Kate Pierson digs pottery

Kate Pierson (photo by Monica Coleman)

Benefit concert to expand Ceramics Studio at historic Woodstock art colony

Timing can be everything: in creating a solo album of new music. In learning to make beautiful and functional pieces of ceramic art. In setting a date to get married. For Kate Pierson and her new wife, Monica Coleman, good timing has been a part of all of those events.

“Things just came together,” says Pierson, who shot to fame – and, at 67, prevails there – when the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” became their first of many hit singles back in the day. In July, everyone’s favorite party band was in Hawaii for a private event – and so was Sia, the Australian singer/songwriter and music video director who was executive producer for Pierson’s new solo recording, Guitars and Microphones. “Monica and I have been together for 12 years,” says Pierson, “and we wanted to get married sometime – when there was enough time. So, the B-52s were all there, and so was my friend Sia…it was like a harmonic convergence!” she laughs. “So, we hurried to get everything together and did the ceremony at the hotel. Our band was the Lim Family, a traditional Hawaiian band whom I met 15 years ago. Sia, who wrote the song ‘Crush Me with Your Love’ for my Guitars and Microphones album, sang it for us at the wedding.”

On Friday, August 28, Pierson brings her iconic star-power to the Byrdcliffe Barn for a special benefit performance to raise funds for the Guild’s Ceramic Studio. During the intimate evening, she’ll showcase Guitars and Microphones, along with some of the B-52s tunes.

Working on Guitars and Microphones was a different kind of creative process for Pierson, who says that Sia’s style of co-writing was “a little terrifying, very fast. I had some lyrics and ideas to start with, and I wanted this album to reflect my personal life, my journey. With the B-52s, we’d have a title and just jam – for hours, days, weeks sometimes – and the finished work was like a collage. It wasn’t necessarily three parts with a chorus, which was, uh, part of its unique quality,” she laughs. “This new album is more of a personal statement, more deliberate than creating party dance music. It includes some ballads, and more emotional, biographical songs. It worked out really well.”

Pierson arrived in the Catskills when she and the other members of the B-52s needed to get away from New York City following the 1985 death of founding member and guitarist Ricky Wilson. “It was a crisis for all of us, and we wondered if it might be the end of the band. Keith Strickland knew music photographer Laura Levine, who owns the Mystery Spot in Phoenicia, and she said, ‘Come visit.’ I was just tagging along, but I found my dream house, a beautiful small cottage, and bought it in 1987. Then, in 2000, I built a new house here.”

Once she established her Catskills roots, she became the very hip boutique hotel proprietor of Kate’s Lazy Meadow, too. Originally built in Mount Tremper in 1952, it has been, as she puts it, lovingly restored to its former glory with “maximum color and mid-century style.”

The New Jersey suburb where Pierson grew up had a lot of trees; her grandmother had a place near a wooded lake – and so did the B-52s when they lived in Georgia. “I always wanted to live in the country, and I love this area. It’s liberal, artistic, near enough to the City and there’s plenty to do here. Monica and I are passionate gardeners – we just put up pickles – and weeding is my therapy. We grow a lot of our own food and flowers.”

Coleman serves on the Board of Directors of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild and is a photographer, a talented ceramics artist and Pierson’s manager. “Monica has a very artistic nature, combined with an incredible business sense. She did the photo for my album cover and directed the album’s first video with Fred Armisted. And she’s been doing some road tour managing, too, even though she likes a little more solitude,” Pierson says. The couple built a small ceramics studio at their home, and Coleman studies with Ceramics-in-Residence director Rich Conti, who has taught at Byrdcliffe for two decades. Conti has nearly as much star-power as Pierson, and his classes fill up quickly every time they’re offered. “Monica has quickly advanced, and her work is very original, with Japanese influences. We have a collection of Russell Wright pottery, but we’ve slowly been moving his pieces out in favor of hers,” she laughs.

“I wasn’t really aware of all the Byrdcliffe buildings, and I got very fired up about White Pines, the Ralph Whitehead house,” Pierson says. “When you say you live near Woodstock, people say ‘that concert,’ and you say, ‘Well, actually, it was kinda far away from here’; but people should be more familiar with Woodstock’s role as an artist colony. There’s such incredible history here. When you see those old photos of Hervey White, founder of Maverick Concerts, he looks so hippie, so current. White Pines should be fully restored, like Jackie Kennedy restored the White House: furniture, fixtures, everything. I give the Guild a lot of credit for trying, but things have to be fixed as they come up, as needed. That house is the jewel in the crown, and people should come here just to see it.”

Keeping a focus on our local assets extends into Pierson’s music, too. She enjoys playing with the Connor Kennedy Band and Mike + Ruthy because “playing with them, playing with friends and having that kind of support is really great.” And, that new red guitar that she’s playing? Custom-made for her, by Joe Veillette.

Performing as a solo artist feels, in some ways, like the beginning of the B-52s, Pierson says. “There’s a thrill and electricity that happens. I’ve been talking with the audience from the stage. People know the lyrics to my new material and that’s a great feeling. I do ‘Roam,’ ‘Shiny Happy People,’ ‘Candy’ – singing the Iggy Pop parts – and it’s all really so much fun.”

The process of creating and now touring in support of her new album has been “sort of like gardening,” she adds. “There are new plant growths, new roots, and that’s satisfying. It feels very right to me. One reason I wanted to do a solo project was that it feels very gratifying to me to contribute to our community. I saw the Fugs perform at the Barn, and now it’s coming full circle for me with this concert, this new work. It’s fearsome to launch a solo project. It feels like leaving the mothership and launching into outer space. This effort to expand the pottery barn, one of the original crafts offered here in the artist colony, is very important. We’ve got to keep the potters potting!”

Proceeds from Pierson’s August 28 concert will be used to expand Byrdcliffe’s existing Ceramics Studio. The renovation plans include converting the lower Byrdcliffe Barn space to accommodate five community studio rentals; expansion of kiln space to allow for larger firings; adding raku, hand-building and tilemaking to current wheel-throwing classes; and winterizing the entire Ceramics Studio to allow for extended use.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (845) 679-2079 or visit https://www.woodstockguild.org/katepierson.html.

 – Debra Bresnan

Kate Pierson: Live at Byrdcliffe, Friday, August 28, 6:30-10:30 p.m., $150/$75, Byrdcliffe Barn, 485 Upper Byrdcliffe Road, Woodstock; (845) 679-2079, https://www.woodstockguild.org/katepierson.html.

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