Open mic still going strong at Delta Blue

LAKE PLACID – You never know what you’re going to hear at Delta Blue’s weekly open mic night, and the 100th time around was no exception.

The bar was packed with musicians on Jan. 15 to commemorate the milestone, making the Wednesday night showcase feel more like a gathering of top-notch performers than the loosely pieced-together feel of other open mic jams.

The formula is simple: Musicians sign up on a chalkboard and wait their turn to take the stage. After that, anything can happen. A pants-grabbing rockin’-blues stomp might be followed by a musky, piano-driven jazz groove. Likewise, a grinding cover of “Holiday in Cambodia” by the punk band Dead Kennedys could preclude a folksy singer-songwriter.

Some participants, like local band Third Shift, come equipped with a full band. For those who don’t, a capable house band is available to fill in the blanks.

“Every single Wednesday night there’s some magic that goes on up on that stage,” said restaurant manager Garrick Smith. “It can be completely unexpected. Some kid will walk in with a harmonica in his pocket, pull it out, and the whole place will drop to its knees.”

Smith pointed to the man on stage who was piecing together a black drum kit and identified him as Gordy Sheer.

By day, Sheer is the director of marketing and sponsorship for the USA Luge. He won a silver medal in the sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics. By night, Sheer, along with bassist Derek Lavoie and guitarist Andrew Lynch, is performing in the open mic’s house band. The three musicians fill in wherever they are needed and pick up songs quickly.

“It really got started when Garrick approached Larry (Stone) about starting an open mic,” Sheer said. “Garrick and Larry made a commitment to this becoming a music venue. Now it’s kind of a communal thing.”

The first open mics started in the front corner of the bar’s dining room area. Now there’s a stage, complete with lights, and the sign-up board reads like a who’s-who of local talent. Some are regulars while others make surprise appearances.

“We’ve had members of Lucid, Swimming with Champy and Big Slyde come in before,” Smith said, citing well-known local bands. “We’ve also had some bigger names. Rhett Tyler, who was Stevie Ray Vaughn’s mentor, Michael Hill’s Blues Mob and New York blues queen Roxy Perry have all performed here, too.”

Big names and bright lights aren’t the driving forces behind the open mic’s success, though.

“There’s definitely a bunch of devotees,” Sheer said. “The camaraderie between musicians has kept many of them coming back.”

Fade to Blues guitarist Brain Ready agreed. His blues-driven band is a product of the open mic jams. Now they play all over the North Country, in bars as far away as Plattsburgh.

Having a steady band hasn’t stopped him from getting on stage with other musicians, though.

“It wouldn’t be fun for me if I came here every week and did the same two songs with the same people,” Ready said. “I love playing with different people. For me it’s challenging, and it’s a great way to network.”

Smith said Fade to Blues is just one of many bands spawned on Delta Blue’s stage.

“It’s not just a great thing for Delta Blue and the Northwoods Inn; it’s a great thing for Lake Placid and the North Country as a whole,” Smith said. “It makes this a destination location. You ski during the day, and you have this world-class music at night.”