they can be here in about two hours. No way. If we're lucky, they'll roll in just in time for Red to set up and play." But the cafe's famously tasteful talent booker seems barely fazed by the delay. "Oh, well, that's the blues, I guess. We'll be fine."

Half an hour before show time, however, Red's straight-back chair is still waiting, empty, on a tiny riser against the long wall in the middle of the one-room venue. None of the patrons in the packed house are complaining, though; they're all engaged in conversation or chowing down on veggie quesadillas or tofu stroganoff. Yet, to a former promoter, the uncertainty of the star's whereabouts all too quickly brings back certain nail-biting episodes of the 1980s. Will he show, or will the premises face mass refunds and rioting, angry blues fans?

Neither, thank God. As if on cue, Red and Dora's car pulls into the parking lot with only minutes to spare. Morganstern and some helpers carry the musician's amp and guitars in and set them up. The booking agent next returns to help the blind elder bluesman to the stage and introduces him to the audience with palpable reverence, humility, and graciousness. Then it's goosebumps all around as Red gets to work, growling away, stomping his foot a la John Lee Hooker, and slap-plucking his guitar like Son House. It's the real deal, all right. Rack up yet another stellar performance at the Rosendale Cafe, though not without a little sweat.

But after 14 years of presenting a truly unparalleled balance of world-class live music, eye-catching local art, and renowned vegetarian cuisine, Morganstern, whose focused intent, wild gray hair, and bushy mustache might one day land him the lead in The Albert Einstein Story, has built up a knack for riding out such potential difficulties. He'll be the first to tell you, however, that it's been a communal effort the whole way: Mark's wife of 23 years, Susan Dorsey, co-owns the restaurant and oversees its menu; the couple's three children, Luke, 21, Lily, 17, and Harry, 11, can all be seen waiting tables and helping out; and the business also employs a dedicated, hardworking staff of young students, musicians, and artists.

Together with some early partners, the Mark and Susan opened the eatery-cumvenue in September 1993, directly across the road from its present location in what had been the Tea & Foibles coffeehouse. Susan, a slim, studied dancer who holds a degree in theater and also works as a professional doula (assistant to the mother during childbirth) rolls her eyes as she recalls the period right before they took the plunge. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to have a little, simple coffee shop?'," she says with a short laugh. "We had no idea we'd end up with something like this. But back then Rosendale really had nowhere to go if you wanted to eat out, unless you count the Stewart's Shop on Route 32. So we decided to reopen [the original coffeehouse] as a vegetarian restaurant-healthy fast food, using organic ingredients as much as possible-and it just took off. People were telling us they drove for miles just to get our apple crisp and coconut cake. So then we thought, 'Why not book some music, too?'"

Since the day that fateful question was asked, the list of luminaries to have graced the cafe's modest space has grown to include some of the most revered, iconic, and promising new performers of folk, jazz, blues, rock, and world music; names like Janis Ian, Reggie Workman, Graham Parker, Chris Smither, Steve Forbert, Honeyboy Edwards, Dave Van Ronk, Tin Hat Trio, Ron Carter, Mary Gauthier, Eilen Jewell, Don Byron, and Mark Murphy, to name just a fraction. (In April, the bistro even hosted a talk by Ralph Nader, who was in town to promote the Rosendale Theater's screening of An Unreasonable Man.)

By 1998 the burgeoning operation had necessitated the move to a bigger space, so they took over 434 Main Street, a 100-year-old building that has, at various times, been a grocery store, a post office, and a video store. To help attract a crowd on the off nights, the cafe recently installed a gorgeous 1930s-era wooden bar, acquired from a local salvage outlet. "Early on, as I understand it, the upstairs was a place where ladies lived who provided 'entertainment' for the miners who stayed at the Astoria Hotel [across the street]," says Morgenstern. "It's been said that these ladies used to sit on the gallery porch, sunning themselves."

Mark is perhaps the most discerning booking agent upstate, one who knows what's real and good and prefers not to bother with the mediocre; a connoisseur whose prudence area audiences have come to trust and respect. "The concept is to present the absolute best music of its type in whatever genre," he explains. "It doesn't matter if [an act is] local, national, or international. It has to be something really exceptional, something that really moves me, or I'd rather just not have anything for that night." A fiction writer whose work has appeared in Chronogram and other publications, Mark has a background that makes him well qualified to make the kind of artistic judgment calls his solid reputation is built on. Raised in Schenectady, he's a classically trained bassist who studied at the Manhattan School of Music and played in jazz ensembles for several years (during the Vietnam War, he circumvented the draft by joining the Army band and even performed at the White House).

"What the Rosendale Cafe does is totally unique," says Chris Silva, executive director of Poughkeepsie's Bardavon Theater, "completely different than any other live-music venue in the entire Hudson Valley."

"Mark really strives for quality with the kinds of acts he books. I mean, where else could you see someone like [the now deceased] Dave Van Ronk in such an intimate setting? With Mark, it's never about 'How much money can I make?' It's all about the music."

In addition to the venue's proven genres, Morgenstern's "as long as it's good" policy has resulted in dates featuring local hip hop crew ReadNex Poetry Squad (October 20) and Rosendale hardcore unit Rising Up/Rising Down, whose drummer, Dan Estes, is a line cook at the cafe. "The [loud] volume was a bit too much for me," Morgenstern says of the latter event, a matinee record-release party, "so I just stood outside and watched the kids jump up and down. Which was still pretty fun, actually." Other mediums have a home at the venue too: Morgenstern selects the regional artists whose work hangs on the walls each month (October features paintings by Lora Shelley; a show by top photographer and Chronogram contributor

f-Stop Fitzgerald opens with a reception on November 4), while Susan's passion for dance has resulted in a popular Sunday-night salsa class/dance session. "We take nothing from the door, it's all for the musicians," says Morgenstern. "We have people that drive up here from New York to see shows. This place just has a really good feeling."

Talk to a few, and the musicians themselves are quick to echo the sentiment. "It really is a very welcoming place, definitely one of my favorite places to play in the Hudson Valley," says pianist Francesca Tanksley, whose trio featuring John Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Newman Taylor Baker performs on October 6. "Mark obviously respects the musicians very much, and he creates a really great atmosphere-not just for the musicians, but for the audiences, too. When I play there, it feels like I'm among friends."

Add one more voice to the choir, that of Louisiana Red. "This is my favorite place I played at so far this tour. It's a really nice place here," he enthuses. "And you better print that."

No doubt the headliner himself has picked up many new fans tonight, but the youngest one in the room has to be Harry Dorsey, who shuffles between the full tables, offering cups of water to customers still reeling from a transcendental performance. So, Harry, out of all the musicians you've seen play here, who did you like the most? He doesn't have to think about it long. "This guy," he says, pointing at the smiling, venerated bluesman. "So far."

High praise, indeed. So keep smiling, Red. Harry may be young, but he knows what's good.

--Peter Aaron and photographs by F-Stop Fitzgerald, Chronogram Magazine

Venue of the Month: The Rosendale Cafe
Acoustic Live, November 2002
The original article (with photos) is available here at the bottom of the page

As we drive up route 32 from New Paltz, ten minutes or so northward, we arrive in Rosendale, New York. Crossing an iron bridge over Rondout Creek, and making a left onto Route 213, Rosendale's Main Street, we've turned back the clock and have taken a trip back in time.

The storefronts lining Main Street are from another era, some of them dating back to the 1800's. The Grange Hall, with it's peeling paint and overgrown shrubbery seems to pre-date most of the architecture. Plunk down a few automobiles from the 40's and voila... instant movie set!

The Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant, and a warm, inviting performance space, hosts live musical performances each week on Friday and Saturday evening.

The acts range in styles from jazz, to folk, to ethnic, and old-timey (bluegrass, etc) and Americana. Some high-profile performers who have played the cafe include Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, Cliff Eberhardt, Ray Bonneville, Kelly Joe Phelps and the late Dave Van Ronk. We asked the propietor, and very gracious host, Mark Morganstern, some questions about the history of the cafe.

For instance, what has been his backgound in shaping his extraordinary musical taste? He stated: "I think I became musically conscious around junior high school. My brother was a big fan of Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, as well as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and a host of folkies like Oscar Brand, The Kingston Trio and other things like flamenco guitar. I started out with guitar lessons, then switched over to the bass fiddle when a high school teacher convinced me to join the orchestra. So I played both in the dance band and the orchestra enjoying them equally as well. I was lucky to get into the North Carolina School of the Arts and studied bass. Thanks to the music history teacher I got to hear music from all over the world. Early on, I formed the opinion that music was music and you didn't have to listen to only one kind. I think that idea affects the way I book the cafe. We offer Mbira music, blues, jazz, also what is known as "free" jazz, world music, etc. Basically, if it sounds like music (performed at a high level) I'm interested.

The cafe used to occupy a smaller space across the street. It moved to its present, larger location a few years ago. Mark recalled: "My wife, Susan, and I moved to Rosendale in 1989. We moved north until we could afford a home. I started adjunting at the community college and Susan met a lot of good people and found play groups for our son Luke. One day she walked into a failing antique/performance space storefront, on Main Street in Rosendale where nothing much was happening at the time, and agreed to take it over. Susan's idea was to have a coffee house. So, with a partner, we turned it into a small cafe. I was a vegetarian at the time, and many people were interested in that kind of food, so that's the cuisine we chose We served homemade desserts and organic coffee. At one point, nine years ago, Susan reminded me that I had worked as a professional musician and should look into presenting some artists. I began a search of the local jazz musicians and struck gold. We have some world class musicians and very fine folk artists living in our valley. I got a boost from legendary booking agent, Sean LaRoche, when I went looking for performers, He sent Cliff Eberhardt, Lucy Kaplansky, Suzzy Roche, and some other fine people to us in one season. He did this without us having a track record. From the beginning we seemed to have good luck presenting concerts."

"After 5 years our land lady wasn't sure what she wanted to do with the space we were renting. It seemed like it might be over. But Susan determined that we'd just have to get our own building and keep going. It turned out that the guy across the street was ready to sell his building which included a store front. So in the summer of 1999 we moved, remodeled, and opened a larger, more music friendly version of the Rosendale Cafe. This time we went for a decent PA, mics, etc. Over the years we've added sound enhancements to theroom, like clouds, bass corners, etc. Most of the musicians are satisfied with the sound quality. The larger space meant more room for diners and the cafe seemed to really catch on. Vegans and Vegetarians, and people willing to try a different type of cuisine are almost always pleased."

We asked him who some of favorite artists are. He said : "I have a lot of favorite artists and can't mention them all in one paragraph. Part of the enjoyment and intrigue of presenting live music is the interchange that goes on between the artist and myself. Just like anyone else in the audience, the musicians who most touched me with their gifts are the ones I think of: Sheila Jordan (jazz singer) Ron Carter (jazz bassist) Dave Van Ronk, Kelly Joe Phelps, Chris Smither Dave Carter & Tracy Grammar, Missy Raines & Jim Hurst, Vance Gilbert, Rani Arbo, Bruce Molsky, and so many others."

This month's eclectic mix of musicians includes mbira master, Forward Kwenda of Zimbabwe, Texas singer/songwriter, Eric Taylor, and our old buddy, national flatpicking champion, Orrin Star. See our listings for details, and get up there!

--Richard Cuccaro, Acoustic Live,

How to treat a tune
Awareness and dedication rock the Rosendale Cafe
The Woodstock Times, January 18, 2001

It's more than just cappuccino and biscotti at 434 Main Street, Rosendale. The seven-year-old Rosendale Cafe is a comfy pad for patrons, with its mismatched table linens, warm, artsy decor and made-from-scratch-with-love cuisine, it's one of the coziest places a famished bloke could hope for in the Hudson Valley.

But it's also a haven for the aurally starved, with stellar musical acts bearing their souls there week after week. Singer/songwriter Dar Williams just packed the house, with 90 or so listeners lining the sidewalk, waiting to hear her record for Jay Ungar and Molly Mason's "Dancing on Air" on radio WAMC. Legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter, a sidekick of Miles Davis on favorite late-night jazz shows, performed last year with his trio. The walls of the venue have reverberated with the sounds of blues baritone Kelly Joe Phelps, illuminating acoustic artist Lucy Kaplansky, story-telling lyricist Susan Werner, and hip poetess Suzzy Roche. When bluesman Geoff Muldaur played, John Sebastian showed up and sat in on harmonica.

This quaint cafe seems to be following in the footsteps Pawling's Towne Crier ... and with good reason. Co-owner Mark Morganstern knows and genuinely cares about music, and co-owners Sue Foss and Susan Dorsey are right beside him, rolling out the red carpet for each musician who walks through that door.

Morganstern is the optimum guy to book an act. A classically trained bass player himself who's spent many years on the circuit playing jazz and other genres, he's got the 411 on what's hot. "I've met a lot of people and I know a lot of musicians," he says.

But Morganstern doesn't just stand back and collect. He gets involved with gigs and listens to what artists have to say, getting to know them and their work intimately. "I work with the sound and production, the whole thing. It helps to understand what musicians are about, what key their tunes are in, and to be able to joke around on their level. And I make sure they get their Mission Burritos and their money." Relating a story from his own musical career, he jokes, "I was doing this jazz thing, and this guy said, 'Can you do another set? We haven't sold enough Mai Tais.' That sort of thing." That's just not what it's about here.

Players at the Rosendale Cafe walk out with all the bread. "We always give them 100% of the gross door receipts," says Morganstern. "In all our years of operation, we have yet to take any money from an artist. Even if it's a great local group and we can't hand them as much money as we want to, they still know they're getting all of it."

"Musicians really like the vibe and atmosphere because Mark knows how to treat them," says friend and musical compatriot Ken McGloin. "After Maria Muldaur played here, she told Mark he was a righteous dude. He listens intently to everything because he's very concerned about the quality of music and how it affects the integrity of the cafe. And if he hears someone he likes, on a CD or on the radio, he'll go after them. He pursues them."

Morganstern has pursued Chris Smither, who will play March 25. "I've wanted to get him for five years," he states. "He's a wonderful blues guitarist." The owners are also excited for the return of premier American songmaster Richard Shindell-who plays January 30-and they hope to see the return of Ron Carter some day soon.

Other artists on the up-and-coming menu are flatpicking comedian Orrin Star (this Friday), tenor man Sam Morrison (January 26), Woodstock legend Tom Pacheco (January 27), and primal vocalist Sloan Wainwright (February 17). This Saturday, the cafe is honored to present jazz vocalist Shiela Jordan, who just stepped off a plane from Japan. "What I really like," explains Morganstern, "is when someone like Jordan comes to play the cafe, and the night before has played a place like Birdland, one of the most famous jazz clubs in New York City. And we have lots of local musicians who go away on tour, but they still like to come back and play here on their nights off." Who else would cafe staff like to see? "I've heard that the Dalai Lama plays slide guitar," Morganstern jests, "and I'd like to check that out."

According to Morganstern, there are two forms of nutrition, food and music. Some patrons just come to check out the cuisine. "From the very beginning we wanted to have a comfortable place for people to come hang out," says Foss. "That's why we try to have good homemade vegetarian food and desserts. But we've always done music, too. We don't have any plans to change anything, because we've never wanted to get much bigger than we already are. We would just like to have amazing music in a small atmosphere, and still be able to feed them, which sometimes is an unbelievably difficult task. When those 90 people came to see Dar, we had to seat and feed all of them."

It's true that the Rosendale Cafe draws bigger names and larger crowds than some places. Quality and atmosphere are key in the all-acoustic format, whether it's for the famous or the yet-unknown.

"I try very hard to book some of the finest local musicians," says Morganstern. "We have amazing musical talent of all genres in this valley. We're not pretending to be the Pepsi Arena or anything."

For information on upcoming acts, call the cafe at 845 658-9048.

--Sharon Nichols, Woodstock Times,

The Rosendale Cafe®
434 Main St. • PO Box 436 • Rosendale, NY 12472 • 845.658.9048
Hours: 11:00am-10:00pm, seven days a week (except major holidays)