Growing, but keeping ‘the hobo spirit’

SARANAC LAKE – Five years after it started, Hobofest has grown to become a fixture on the village’s calendar.

But the free, all-day, live music festival hasn’t outgrown Saranac Lake, and its two founders and lead organizers are working hard to keep it that way.

“Even though we’ve grown incrementally, it’s still an all-day music event,” said Peter Seward. “The way we’ve been growing isn’t in the scope and duration of what’s offered. It’s more about us being clever organizers and finding ways to sustain what’s a free event.”

“There’s a music festival out in Boise, Idaho, where after 12 years, the town said, ‘Nope, you’re done. Not in our town anymore,” said Todd Smith. “We don’t want to grow to the point where we become something that’s not wanted.”

The fifth annual Hobofest will take place from noon until late Sunday on Depot Street. Billed as a celebration of railroad culture and “the hobo spirit,” it features more than a dozen scheduled performances, most taking place under a big tent on the lawn next to the Union Depot train station, along the railroad tracks.

“On the face of it, it’s a one-day, free music event, celebrating American roots music through the theme of the railroad and the Great Depression,” Seward said. “On another level, the socio-economic undercurrent theme is that many of us have to be resourceful as independent freelancers, just like a hobo traveling around trying to get work where they can. That’s certainly true of musicians, the way they often have to cobble together paying work.”

The biggest addition to Hobofest this year is a pair of planned open jam sessions inside the depot. One jam will be led by the crew of local musicians who play weekly at The Shamrock in Gabriels, and another will be led by Vermont Joy Parade, an acoustic vaudeville-style act that will also perform round-trip on the tourist train between Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. Other musicians are welcome to join the depot jam sessions, Seward said.

“It’s one of my missions to blur the line between audience and performers,” he said. “I don’t want those hard lines to be set of, ‘I’m on the program and you’re not.’ I want people to show up and participate.”

There were also logistical reasons for making Hobofest a two-ring circus this year, Smith said.

“We wanted to anticipate having more space,” he said. “Last year, we were bursting at the seams.”

Also inside the depot, Blue Line Brewery beer will be sold by the pint, another new element to Hobofest this year. No alcohol will be allowed outside the building, Smith said. (Editor’s note: This sentence has been corrected. Previously it said Blue Line Brewery would sell beer; rather, Hobofest will sell it.)

“We’ve reduced the hours of serving, and we’re calling it a tasting,” he said. “It’s in a restricted area. It’s 21 and over with wristbands. We’re being very sensitive to the fact that it is a family event.”

For the second year in a row, Hobofest is being supported in part by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. The $4,750 in funding is used exclusively to pay performers. The event will also have a program for the first time this year. The advertisers in the program helped pay for the tent, Smith said.

The lineup of Hobofest performers this year includes locals, like Wilmington-based Stoneground Express and Saranac Lakers Will Tissot and Shamim Allen, plus talent from outside the area, like Canadian singer-songwriter Annabelle Chvostek and Brooklyn blues guitarist Mamie Minch. Some local and non-local artists will perform side by side.

“One of the things Peter has always been very good at doing as the producer of the music is taking local talent and infusing it in imported talent,” Smith said. “It really ties it together.”

In addition to the music, Eat n’ Meet Grill will be selling food, there will be kids activities and rides available on the neighboring Adirondack Carousel, and Hobofest T-shirts will be sold.

Beyond this year, both Smith and Seward said they couldn’t envision Hobofest being held anywhere else.

“It really is about this community in particular,” Seward said. “I don’t think we could export our idea and say, ‘We’re going to do Hobofest over here now.’ There’s many grassroots efforts here that have become mainstays of the calendar, and we’re very lucky to be an official calendar event in Saranac Lake.”


Noon – The Fox and the Feather – These six Paul Smith’s College students play what they call “folk-rock and mountain chamber music,” with influences including Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers.

1 p.m. – Thick as Thieves – Arthur Buezo, of local favorites the Blind Owl Band, and his girlfriend Katie Erskine make up this duo.

1:35 – Will and Shamim – Saranac Lakers Will Tissot and Shamim Allen play folk music.

1:45 – James and Jane – James Ford of the Blind Owl Band and Jane Hayley of Hayley Jane and the Primates met last summer and started dating as well as performing as a duo. This musical side project is gaining momentum.

2:30 – Danny and Caroline – Formerly known as Bee’s Kneez, this duo of Caroline Couture, who grew up here, and her fiance Danny Golub plays original indie-pop music.

3-4 – Open jam inside Union Depot – Any musician can join this picking party, led by Wednesday night regulars of The Shamrock in nearby Gabriels.

3:15 – Mouthbreather – Leo Brill and Joey Burnah’s grungy rock rock act says farewell to Saranac Lake before moving to Portland, Ore.

4-5 – Open jam inside Union Depot – Any musician can join this picking party, led by Vermont Joy Parade, a high-energy gypsy-hobo quintet from, well, Vermont.

4:15 – Stoneground Express – Larry Stone of Wilmington leads this bluesy band, which frequently plays around the area.

5:05 – Dan King – This Tupper Laker plays guitar and sings his own songs, which contain solid doses of humor.

5:45 – Tall County – From the ashes of local favorite Frankenpine, Ned and Liz Rauch and Colin DeHond have spun off as a quieter, gentler string band, with fresh material.

7 – Annabelle Chvostek – Based in Toronto, this former member of the Wailin’ Jennys likes Saranac Lake so much she recorded her live album here. She plays her own songs with multiple instruments and her clear, powerful voice, and this time will be joined by her band.

8:15 – Mamie Minch – With a voice like an oak tree, this Brooklyn blues guitarist (who by day builds and repairs guitars) performed at the 2010 Hobofest as a member of the Roulette Sisters. She’ll play electrified this time with rhythm section Chris Shacklett and Kyle Murray of Lucid.

9:30 – Biscuit Rollers – Steve Langdon, a Saranac Lake blues man who often opens Hobofest, will close this one with a band he’s put together for the occasion: Rick Weber and Dan Spada of Le Groove, and Ned and Liz Rauch of Tall County.