Best of Hudson Valley 2013: Best Actors, Chefs, Musicians, and Influential People in the Hudson Valley, Upstate NY
PLUS: Readers’ Picks, including best actor, actress, chef, local musician, and politician
Photograph by Cassandra Jenkins
The Hudson Valley has long been home to world-class artists and musicians; some of them are wildly famous, while many more are still under the boldface-name radar. That’s where you will probably find Mike + Ruthy. Although you may not know them, the music world does. They have been hailed for crafting “some of the best songwriting of their generation” and recording songs that are “destined to become a classic.”
Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, both 37 and married since 2006, met in New York City after college. She is a musical scion, the daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. He has been playing in bands since middle school. But both were pursuing acting careers.
“Music was just something my family did,” says Ungar. “I grew up playing, but it was not a career interest — like any kid who grows up in a family business.” Nevertheless, Merenda says that Ungar “had all these great instruments that she’d lug from one small New York apartment to another small New York apartment.” They started playing music together, and “suddenly I found myself having fun with music,” Ungar explains.
They formed bands in the city, then moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, where they started a successful folk rock band called the Mammals. When that act ran its course, around 2006, the two moved into Ungar’s childhood home in West Hurley, and started Mike + Ruthy. “Our music was described by a friend as ‘present,’ which I like,” says Merenda. “We are songwriters and performers from a theater background, so we try to stay connected to the present moment. For more obvious classifications, we are in the folk-Americana-singer-songwriter tradition. We are in that sound palette. But I find all those genres paint a picture that doesn’t quite capture what the live experience creates. It’s alchemy.”
Although they spend up to 200 days a year on the road, Mike + Ruthy have become a centerpiece of the burgeoning mid-Hudson Valley music scene. They are members of Amy Helm’s Woodstock Music Collective and, when they’re in town, sit in at weekly jams at the late Levon Helm’s “ramble” barn. They also produce their own summer and winter “Hoot” festivals — featuring regional musicians like Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, and others — at the Ashokan Center, which just happens to be run by Ruthy’s dad.
“I feel like the music community is having another renaissance right now,” Ungar says. “So many cool people have recently moved here, there’s a burgeoning scene both musical and otherwise, a certain magnetism that is difficult to name. But people tend to tour, then sit in their recording studios. We are trying to get them out of the hermit mentality and get together and have a scene. We want everybody to meet their cool neighbors.” www.mikeandruthy.com
Photograph by Alicia King
SAMANTHA DeROSA Poughkeepsie
Move over, Katy Perry. Sam DeRosa’s in the house. The pop singer/songwriter (now in her final year at Boston’s Berklee College of Music) won “Discovered,” a national talent search put on by Mercy College in 2011; her debut EP, Promise Me, dropped the next year. Her songs range from fun, upbeat tunes to emotional ballads — and yes, they’re all her own compositions. She’s performed at the Chance in Poughkeepsie (where she opened for pop star Aaron Carter) and frequently belts out the national anthem with her sisters to kick off Renegades games. A new EP is set to be released this fall along with a music video for her new single, “I Wanna Love You.” www.samderosa.com
Friend To Newburgh
DEIRDRE GLENN Newburgh
Many people have stepped up to help suffering Newburgh, but few have gone above and beyond like Deirdre Glenn. She’s the driving force behind the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, a nonprofit organization that hosts educational and athletic events for city youth at the renovated Newburgh Armory. Citizenship and naturalization programs, as well as English language and computer training classes that assist the Latino community, are also gaining popularity — between 500 and 600 people attend the programs at the center each week. Prior to her work at the armory, Glenn led Newburgh’s Habitat for Humanity for close to a decade. During her tenure, the chapter developed ReStore, a program that recycles building materials and furniture, and Habitat increased the number of houses it can build in a year from two to nearly 10.
Laurie McIntosh was an elementary school teacher when she had an epiphany. “The word ‘storytelling’ just magically appeared in my head one day,” she says. “I don’t think I even knew what that was, but I thought it would fit into my life.”
It more than fit: It became her life. McIntosh left teaching to pursue her new calling as a children’s storyteller and performer. “I wasn’t cut out for a real job,” she says. “I always preferred an ‘in the moment’ experience. If there is one consistent thing in my shows, that’s it — it’s in the moment.”
Along the way, the 43-year-old — who lives in Andes with her husband Ira and two children — added music. “I started to sing a bit in my shows, and people liked my voice,” she says. “I learned to play guitar. I evolved. Now my show includes a fair amount of improv,” which includes writing songs on the fly.
When not performing at schools, libraries, and other venues, she’s often in the recording studio. Her most recent CD, Groovin’ in the Garden, includes a tuba-driven “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” and a boogiewoogie version of “The Hokey Pokey.”
She tries to include something for adults in her shows. “My ‘Apple Tree and the Bee’ song is about, ahem, pollination,” she says. “When performing it live, I do the ‘buzz-buzz-buzz’ refrain as a call-and-response, starting out simple and taking it to a scat, a la Louis Armstrong. The adults always dig it.” 845-676-4727; www.storylaurie.com
Photograph by Steffen Thalemann
Environmentally Friendly Clothing Designer
CHRISTINE FROMM OF FROMM DESIGNS Highland
Recycled garb takes on new pizazz with Fromm’s one-of-a-kind designs. During her childhood in Germany, she studied tailoring and pattern making and first caught the designing bug from her European grandmother. “She would take old adult coats and redesign them into beautiful ones for kids — and even make little coats for the dogs with the leftover fabric,” she recalls. After coming to the U.S. and working with designers in Manhattan, Fromm moved north, and focused on expanding her collection of unique creations. Recycled wool, cashmere, mohair sweaters — all are transformed into women’s dresses, skirts, coats, and hats, many with a scarf to complete the outfit. “I use every bit of the material; I’m really into it,” she says.
Along with her distinctive garments, Fromm creates special keepsakes: “If a loved one has passed on, I can take some of their sweaters, for instance, and make them into a lovely blanket to remember them by.” Some of Fromm’s outfits are sold at Eden Boutique in New Paltz, and her designs are featured at the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival each October. 845-255-5787; www.frommdesigns.com
Morning Show Personality (TIE)
LIAM NEESON Millbrook
MELISSA LEO Stone Ridge