Bardavon - Legendary Performers Since 1869











Having survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and the advent of suburban sprawl, by the mid-1990s the Bardavon had to face down yet another kind of crisis. With the City of Poughkeepsie and surrounding Hudson Valley decimated in the aftermath of recession and corporate downsizing, the routine challenge of meeting budget in a venue with a limited seating capacity was compounded by distressing new problems. Plagued by unemployment and a surge of street crime, the city known in history as the Queen of the Hudson was rapidly becoming a wasteland of vacant buildings. Rural neighbors and tourists shunned the downtown and, as many others left the region to find jobs, audience attrition reached new heights at the Bardavon. Clearly, the theater's survival would now depend upon its ability to become a positive force for economic revitalization by rallying cultural, municipal and corporate partners to help turn the tide of decline.




Taking a cue from the Bard, adventurous new management reached beyond the theater's walls to transform downtown streets, parks and riverfront into seasonal venues that could bring pleasure and inspiration out to the community. Toward this end, over the last ten years the Bardavon has developed, produced and collaborated on a series of large-scale outdoor events designed to bring people into the streets to celebrate rather than denigrate -- to enjoy the city, the river, the seasons -- to revel in their own traditions and those of others. Today, these events attract some 40,000 people downtown each year. The development of the Poughkeepsie Pavilion has been integral to this movement.


From the mid-19th Century and well into the 20th, the stretch of waterfront land at the foot of Main Street that is now Waryas Park was densely populated with terminal, trade, industrial and other structures. These buildings were razed when the park was established during the height of urban renewal of the 1960s and 70s. However, this movement also provided for the construction of Poughkeepsie's arterial thoroughfares, which in effect isolated the waterfront from the rest of the city and caused its eventual decline. During the following decades, the northern end of Waryas Park gradually deteriorated into a deserted, derelict parking area, frequented by drug dealers and vandals. In 1997, in partnership with the city, the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency and other private sector supporters, the Bardavon transformed this three acre parcel of city property into a performance and event space. The site is now a lawn backed by a grassy slope that delineates a natural bowl fully equipped with power and utilities.


Today, the Poughkeepsie Pavilion in Waryas Park is utilized by the Bardavon for outdoor concerts and the Hudson River Arts Festival and by other local organizations for community events such as the city's annual kids' Easter egg hunt, a Latino festival, the Poughkeepsie Shad Festival and the Between the Bridges Festival.




The Hudson River Arts Festival was initially developed by the Bardavon in 1995 with a downtown art gallery offering free performances by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and other regional artists in a downtown pocket park. From its beginning on half a city block, the festival has grown to a very successful one day only celebration every third Saturday of September in Poughkeepsie's waterfront Waryas Park, where riverboats are offered, and the Clearwater crew offers valuable river information and a ride on the Clearwater Sloop itself. Free admission to the festival encourages young families and low income neighbors to attend. A select group of handmade craft vendors, artisans, non-profit organizational displays, and a food midway that offers a tasty variety of ethnic foods (Jamaican, Italian, Soul, American BBQ, Greek, etc.) can be enjoyed throughout the day. Our partners in the festival, Barrett Art Center, Mid-Hudson Children's Museum and Clearwater offer a variety of educational, artistic and children's activities for the whole family to enjoy. Two stages provide continuous performances; the Second Stage features Bluegrass artists and the One River Many Streams multi-cultural folk artists. Our Main Stage offers many local performing artists (rock, folk, bluegrass, etc.) and two, or three, nationally known artists, including a world class headliner artist. An amazing display of fireworks light up the sky between the Mid-Hudson Bridge and the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge immediately following the final performance of the night. We are optimistic that we will be able to reinstate this favorite event in the future.




Each December since 1994, the Bardavon's Celebration of Lights has brought a procession of revelers and thousands of tiny white lights to Poughkeepsie's downtown streets to brighten the darkest time of year. Many crews from the City of Poughkeepsie with the assistance of Bardavon staff spend numerous hours lighting up trees, light poles, windows in buildings, and two huge Christmas trees along the parade route, within a fourteen block radius of the theater's corner of Market Street in the heart of the business district. The culminating parade features many marching bands (bagpipe, fife and drum, drum and bugle, brass, etc.), the giant puppets from Arm of the Sea Theatre, the Brazilian band IABAS and their one hundred city elementary school students from their in-school residency program, Thunder Road Cruisers classic 50's and 60's cars, community groups, scouts, floats, fire engines, local dignitaries and an occasional surprise, and of course Santa. The procession makes its way, beginning on Main Street and Academy Street , down Main, stopping at Main and Market for the City of Poughkeepsie's tree lighting with the Mayor and Santa, to Donagan Park , in Pougkeepsie's downtown restaurant district, for a second tree lighting and the largest firework display of the year. Afterwards, families can treat themselves to a special holiday movie at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House.



For many years the Bardavon has presented an afternoon matinee for senior citizens every fall and spring. A traditional part of the Bardavon repertoire, Matinees & Music has become a vital part of our community outreach program. Presenting programs of nostalgia featuring everything from big band music to classic films; the Bardavon promotes these programs specifically for seniors. Making the performance accessible on all levels, the price for admission is a suggested donation of $5. This price structure has not changed in more than 14 years. No one is ever turned away if they are unable to pay. Realizing that many patrons would not be able to make their own transportation arrangements, we take accessibility further by expediting and underwriting travel arrangements for groups (and individuals) from local area senior centers and facilities. Using the successful Bardavon program as a model, we have implemented the Matinees & Music series at the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston.



Poughkeepsie's Main Street leads from the riverbank up into the city center and nearly to the Bardavon's front door, connecting these two consummate venues and uniting the region's most treasured natural resource with its most vibrant cultural resource. This is how in fill happens and neighborhoods change for the better, retrieving lost history and restoring desecrated land and buildings. On a more regional scale, there exists a host of other significant artistic developments along this Mid-Hudson Valley stretch of the river - at the Dia Art Center in Beacon, Marist College on the Poughkeepsie/Hyde Park border, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, and the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli. These will link the Main Street corridor to an unparalleled "arts corridor" and strategic section of the Hudson River Greenway trail system. And all this in one of the few regions in the country that can boast the dual distinction of designation as a National Heritage Area and an American Heritage River!


To find out how you can get involved contact our Community Events Coordinator Kathleen Petrillo at at (845) 473-5288 ext. 131 or send an e-mail.

© 2016 Bardavon/UPAC
Last modified: 2011-04-28 15:21:54