The Upstate Beat: Documentary at Palace celebrates local music promoter Greg Bell

Local music promoter Greg Bell taught special education in Albany for more than 30 years. At the same time, he ran a Capital Region music promotion business — launched in 1992 with a show in Albany featuring the Sharks, Caroline MotherJudge and other local bands that promised free beer all night for the low price of $10.

“It was supposed to be a one-off, and here we are 30 years later,” Bell says.

For the first 18 years of Guthrie/Bell Productions, Bell taught full-time and hosted concerts around the region — starting with alternative rock bands but then focusing more on jam band music, Americana, roots rock and occasional “weird stuff,” Bell says.

“At least once or twice a week, I’d be out until 3 a.m. and then up first thing in the morning to teach kids at school,” says Bell, a self-described night person. “I have no idea how I did it. I just didn’t stop. It’s when you sit down that you get tired.”

Bell’s 30-year music promotion career takes center stage in “Grapplin’ Greg: The Story of Greg Bell,” a documentary by Frankie Cavone, an Albany photographer and videographer who runs Mirth Films, a music news and entertainment outlet. 

“I met Frankie when he was a young guy just out of college. He was coming to my shows and taking photos and videos — a music fan interested in the bands. One day he came up to me and said, ‘Would you mind if I made a documentary about you?’ ”

The resulting feature-length film will screen at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Albany this Saturday, with an additional live performance by Eastbound Jesus, the popular Americana and bluegrass band from Greenwich that Bell manages. The title for the film comes from an Eastbound Jesus song, “Grapplin’ Greg,” that alludes to Bell’s scrappy nature and high school wrestling career on Long Island.

Filming for the documentary — primarily done through scores of interviews with local music figures like club owners Howard Glassman and Ted Etoll and members of bands like moe. and Ominous Seapods — began before the COVID pandemic but then shut down for almost two years before resuming again.

For the film’s premiere on Saturday, Bell plans to watch the movie cold, without having seen most of it — aside from the several interviews that he personally participated in. “I want to see it the same way everyone else sees it on Saturday,” he says. “I want to watch it unfold like a movie.”

The resulting film will focus on Bell’s influence on the Capital Region and national music scene. He was one of the first people to book the New York State jam rock band moe. — setting them up downstairs at the former Valentine’s Music Hall in Albany, where they played for three people. “Now I book them at the Palace, and they sell out all over the country and world,” Bell says.

Bell also played a pivotal role in boosting the “third wave of jam bands” in the 1990s — improvisational, genre-melding bands like Disco Biscuits, Conehead Buddha, moe. and others as the scene was just taking off.

And for 23 years, he has hosted Bellstock, a music festival on family land in the Catskills. That’s in part where Bell’s reputation as a grappler came into play. He once threatened a group of overly enthusiastic drum circle participants that he would throw their drum in the fire pit when they were still playing at 4 a.m.

Bell wants to be sure to credit his music promotion partners over the years: Dale Metzger, Jeff Guthrie and most recently Kim Neaton, one of the documentary producers. And of course, his children and wife Marilyn, a graphic designer who does all of his music promotion art. They are the people who have kept him in the business for so long — along with the excitement of new shows and new musical discoveries.

“I retire from this business two or three times a week,” Bell says. “Then I’ll get a call or an email, and the adrenaline kicks back in.”

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