Live music enthusiasts should be super psyched about the lineup this year for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.
Saranac Lake already has a thriving music scene for such a small, secluded village, but Winter Carnival is one of the times each year when the music scene shines even brighter than usual. For 10 days, the village comes alive with live music from solo acoustic acts to marching bands to full rock bands complete with horn and rhythm sections.
The first weekend of Carnival got underway with shows by singer-songwriter Theresa Hartford at the Left Bank Cafe and the bluegrass band Yard Sale downstairs at the Waterhole. I missed both of those, but I managed to make it to the Waterhole’s upstairs concert venue for Saturday night’s show, Mosaic Foundation and EMEFE.
I saw EMEFE when they played a free Party on the Patio Thursday night show at the Waterhole over the summer, which I and pretty much everyone else I’ve talked to who was there thought was one of the best shows the Waterhole saw all year. So I was seriously looking forward to it and had spent the last month or so hyping it to all my friends.
The opening band, Mosaic Foundation, is straight-up reggae band from the Rochester area, and they got a good groove going in anticipation for the main event. Then EMEFE took the stage. They’re a unique band and they like to really take advantage of their space and break down the walls of stage/audience, so they started playing in the balcony over the main stage area then marched down the stairs in a line and up through the crowd onto the stage, never missing a beat the whole time.
The band centers around Miles Arntzen, a drummer in his early 20s who grins and exudes energy as he plays from his kit at the center of the stage. Arntzen toured the world with Antibalas, a mainstay in the Afrobeat world, before the age of 21, and EMEFE takes many of its musical cues from them while also working in strains of funk, soul, pop and rock.
In addition to Arntzen, there’s another percussionist, Javier Ramos, who popped on and off stage, dancing in the audience as he played handheld percussion instruments and barely able to sit down when he was stuck onstage behind the less portable ones.
The band also features a strong horn section with saxes, trumpets and trombones who sidestep their way through the show as they blow, as well as guitar, bass and keyboard players. The whole band is a ball of energy, and it’s clear that these guys have a good time onstage every time they play.
That’s probably why the entire crowd gathered on the Waterhole’s tile-covered dance floor was super into the show, dancing up a storm till the early morning hours. I had been concerned that, after hyping the band up for months, others wouldn’t like the band as much as I had, but as I surveyed the audience, it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t smiling and dancing.
And that was only the beginning of Winter Carnival’s musical offerings. The Waterhole has a week full of shows, and there are smatterings of live music throughout the rest of the village as well.
On Monday, the Saranac Lake Laboratory Museum hosted a Celtic concert with Jubal Consort, a recorder ensemble, and the Barn Cats and Grizle T’s hosted a free Celtic show by new local group the Reel Jig Band. Tuesday featured a 10 p.m. set at the Waterhole from the Blind Owl Band, a local favorite bearded band that bills itself as “Adirondack Freight Train String Music” — the type of raw, growling bluegrass that makes you want to stomp your feet and clap your hands. Wednesday night was funk night at the Waterhole, with Albany-based jazzy-funk band Groovestick opening for Sophistafunk, a Syracuse-based three-piece that blends old-school hip hop with funk.
More to come
Thursday and Friday nights at the Waterhole are both bands I’m particularly looking forward to, both of whom played there last spring or summer. Thursday night is Talking Heads tribute band Start Making Sense. I only had a vague familiarity with the Talking Heads before I saw Start Making Sense last year, but they put on such a great show that it made me a huge fan of both bands. Big Mean Sound Machine, another Afrobeat-dance-style band from Ithaca that I’ve heard is pretty fun, opens the concert.
There are a few choices for music before the Waterhole starts rocking Thursday night. From 6 to 9 p.m., the Celtic Bunnies will entertain the dinner crowd at the Blue Moon Cafe, quirky cello folk act Rushad Eggelston is scheduled to play Pendragon Theatre starting at 7:30 p.m., and Sven Curth of JIM fame will perform at Grizle T’s starting at 9 p.m.
Conehead Buddha is set to take the Waterhole stage Friday night. I’ve been following this band ever since first seeing them in the lot at a Phish festival in Maine back in the ‘90s, and I was thrilled a few years ago to hear that they were re-forming after a decade-long break. It’s a band that hits all my musical heartstrings, melding my high school fascination with ska with my lifelong passion for jam music and my current obsession with funk. They even have some tunes that are heavy on the Latin beats, which always get your feet dancing.
Also on Friday night, Big Boss Sausage is set to play from 5 to 8 p.m. an acoustic show at Captain Cook’s Bar and Grill, Vermont-based Celtic rock band The Cop Outs will take over at Cook’s at 9 p.m., the Lewis and Clement Expedition will play the Belvedere Restaurant at 8 p.m., and local punk band Cooter and the Crawlies, one of my local favorites, are set to play a free show at 9 p.m. the Rusty Nail.
But don’t stay out too late Friday. As usual, Parade Day (Saturday) is an explosion of live music all over town. The 1 p.m. Gala Parade will feature a number of bands, then things will get started after the parade at 2 p.m. with another Blind Owl Band show at the Waterhole. The ‘hole will lay low after that until another local favorite, jam band Lucid, takes the stage at 10 p.m. to close out the night.
The Reel Jig Band will play from 2:15 to 4:15 at Romano’s Saranac Lanes, followed there by Legend from 5 to 9 p.m. and Damaged Goods from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Annie in the Water plays Captain Cook’s starting at 7 p.m., and Big Boss Sausage will do another acoustic set there starting at 8:30 p.m. Susan Grimm and Celtic Quartet is set to play from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Left Bank Cafe, and Half Circle will take over at Charlie’s Inn in Lake Clear starting at 7 p.m.
To close out the weekend, Tim Herron Trio plays a 2 p.m. show at the Waterhole and Annie in the Water will take the stage again at Captain Cooks from 4 to 7 p.m. before the Carnival-ending fireworks and slideshow later that evening.
It’s gonna be a long weekend, so good luck hitting up as much good music as you can! I know I’ll be bulking up on Emergen-C and coffee to make it through it all! Have fun!
Check out the schedule of events and more carnival information to be sure your in the full loop of all Saranac Lake Carnival happenings.