SARATOGA SPRINGS – Some people called him “Captain Fun,” others the “unofficial mayor of Saratoga Springs,” but the one sure thing of which you could be certain when running into Al McKenney on one of his strolls along Broadway, was you would hear a story you had never heard before. And he had a wealth of lifetime experiences from which to draw.
McKenney had managed concert tours featuring musicians from David Bromberg to Clannad and performed emcee duties for the Smithsonian’s annual National Folk Festival, and Pete Seeger’s Great Hudson Revival. His voice is forever immortalized at Kent State University on their KSU Folk Festival Recordings, which date back several decades. Beyond McKenney’s omnipresent suspenders, purple Caffe Lena T-shirt and similarly colored beret were the tales of musicians Utah Philipps or Rosalie Sorrels and memories of Lena Spencer, owner of the coffeehouse on Phila Street where so many memories have been made.
When the then 26-year-old hitchhiked a ride from his native Massachusetts to land in Saratoga Springs in 1971, there was no going back. When McKenney died in the summer of 2015, he had amassed more than 1,000 vinyl records and hundreds of CD’s and music-related books.
This week, volunteers at Caffe Lena began unpacking the first 18 boxes containing the vinyl collection and placing them alphabetically in specially designed purple shelves, each standing nearly seven feet in height and located in the café’s entry area.
First out: Joan Baez’s self-titled debut on Vanguard Records – in mono, no less and released in 1960, the same year Lena and Bill Spencer opened the doors of their café. Next came a slew of Louisiana Cajun compilations led by the 1934 Lomax Recordings and a handful of platters by Clifton Chenier. There was a large collection of albums by Joni Mitchell, by Hank Williams, and by Bruce Springsteen. More than a half-century of Bob Dylan recordings spread across the lobby floor.
“The ‘D‘ space will probably have to be larger,” surmised Caffe Lena Executive Director Sarah Craig, eyeballing dozens of record jackets whose vinyl grooves contained the original strains of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” to "Silvio" and "Gotta Serve Somebody," live performances of "My Back Pages" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," to cover renditions performed by The Byrds, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The plan for the collection – named the Captain Fun Listening Library - is to share with the community the kicks the music delivers. Caffe Lena will host a Lunchtime Listening Hour one Friday each month, with the tentative hope to kick off the series the first Friday in October. The listening hour will take place 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a completely free event, curated by Chuck Vosganian aka Rochmon, and attendees are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch.