Tor Krautter on how he chooses programming for the Colonial Theatre
PITTSFIELD — Musician, grandfather, step-parent, husband, performer, programmer for Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre. Forty-nine-year-old Tor Krautter is all those things.
One thing more. He's pragmatic; a realist.
That strain is reflected in the way he's been programing events at the Colonial Theatre since he replaced Simon Shaw in January. The season he's put together is top-heavy with concert tributes to Aretha Franklin, Neil Young, The Beatles, Glen Campbell, Bon Jovi, Journey, Tom Petty, The Talking Heads.
"Of course, we'd always prefer to have the real thing," Krautter said, settling into an armchair in the Colonial Theatre's inner lobby. "We're not going to get the Bruce Springsteens here and even if we could, it would be about $500 a ticket. But we can offer the music, the experience at an affordable price. This is the music the community wants to hear and, at the end of the day, we're here to serve the community."
Neil Young fans were treated Friday night to "Harvest & Rust: The Neil Young Experience." Coming up this week are Melvin Seals and JGB (Jerry Garcia Band) on Thursday and, on Friday, Jimmy Mazz and The Glen Campbell Xperience, a performance that will donate a portion of its proceeds to the Alzheimer's Research and Treatment Foundation.
Seals was a member of Jerry Garcia's band from 1980 until Garcia's death in 1995. He formed JGB in 1996, after the death of Garcia bassist John Kahn. "Seals made this band so he could do what he loved," Krautter said, "a lot of R&B, his passion."
Krautter described Jimmy Mazz' Glen Campbell Xperience as "a sensational show, performing (Campbell's) music and celebrating the artist without imitating him."
A tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is set for the first of November. On Nov. 10, the music of Bon Jovi and Journey will be celebrated in "Bon Journey, NY." "Start Making Sense: A Talking Heads Tribute" is set for Nov. 17, and, on Oct. 27, in a guest presentation, Krautter and his band, Rev Tor, will join a bunch of fellow Berkshire musicians on the Colonial stage in a tribute to Tom Petty, who died on Oct. 2, 2017.
Sprinkled amid the tributes are, among other programs, Pittsfield CityJAZZ Festival; comedy nights; holiday events, among them Albany-Berkshire Ballet's "The Nutcracker" and BTG's own holiday tradition, "A Christmas Carol;" two programs from No Boundaries in Art; a Remember the Fifties concert; and a performance by the Eagles Band.
The way Krautter sees it, there are two ways to go with tributes. In one, he says, "you dress up like the performer or the group and try to sound like them, but to pull that off successfully you have to be really, really good at it."
Krautter prefers the other approach — "celebrating the music," he said, "especially with a twist, doing it really, really, really well without trying to fool anyone."
Case in point, last month's "Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience."
"It was an amazing show," Krautter said. "This was a group of kids who were raised on The Beatles. They went out and learned every Beatles song and then put on a performance with a set-list that is determined each night by the audience. They play that music and do it very well without trying to sound like (The Beatles). It's really beautiful."
Krautter also said he plans to expand the comedy series that was developed for The Garage in the Colonial's main lobby by Berkshire Theatre Group's former press director, Madelyn Gardner.
"We're playing to full houses each time," Krautter said, adding that he sees the venue as a place for young comics to develop material outside the usual comedy circuit. "It's a way for them to play to a new crowd in a different room."
Coming up are Katie Goodman (Oct. 25) and Catherine Cohen (Nov. 15). On Oct. 19, the Colonial's big stage will host a guest presentation, The Make Comedy Great Again Tour.
Krautter, who lives in Stephentown, N.Y., with his wife and their 4-year-old granddaughter, whom they've been raising, is no stranger to the Berkshires. He grew up in Edgemont in New York's Westchester County, but his parents also had a house on Stockbridge Bowl, which he remembers visiting often as a kid. After graduating Edgemont High School, Krautter moved to Los Angeles to attend Musicians' Institute at College of Contemporary Music, but, he said, because he didn't like L.A., he didn't want to stick around after finishing at MI.
"I remembered the Berkshires, so I came back and planted roots here." That was 1991. In 1996, he formed a jam band, Rev Tor, which is still going strong.
Taking on this job at the Colonial has given Krautter some fresh insights into a business he's known as a performer, who also is his own agent.
"Now, when I'm negotiating with an agent (for a Rev Tor gig), I know how far I can go," he said. "I've learned quite a bit as a performer trying to get my work out there. Now, I'm learning more now about how to make an appropriate pitch." By the same token, he said, his experiences as a musician have informed his work as BTG's programmer.
Krautter, who said he is enjoying every bit of the work he is doing for BTG and its CEO/artistic director, Kate Maguire, acknowledges that the learning curve has been steep.
"There is always some risk," he said. "There is always some trial and error."
His biggest concern, he suggested, is knowing himself too well. "I can get ahead of myself," he said, his face breaking into something of a sheepish grin. "In terms of my own personal taste, I can think something is cool, but that doesn't mean it will appeal to everyone else."
When Krautter took on the job in January, his predecessor, Shaw, had already programmed BTG's 2017-18 Colonial season. The 2018-19 schedule is all Krautter.
"This is (the) first (full) season of programming that's really mine," he said. "So, we'll learn what works and what doesn't, and apply those lessons down the road.
"This is a beautiful imaginative theater. We could do just about anything here. At the end of the day, we're here to serve the community.
"We love the music we love. If we can give (our audiences) music they love, at an affordable price, and get them home by 11, that works for me."
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