Not having been in several years to the Greenhouse Café at 2271 East Main (also a location at 681 South Ave), I was impressed by its new–or maybe not so new–look. Michelle Turner’s exquisite photographs of Rochester on almost every wall (and even in the bathroom) add a gallery feeling to the comfortable atmosphere of couches, books, piano, fireplace and lots of plants. After all there is a greenhouse in back.
There I met Alex Hillis, the only customer at that moment, writing away on his laptop next to a small pile of books.
Now 28, having grown up in Cambridge, NY (a small town near Albany) and graduated in 2009 from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Business Administration, Alex has made Rochester his home. He works in sales for a Rochester based company and lives near the intersection of Merchants and Culver in the Triangle neighborhood.
Not looking particularly starving or tortured, Alex amiably told me he had taken up creative writing, trying his hand (with no great expectations) at a Rochester novel. But music is his main passion having been a member of Right Turn Racer and Last Minute.
I think a lot of young Rochestarians can relate to Alex. He doesn’t expect to gain fame or fortune from his art. Nonetheless, in Rochester Alex has found a vibrant community of fellow “creatives”–a term his friend uses–who are taking the journey of self-expression seriously and together.
I asked Alex–and he kindly agreed–to share his story and a video he recorded and produced with the help of Tim Mieney, a friend who owns and operates his own Rochester based video production company, Productions by Tim.
The video takes us to the South Wedge (one of our favorite places, see at end) and inside ButaPub.
I remember sitting on the kitchen floor at age 11, watching my father fingerpick a song he had written on his antique Gibson acoustic. The very next day, despite having no idea how to form a chord or play a scale, I snuck his guitar out of the closet and began writing my first song,
I’ve always been driven to create. My friend Brian Moore, who owns and operates Red Booth Studios, one of the most well-known and respected recording studios in Rochester, always says, “Creatives can’t not create.” This really says it all.
With varying and sometimes frustrating levels of success, over the past few years I’ve spent plenty of time devising ways of marketing my original music in Rochester. I’ve played countless shows with my former bands, Right Turn Racer and Last Minute — sometimes to packed houses, sometimes not. When all is said and done, self-marketing is difficult and elusive. I think David would back me up on this.
For this reason, I have not performed live in over a year. I recently discovered that the fundamental truth within my nature is that I can’t not create, and so I have begun to focus all of my energy on creation as opposed to performance and marketing.
In January of 2015, with the help of over 100 friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, I filmed a music video at Buta Pub for a song I recorded and produced at Red Booth Studios called Party Animal.
At the time, Buta Pub, was a fairly new restaurant and events venue in the South Wedge. They gave me a spectacular deal on hosting the event out of a simple desire to bring people through the door to support a local musician’s passion project. It was an incredible experience, made suitably enjoyable by several kegs of Three Heads beer (locally brewed suds, for those not in the know).The story is in the video (check out the link!). You can see Buta Pub, South Wedge night life, and dozens of Rochesterians, most of whom I am proud to call my friends (except you, Jeff Acker, haha, jk).
After the video was completed, I was able to sit back and reflect on what music and the creative process in general really means to me. It’s ultimately not about likes, views, press, or recognition. All of those things are great, of course (I’ll take my Grammy now, thanks!).
It’s about the city I live in, the relationships I am lucky enough to have, and the fundamental need to express myself in a way that extends beyond my conversational ability.
Every artist, no matter how big or how small, needs a community from which to draw inspiration. Like so many others, Rochester is mine.
For more on South Wedge night life (pics and links)