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Sweet Music

 

An article from the Summer 2008 issue of Saratoga Lifestyles

By Paul Grondahl

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – It was approaching midnight on a Saturday in late-February at Gaffney’s as Sharon Dwyer Bolton wrapped her husky voice around Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 hit “Landslide.” She sang the soulful lyrics with a knowing nod of the head: “But time makes you bolder/Children get older/I’m getting older, too/Well I’m getting older too.”

She looked across the crowded, narrow dining space toward the long bar and caught the eye of a good friend, Kim Smith, manager of Gaffney’s for the past two decades, and, as if on cue, they both threw back their heads and sang out in unison, “So what?”

That joyful exchange between the two women sums up why Rick Bolton and the Dwyer Sisters -- one of Saratoga’s longest-running and most popular bar bands – are still singing their hearts out at bars and clubs up and down Broadway after more than a decade. “I’ll be making music until the day I die,” said Rick, the 57-year-old guitarist and lead vocalist whose day job is working as a carpenter for Warren County. He’s married to Sharon, who is the sister of singer Molly Dwyer. He plays harmonica along with his acoustic guitar on some of the songs and his voice can range from the bluesy growl of John Prine to the soulful keening of Neil Young. Rick grew up in Hague and started playing in garage rock bands as a teenager in the late-‘60s, traveling to gigs by boat along Lake George.

His philosophy as a singer-songwriter and band leader these days can be found in the title of his 2004 CD, “I’m Only in it for the Beer.” As he noted, “We don’t make much money playing music, but it’s taken us to a lot of great places, introduced us to wonderful people and provided a lot of joy.”

Bolton and his wife, Sharon, 48, live in Greenfield. She makes time to perform in addition to being the mother of three and holding down a full-time job as a graphic designer at Ambrosino Design in Saratoga. “You just feel the music in your toes,” Sharon said.  “There’s nothing better than getting up on stage and performing.”

“It’s good for the soul when you get it right,” observed Molly, 45, a single mother of two who lives in Saratoga and works as a Saratoga County probation officer. Her daughter, Maggie Doherty, has also caught the music bug and sings in bands in the Saratoga area.

Rick Bolton and the Dwyer Sisters is rounded out by bass player Arlin Greene, 49, a full-time musician who lives in Lake Luzerne and plays in numerous bands. He’s the son of legendary country and bluegrass performer Smokey Greene. “What I love about playing with Rick, Sharon and Molly is that they’re always in a good mood,” he said. “We’ve never had a bad night. That’s a very rare thing for musicians.”

The band’s layered sound is anchored by Greene’s bass and Bolton’s fine guitar picking. Molly also plays flute on several songs. The songs are framed by the sweet, joyous harmony created by the Dwyer sisters.

“It comes easy for us because we got an early dose of singing harmony with our parents on long car rides,” Sharon recalled. They grew up on the west side of Saratoga Springs and would make weekly drives to their grandparents’ house in Westchester County – singing the entire way, led by their parents and joined later in three-part harmony by their little sister, Katie. As teenagers and college-aged women, the Dwyer sisters were the self-described “queens of the open mic” scene in Saratoga.

In adulthood, the sisters went their separate ways, but reunited in Saratoga in the early 1990s when they became mothers around the same time.

Rick started playing in Saratoga in 1978 and with the Dwyer Sisters he’s played every bar in town, as well as all of Saratoga’s outdoor summer events and street festivals, including First Night (for which Sharon designs the posters).  “Playing out is just great fun and we get to blow off steam after a week at work,” Rick said.

The most challenging gigs as they move into their 40s and 50s are Friday nights, after a full week of work. “As we get older, the hardest part is staying awake and playing until 2 a.m.,” Sharon said.

Their milieu at Gaffney’s is the upper-level bar area. They draw a loyal crowd to hear an eclectic mix of folk, rock and blues on a cramped stage in front of the swinging kitchen doors. The crowd in this space skews toward their 40s and 50s, a demographic for whom the band’s spirited covers of John Prine, Indigo Girls, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, the Beatles, Richard Thompson and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young need no introduction.

Rick Bolton and the Dwyer Sisters and their fans are content to leave the thumping techno and hip-hop music to the twentysomething clubbers on the lower patio level, where the women arrive by stretch limousine on impossibly high heels and strapless mini-skirts and the men move in a cloud of cologne and a clatter of gold chains.

“We love playing anywhere in Saratoga,” Rick said. “Other than New Orleans, it’s the only place I’ve found where you can park your car and walk a few blocks to 20 different music venues in the summer.”

Their home base is Gaffney’s, where they play every two weeks and where customers treat them like family members. On this night, Dean and Barb, a middle-aged couple, are celebrating his birthday. Rick obliges their request for a John Prine song. “They’re really enjoyable, a down-home band who are fun to listen to,” Dean said.

“They bring a crowd every time because they’re friendly and connect with people,” said Lisa Reilly, a longtime fan of the band and a friend of Molly’s, whose sons play basketball together. “Aside from being great musicians, they’re receptive to what people want to hear.”

“They exude happiness and people love that because they see that it’s authentic,” Kim Smith said.

As they prepared to wind up their first set, Rick gave a shout-out to veteran bartender Tommy Cabbage. “He’s the best bartender in Saratoga, so be nice to him,” Rick said.

And then Sharon and Molly settled into a lovely, soaring harmony on the Indigo Girls’ song, “Closer to Fine.”

The words they sang seemed apropos of the setting and the late hour:
”I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m./to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend/and I woke up with a headache like my head against a board/twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before/and I went in seeking clarity.”
After more than a decade together, Rick Bolton and the Dwyer Sisters, the hardest-working bar band in Saratoga, is as close to fine as you’re likely to find. •