Time Out: August 7, 2013
At first it appeared like a trip to Yankee Land. Driving into the Foothills Performing Arts Center in Oneonta was like an assault to the senses of a diehard Met fan. SUVs with glaring NY spare tire covers, Yankee license plates, and all kinds of Bronx Bomber window decals were proof positive a Yankee crowd had assembled to see Bernie Williams and his All-Star Band. Then again, one shouldn’t forget that for three decades Oneonta was a New York Yankee town and Bernie Williams himself began his professional sports career playing baseball at Damaschke Field.
Chatting with the concert audience, it was obvious that by performing in Oneonta, Bernie Williams was coming home. He was 18 years old at the start of his Oneonta stay, he kept a room with a local host family even though most of his day, when the Yankees were in town, was spent at Damaschke. It was in Oneonta that Williams began an experiment to become a baseball switch hitter.
“Coming to Oneonta was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Bernie reminisced, “even though I never hit a home run on that field. I don’t know if anyone could hit a home run there,” Williams said in recalling the cavernous Damaschke.
Big time Yankee star
Starring for 16 seasons in Yankees Stadium’s centerfield and helping the team in pinstripes win four World Series titles is a valued springboard for creating the buzz and interest every performer would love. Yet, it doesn’t take long to understand that Bernie William’s reputation as a gifted musician is based on merit. And, Williams brings that same humble, unsung profile that worked so well for him as a Yankee to the stage, the consummate teammate, a guy more than willing to shine the spotlight on the other exceptional musicians in his All-Star Band.
Whether he’s patrolling the outfield or anchored front and center strumming his guitar on the stage, Bernie Williams is a portrait of consistency, a guy who banks on thousands of hours of preparation to be able to accomplish two great pursuits in one lifetime.
Bernie’s love of music was fostered growing up in a home where music reigned. That love was soaring when Bernie was eight-years old and his dad brought home a flamenco guitar. That moment began Bernie’s lifetime love for the instrument and the music it inspired.
Bernie’s commitment to music later blossomed as a high school student at Puerto Rico’s Free School of Music where he studied classical guitar.
Dedication to practice
“My parents never had to tell me to practice,” notes Bernie when discussing his thorough preparation for both music and baseball.
At 17 years old, it was Bernie’s baseball skills that caught the eye of the mighty Yankees. After signing a contract to play with the Yanks, Bernie’s music took a back seat for two decades, but his guitar always accompanied Williams wherever his travels with the Yankees took him, and he grabbed moments to play and study his craft wherever and whenever he could.
After leaving the Yankees in 2007 (Bernie has never officially retired) Williams turned his full attention to his music. He visited SUNY Purchase and, working with Dave Gluck, the Dean of Music who would become Bernie’s composition teacher, and Bob Thompson his music mentor, Bernie pursued a specially tailored one-year course of study in preparation to his first album, “Journey Within.”
The trio also co-authored “Rhythms Of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance,” a fascinating read exploring the intertwined connections shared by baseball and music. The mindset is the same, the approach is the same, the fundamentals are the same, the skill set is remarkably similar, and the languages of both are interchangeable.
Listening to Bernie and his All-Star Band was incredible. Yes, I did have to suffer through the same BERNIE WILLIAMS, Yankee Stadium chants that seemed more suited for baseball’s premiere cathedral than the Foothills stage.
But the interplay between baseball and music is what Bernie Williams is all about. After being called back at the conclusion of the program for a few additional numbers, Williams ended the show alone on the stage in an intimate moment with his audience. performing his unique rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” It was vintage Bernie Williams, an extra inning, musical, acoustic home run.