By far my favorite thing about Saranac Lake Winter Carnival is the abundance of live music all over town. The Waterhole has a great lineup this year, including Moon Hooch and Donna the Buffalo, among others, and additional venues are stepping up their music game as well. Eric Munley, who books bands for the Waterhole, told me that he originally thought about trying to get all '60s-style bands, since that's the Carnival theme this year. There weren't enough bands like that available, "but the lineup is heavy with Groove, so we hit that right," Eric said. Sounds good to me!
Friday, Feb. 6 - The Royal Noise; Northbound Hellhound and Cooter & the Crawlies
Both the Waterhole and the Rusty Nail are hosting Carnival kickoff parties. The Royal Noise, playing at the Waterhole, is one of my favorite acts that comes to town. Mike LaBombard is the saxophone player and a native Saranac Laker who now lives in Philly, and he and his band play an awesome form of funk that is heavily influenced by jam bands and jazz. They’re very danceable and super fun. Don’t miss it!
Mike LaBombard, along with Lowell Wurster and Jamie Armstrong of the legendary local jam band Lucid, are also billed as “artists at large all week,” which I take to mean they will do a bunch of sit-ins throughout the week with various other bands at the Waterhole. Fun!
At the Rusty Nail, you’ll find Northbound Hellhound and Cooter & the Crawlies. Northbound Hellhound is a newer act with a rockabilly punk-type of sound. The three-piece band includes an upright bass, and the sound is tight and energetic. This isn't the best video, but it gives you a taste.
Drummer Eric Steinberg also drums for Cooter & the Crawlies, a band that has been around Saranac Lake for some time. They play a more straight-up punk sound with a little bit of a surf feel like you’d hear from the Ramones or the Misfits.
Saturday, Feb. 7 - Hair; The Big Mean Sound Machine and Groovestick
At 4 p.m. Saturday, there’s a family-friendly concert version of the musical “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” at the Harrietstown Town Hall. The show is a rock musical that originally featured profanity, illegal drugs, sexuality, and a famous nude scene, but the show has been stripped down to create a concert experience that will be appropriate and fun for all ages.
That night, Groovestick and the Big Mean Sound Machine will take over at the Waterhole. Groovestick is a five-piece funk band from Albany that centers its sound around a Hammond organ.
Big Mean Sound Machine is an Ithaca-based band that plays afrobeat that is infused with garage rock, funk, and dub rhythms. It’s a lot of people on stage and they definitely fill up the space with some great sound.
Also that evening, Pendragon Theatre will host an event called “Saranac Lake Sings the Sixties,” which, I believe, is exactly what it sounds like.
Tuesday, Feb. 10 - Swampcandy; open mic night
The Waterhole is giving you two nights to rest, then it’s straight on to Sunday. On Tuesday night, Swampcandy will play a free show. The Annapolis, Maryland-based duo is a fun act to see. Ruben Dobbs plays guitar and belts bluesy tunes, while Joey Mitchell singlehandedly fills out the band’s sound, playing upright bass, a kick bass drum, and sometimes even a harmonica all at the same time. They have a great sound that’s dirty and aggressive and will keep you moving.
Also that night and every Tuesday, it’s open mic at the Rusty Nail! Bring an instrument or just come watch the tunes.
Wednesday, Feb. 11 - Beau Sasser Escape Plan and North Funktree
Wednesday night is one I’m definitely hoping to make. I have yet to see either North Funktree or Beau Sasser Escape Plan, and I’ve heard good things. Beau Sasser Escape Plan is a relatively new group based in Northampton, Mass. It's another funk band that is centered around a Hammond organ, and they have a female vocalist who has a powerful set of pipes. Band members also play in bands including Max Creek, Groovestick, the recently defunct Alan Evans' Playonbrother, and Z3.
North Funktree is a Plattsburgh-based band that seems to have broken up or be in the process of breaking up, but they'll play the Waterhole for sure. It's a shame if they do stop playing after the show. The videos I've watched of theirs seem pretty good — lots of funk and lots of jamming, just the way I like it!
Thursday, Feb. 12 - Donna the Buffalo and Driftwood
Don't bother making any plans during the day Friday, because Thursday night with Donna the Buffalo and Driftwood is going to be a little too much fun. If you haven't heard of Donna the Buffalo, don't miss this show. The Trumansburg, N.Y.-based band plays American roots with a zydeco twist, and they mix in elements of cajun, rock, folk, reggae, and country. People still rave about their show from the last time they played Winter Carnival.
Driftwood is a fun roots band based in Binghamton. The lineup is all strings: guitar, banjo, bass and fiddle.
Friday, Feb. 13 - Moon Hooch and Formula 5
Eric said he's particularly excited about the Friday night show with Moon Hooch and Formula 5, and he thinks it's going to be the big show of Carnival. I've never seen Moon Hooch before, so I googled them to check them out, and I was a little blown away by their videos online. Check out this Tiney Desk Concert they did for NPR:
It's a little weird, but sounds super fun. The band consists of two saxophones — apparently one of them does vocals and synth sometimes — and a drummer, all from Brooklyn, where they got their start busking in subway stations. They bill their style of music as Cave Music, and they describe it like this: "Cave Music / ˈkāv myo͞ozik / It's like House, but it's more wild, more jagged, more free, more natural to live in." I'm convinced that they are a must-see.
Formula 5 is a great jam band from "Albany/Lake George," according to their Facebook. They clearly are heavily influenced by Phish but they don't follow that template too closely to make it annoying. This band is only going to get better as they play more and more.
The Rusty Nail is also hosting a show Friday night. It will run from 4 to 11:30, it's free, and it features two local bands: a fun band that plays a lot of classic rock tunes called Big Boss Sausage from 4 to 7 p.m., and the Lewis and Clement Expedition, an acoustic act with a ton of energy, from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 14 - Parade day and all the music
Saturday is the big event: Parade Day. It all starts at 1 p.m. with the Gala Parade, which is an absolute must-attend.
After that, there’s music all over town. The bands that perform in the parade will sound off at the Harrietstown Town Hall.
The Belvedere Restaurant will host The Lewis and Clement Expedition with Big Boss Sausage, both fun local bands as described above!
And Romano's Saranac Lanes will have the local classic rock band Legends.
The Waterhole features Raisinhead for its after-parade show. This is a band from the Albany area that has been around for a while but its line-up has evolved throughout the years. I haven't seen them recently, but hopefully they still sound as fun as they used to:
Sunday, Feb. 15 - Tim Heron Duo; baroque
Tim Herron Duo will perform a Bloody Mary Sunday afternoon show at 2 p.m. at the Waterhole.
There's also an annual baroque concert at the First United Methodist Church, which is put on annually by the Saranac Lake Young Arts Association.
Both are a laid-back way to wind down the last day of Carnival as you wait for the slideshow and fireworks that close the annual festival Sunday evening.