20 years of tunes

SARANAC LAKE – When you have a music venue this celebrated, it will take a full two months to celebrate its 20th anniversary of it.

The Waterhole is marking 20 years of its Upstairs Music Lounge with a two-month-long celebration kicking off tonight with funk bands Sophistafunk and Funkwagon and a pre-Hobofest party starting at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Waterhole bar celebrated its 40th anniversary a few years ago, but this year marks 20 years since then-owner Billy Allen converted the apartments upstairs into a music venue.

Acts that have visited it over the years include moe., the Del McCoury Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Donna the Buffalo, along with countless smaller, lesser-known bands.

Current owner Brenda Stringer said she and her staff thought it would be fun to throw a big celebration to commemorate the anniversary.

“We try to keep live music live,” Stringer said. “It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but it’s important, I think. Especially when we have the venue, we have to use it.”

Her husband Larry worked at the Waterhole for many years, and when Allen decided to he wanted out, he and Shelly Hough bought it. Later, the Stringers bought out Hough’s share, but a few months before the deal would go through, Larry died. Brenda decided to complete the transaction on her own.

“Sometimes I wonder where my head was at,” she said.

She works a full-time day job for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, so sometimes it’s hard for her to come home from work and help run a show. But she always enjoys it, and she likes taking care of the often young people in the bands that visit.

“I love meeting all the bands,” Stringer said. “They’re just awesome kids. They’re just really great, and they’re just so into their music, and it’s just incredible.”

She also loves to learn about new music. She especially enjoyed the band Emefe, which played one of the first Party on the Patio free Thursday night shows this summer, and she’s hoping to bring them back for New Year’s Eve or Winter Carnival. Her son also turned her on to the band Railroad Earth, and she was thrilled when two of the musicians from that act played the Waterhole with George Kilby Jr. and the Road Dogs, and she got to meet them.

“I’m a groupie, at 56,” Stringer said.

Eric Munley, who plays mandolin with the Blind Owl Band, has been booking acts for the Waterhole for about the last year. He’s used the connections he’s made as his band tours.

“He’s been doing an incredible job,” Stringer said.

Munley said the 20th anniversary celebration was originally planned for the spring, but it got pushed back.

“We just said, ‘Hell, let’s do as much cool stuff as possible between September and October,'” Munley told the Enterprise in a Thursday phone interview.

There are a number of bands visiting the ‘hole over the next two months for the 20th anniversary, but Munley said the “big three” he’s excited about and he’s promoting big are Man Man, Max Creek and the Hackensaw Boys.

Man Man is a national touring act that has played major festivals like Bonnaroo.

“They’re an eccentric rock band that can really only be described by seeing them,” Munley said.

He said it’s a unique opportunity that the Waterhole is able to get Man Man here. He was able to catch them the day after they are playing Burlington, Vt., which is often how the Waterhole gets groups to come in – when they are playing nearby and have a hole in their schedule.

Max Creek is a Massachusetts-based act, comparable to the Grateful Dead, that just celebrated its own 40th anniversary. They have played with “an endless amount of the world’s famous bands,” Munley said.

“It will, surprisingly, be their first time at the Waterhole,” Munley said.

The Hackensaw Boys are a personal favorite of Munley. He first heard them shortly after he started attending Paul Smith’s College, and they were one of the biggest reasons he started playing bluegrass.

They were one of the first bands he contacted when he started booking for the Waterhole, and he’s thrilled he was able to schedule them as the wrap-up show of the 20th anniversary celebration.

Munley’s own band, in addition to a Party on the Patio show, will open for the Hackensaw Boys, which Munley is a little excited about.

“I almost wet my pants when I heard,” he said.

Munley, who spoke to the Enterprise on the phone from New Hampshire during some downtime from touring Thursday, said it gets crazy booking while also touring with his own band. He’s the type of person who gets sort of obsessive about the things he does, so he puts tons of time into both and barely makes minimum wage.

But the two jobs feed off one another. He brought the band Cabinet to the area, and members of Cabinet helped get the Blind Owl Band on the schedule at this year’s Peach Music Festival, a mid-August festival in Pennsylvania thrown by the Allman Brothers Band.

It’s tough to constantly be touring with his band because after putting all the work into booking shows at the Waterhole, he only gets to see about 10 percent of them, which is the most enjoyable thing about booking, he said. After booking a ton of music for the 20th anniversary celebration, he only expects to make it to two or three of the shows.

Munley said the celebration is the start of an effort to promote the Waterhole to a larger geographic area, with an advertising scheme that will target a greater surrounding area and recognize “what an amazing venue for music the Waterhole is.

“We consider ourselves a destination venue,” Munley said.

Advance tickets for the big three shows are available for sale now by calling 518-891-9502 or visiting the Waterhole in person.

There will also likely be a few extra shows added, including a possible Lucid Halloween show. To hear about these first, follow the Waterhole on Facebook or check the website saranaclakewaterhole.com.