Fifth Annual Hobofest: Music, Food and Fun on the Tracks

The North Country seems to have a fascination with train depots. In Westport, the current Amtrak train station is also the home of The Depot Theatre which hosts professional theatre all summer long. In Saranac Lake, The Union Depot has been restored and is home to the Adirondack Scene Railroad. But once a year, it is home to more than just a lovely train ride.

It is the site of Hobofest--an all-day free music festival, “at the tracks”.  According to the organizers, Hobofest celebrates railroad culture and the “hobo spirit.” It takes place on Sunday every Labor Day weekend.  The event showcases many of the area's finest musicians, traveling veterans, and amateurs who are moved by the day’s entertainment.  The focus is generally music typically categorized as Americana and runs non-stop for 11 hours. It is a grassroots effort, as much about community building and revitalizing the Depot Corridor in Saranac Lake, as about the music.

This is the fifth annual Hobofest but the first one that I am attending. I arrive a couple of hours into the day-long event and as I walk past the Adirondack Carousel Park, which is a bubbling hub of parents, children, and tourists in general, I begin to see many familiar faces.  The event often draws a large number of people from all over the area and the weather has cooperated today so the numbers are up, yet it is easy to get around and enjoy all the festivities.

On the mainstage is the duo Mouthbreather. According to a visual artist I meet at the festival, this band is not typical of the Hobofest genre. They describe themselves as performing high-intensity, angst-flavored songs. I hear them say, “We don’t do folk music.” Evidently, they are an exception to the Americana theme but the two young local performers will be off to Portland, Oregon and this is their goodbye to the area.

Inside the Depot, there is also music—this more in keeping with the overall hobo theme. Fiddlers and washboard are furiously whooping it up with a packed house of enthusiasts cheering them on.

There is local food provided by the EatNMeet Grill of Saranac Lake, sassy stilt walkers, a kids’craft booth, and plenty of community spirit.

The day-long event serves as an opportunity for folks to visit the restored historic Union Depot and ride the Adirondack Scenic Railroad which is the backdrop to the festival.  

According to the program the whole line-up of entertainment includes: The Fox & the Feather, The Vermont Joy Parade, Thick as Thieves, Willem Tissot & Shamim, James and Jane, Danny and Caroline, Mouth breather, Stoneground Express, Dan King, Tall County, Annabelle Chvostek, Mamie Minch, and The Biscuit Rollers. There are also several Open Jams scheduled.

As I said before, this is an annual event, so if you find yourself in the area next Labor Day weekend, be sure to wander down to the Union Depot and check out the Hobos at the station.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other arts events happening end of summer in the Saranac Lake Region. Click through to learn what else is on the calendar.

Kathleen Recchia has been enjoying the arts in the Adirondack for about 20 years—both as observer and participant (acting, directing, and producing). She also enjoys cross-country skiing, swimming, juggling, and hosting visitors to the area at her bed & breakfast in Jay.


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