Fifty years ago, in August 1972, near the guest campsites, an Eagles tune drew Yuri to a parking lot where he joined Jerry Kopychuk and Andy Fediw in a harmonious blend of mellifluous vocals. They came to an international scouting jamboree at Vovcha Tropa, (Wolf’s Trek) a Ukrainian Scout Camp in East Chatham, New York where thousands of current campers and former campers from around the world celebrated Ukrainian scouting past and present. It was a spark that led to the formation of one of the most popular country rock bands in the 1970s-80s years, Kinderhook Creek.
Kinderhook Creek is a tributary to Stockport Creek, an inlet of the Hudson River running southwest through the Taconic Mountains into Columbia County where Yuri and I traveled this past weekend landing in Chatham, New York. We came for Yara Arts Group’s latest experimental theatrical endeavor, Radio 477 dedicated to the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1920s-30s, when “everyone was dancing on the edge of darkness.” It was a stunning artistic undertaking by Yara director, Virlana Tkacz after discovering the remains of an original score in an archive in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Anthony Coleman, the composer of the show, dedicated it to the Ukrainian artists of the time, Les Kurbas, Yuliy Meitus, and Maik Iohansen’s work depicted life and living in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, during the Industrial Era. I imagine a “Cabaret” movie set in Berlin or Fritz Lang’s dystopian “Metropolis.” The 1930s were tumultuous and dangerous years as artists were arrested and imprisoned. By 1937, over a thousand artists and cultural leaders were shot as Stalin and his Communist regime saw the Avant Garde as a threat to their power.
The 1970s were decisively turbulent in the U.S., especially around college campuses. A lowered drinking age to 18 brought college students out to the surrounding dive bars and music became a core connector as bands like Kinderhook created a live bar band market with Rutgers College and New Brunswick becoming the heart of the New Jersey club scene. Theirs was a sound that came from country rock/L.A. rock/Western Sky/CSNY/Eagles/New Riders of the Purple Sage/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Poco with Yuri Turchyn on guitar, fiddle, vocals; Jerry Kopychuk, banjo, guitar, vocals; Andy Fediw, bass, vocals; Stan Taylor, pedal steel guitar later joined by Craig Barry, drums, vocals, and Joe Breitenbach, lead guitar.
Kinderhook rehearsed long hours to perfect their tunes and harmonies playing a regular circuit of venues. Jerry was good at making the set lists and they changed the four sets from 45 minutes to three-hour-long sets bringing in record crowds. Most of the venues are gone: The Wooden Nickel, Widow Brown’s, The Gypsy, The Final Exam, Dodds Crest, Dodds Orange, Creations, Beach House, Royal Manor, Baby-O’s, The Joint In The Woods, Stone Pony, and of course, Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Although a record contract and national tour eluded them, they played six nights a week for almost nine years, and were arguably, the top drawing band in the state. Kinderhook was the only unrecorded act to open for Poco performing before 25,000 people at the Central Park Schaefer Music Festival (1975). The Capitol Theater was part of their being – an opening act that brought their loyal followers to the shows.
According to music critic Jay Lustig’s review of our short documentary KINDERHOOK: Send Your Demo Here Volume I, Kinderhook was declared to be “Jersey’s Eagles.” It’s what they seemed to be for a very long time: not just the leading country-rock band on the local club circuit, but a group that seemed to have more than enough musical talent, stage presence, and strong original songs to make it big.” Hailed by John Scher as the next great band coming out of New Jersey, Kinderhook never got a record deal.
But with undermining circumstances and eventualities, both Capitol Theatre and Kinderhook peaked and ebbed during a time full of upheavals when unprecedented music access, reasonable ticket prices, and historic theatrical settings were followed by corporations taking over the music industry, profiting on ticket sale monopolies and high priced arena shows marking an end of an era. And the start of Yuri’s change in musical direction following his desire to play jazz violin.
The Radio 477 performance took us “from the past brought to the present to call upon the past.” It makes us look at what is part of our heritage and appreciate what the cost was for the dedication to bringing live music performances to the masses. The costs can be high, life-threatening, debilitating, and disappointing. Nevertheless, it is a calling. We answered by coming out to experience the Yara Arts interpretation.
Radio 477 was a resounding crowdpleaser, but unfortunately at the same time on the other side of the world, there was shelling by Moscow’s forces in Kharkiv that killed seven people and wounded 16. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the attack as a “devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification as Russian forces pummeled Kharkiv and surrounding areas, attacking densely populated residential neighborhoods with indiscriminate weapons.” Please Support Ukraine.
That’s what lead us back to the garden with a twist. Radio 477 brought us back to a place fifty years ago to Kinderhook Creek, where it all started and where Yuri exclaimed, “I’m still here.” Our stay at an Airbnb was located on Kinderhook Street. We stopped at the 8th President of the United States, Martin Van Buren’s estate where he was born and bred in Kinderhook.
His nickname “Old Kinderhook” begat a slogan for his reelection campaign. His supporters formed “O.K. Clubs” around the country. Since then, OK became a ubiquitous influence around the world in asserting everything is all right. It may not be all right everywhere for a long time, but just as artists continue making music, performing the arts on stages, and creating thoughtful and provocative works, it can make change happen and start the healing we so desperately need.