WRUR 88.5 Different Radio

Jeff Spevak

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.

Teagan Ward doesn’t need The Weather Channel to understand the current climate in America.

“One of frustration, I suppose,” she says.

Ward works in the travel industry, developing tour packages to be sold by travel agents. She’s also a singer and songwriter on the Rochester scene, with her band Teagan and the Tweeds.

Rock royalty has played the tiny room known simply as the Bug Jar.

There was The White Stripes, before the duo became indie-rock favorites. The Black Keys, before returning to town a few years later for gigs at Blue Cross Arena and Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center. Vampire Weekend. The 1975, sharing a bill with Rochester’s Joywave. 

For most of 2020, I’ve been working from a second-floor room at my house in Charlotte. Typing, doing phone interviews, waiting for a neighbor to finish mowing his lawn so I can record something for broadcast. October came and went quietly. For the first time ever, no trick-or-treaters showed up at our door on Halloween. 

“The start of this story,” says Donny Clutterbuck, “could potentially be the trials and tribulations of becoming a different business every month.”

Thanks, Donny. I’ll take it from here. 

Clutterbuck is the bar manager at Cure, which offers French farmhouse cuisine at the Rochester Public Market. It’s one of the small treasures on the culinary scene here. And like all restaurants and bars in the COVID-19 era, the trial it’s been undergoing is the coronavirus pandemic. As an orange zone designee, Cure is open only for takeout. 

Optimism has been in short supply throughout 2020.

And clarity is virtually nonexistent. The Supreme Court has declared that New York state’s attempt to force churches and synagogues to adhere to coronavirus pandemic guidelines is a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. But after a tough day at work, if all you want is to sit down in front of a beer and listen to a blues band, your favorite bar is finding it tough to survive under those same COVID-19 guidelines.

This is, John Parkhurst says, “the longest intermission of our lives.”

As we churn toward what epidemiologists predict will be the darkest period yet of the coronavirus pandemic, venues such as Rochester’s Auditorium Theatre are shuttered in uncertainty.

“Right now, you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” says Parkhurst, chief operating officer of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League. “And if we can be open in March or April, it’s still a possibility.”

Amy Collins has never seen the northern lights. In the coming months, she aims to address that glaring hole in her soul.

Collins and her husband, Tim Clark -- both folk singers -- were hurtling down the New York State Thruway earlier this week, after leaving Rochester the day following the election. Behind them was Burlington, Vermont. Just ahead, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. They were at the head of a 52-feet-long, one-ton truck, pulling an RV trailer loaded with things they’ll need over the next five or so months of touring the country.

Danielle Ponder and her band -- Avis Reese, Derek Bennett, Levi Bennet and Jonathan Sheffer -- are on the stage at The Little Theater. In front of them are 280 seats, virtually all of them empty.

This is not the gig from hell. This is the COVID-19 reality.

It was 1966, and Armand Schaubroeck was ready for his close-up.

“He had us sit on that couch that’s on The Velvet Underground album,” Schaubroeck says. “I don’t know if he was trying to make the couch famous, but that’s where he shot most of his photos and his screen tests.”

A murmur of excitement rolled through the area’s movie-going community, long in coronavirus limbo, when word came out early Saturday afternoon that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had just announced that theaters throughout the state – umm, except you, New York City -- could reopen as of this Friday.

The news seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Then reality hit: Restarting an industry is not as simple as firing up the popcorn machine and hitting the projector “on” switch.

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