By Michael Eck
Like most great things, Nippertown started simply. As a wild idea. Untamed, hairy, loose in the woods. Even before he was done with his 17-year stretch as a staff writer for the Albany Times Union, Greg Haymes was looking out the window of his 18th-century farmhouse and dreaming up ways to survive in a post-buy-out world of modern journalism.
Following a similarly long run as a bonafide rock star (singing throughout the 70s and 80s in the Star Spangled Washboard Band and MTV favorites Blotto), Haymes had cut his critical teeth with Metroland and The Daily Gazette before settling in at the TU, the largest, most influential rag in the region.
The point is, he knew his stuff.
And he knew his particular skill set, too.
Haymes, despite the mess of folders, compact discs and magazine clippings stacked around his Castleton home, was incredibly organized. He was, as his longtime friend Bowtie Blotto once said, a listmaker.
In collected monthly planners, Haymes held the history of the Capital Region’s music scene, going back decades, each entry meticulously penciled in, marking dates, venues and curiosities. His mind held even more, the ability to race through mental files for a reference, placing an artist at a specific point in time, a song in its cultural soft spot or a cinematic reference in a story about opera or sculpture, or Scott Walker.
He was unusually kind as a reviewer, hewing to the positive whenever possible and never hastening to sharpen the knife.
His support for his fellow artists of all stripes was bottomless. He knew about your band, maybe even before you formed it. He loved your painting. He read your book.
These traits made Nippertown—inspired by other blogs, but not shaped by them—a natural extension of his personality, as easily as Sarge Blotto lifting his hand in the air to thrill an audience.
But, from the first beat, there was another side to Nippertown. For all he knew about the music scene, Haymes’ knowledge of the technical aspects of creating and maintain a serious, functioning, ever-expanding website were next to nil.
Enter Sara Ayers, perhaps reluctantly. Ayers, a respected ambient musician in her own right, with credits around the globe, just happened to know everything about running a website, from redesigning templates and optimizing page load times to taking the all-important photographs of the couple’s dogs to that celebrated the arrival of every Friday afternoon.
Ayers also brought her opinions to bear—on content, style and editorial philosophy.
Almost overnight the site, which launched in May 2009, began to attract contributors, egged on, begged on and urged on by Haymes and Ayers. Some writers and photographers had never written about or photographed a show. They’d been happy simply holding tickets.
Haymes shaped them. He helped them learn how to tell a story; how to define an event with an image; and how to create a magical thing called copy, merely out of the thoughts in their heads.
He validated contributors. And as the shaky world of traditional journalism shook even more, he gathered up those that had fallen from the trees, employing scribes from his own birthplace at Metroland as well as The Troy Record, The Saratogian and, yes, The Times Union.
Soon enough Nippertown—with its popular “Today’s Tips” telling hungry fans where to go for a fix—became about more than just music. Ayers kept the pulse of the visual art scene; Haymes pulled content from theatre blogs; comedy grew into a regular feature.
It became not just what Haymes and Ayers wanted it to be, but what its contributors and its readers wanted, too.
It became something much more than a wild idea. It became a wild thing.
By the time it approached its tenth anniversary, Nippertown had won awards, garnered a hardcore following and became the place to find out about art, music and culture in the Capital Region.
The last post on the original site fell in mid-May 2019, letting fans know about a celebration of life for Haymes, who had passed quickly and unexpectedly from metastatic cancer the month before.
In his heart, he was ready to wind Nippertown down and pursue his own vision for making art; and to travel, with his greatest passion, Sara Ayers.
She had “retired” from Nippertown, in spirit, years before, but maintained the site for as long as Haymes felt it needed to last.
She was pleased when she as approached by NYSMUSIC’s Jim Gilbert, and others, looking to carry on, to make good on the legacy. She knew Gilbert and fiancée Laura DaPolito would bring the same love for each other and for the site to their stewardship of Nippertown.
The genders have switched. He’ll build the site and she’ll edit.
Ayers, for her part, will sleep at night, knowing Nipper will continue to bend his ear to the arts for a good long while.
It’s the weekend, Greg! Pet the dogs.