The New York state Olympic Regional Development Authority is stepping back into the music business, announcing that the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, which headquartered the 1980 Winter Olympics, will host a Bluegrass Jam concert on Oct. 25 featuring 10 bands, including several of the nation’s top bluegrass acts.
In what’s being called the first-ever Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam, Grammy winners Sam Bush and the Del McCoury Band will headline the day-long event in the Olympic Center’s 1932 Rink along with the North Country’s own Gibson Brothers, Amy Helm, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, Big Leg Emma, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Hot Day at the Zoo, Eastbound Jesus and The 52 Pick-Up.
“If this is successful, we can move forward with many more of these,” said ORDA Communications Manager Jon Lundin.
The Olympic Center was a popular concert venue in the 1980s and 1990s, with top country, pop and rock musical acts such as Bryan Adams, Tina Turner, the Beach Boys, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Huey Lewis and the News, Whitney Houston, Alan Jackson and Bob Dylan. In 1983, more than 8,800 fans converged on Lake Placid to see the Grateful Dead perform. In 1989, New Kids on the Block packed more than 10,000 screaming fans into the 1980 Rink and played to another sold-out crowd the following year. In 1995 and 1996, ORDA sold out their Phish concerts.
Since 2000, however, concerts with national headliners have been rare at the ORDA venues, mainly because the music business has changed dramatically over the past 30 years but also for other reasons. The Snoe.down music festival at the Olympic Center and Whiteface Mountain in 2006 and 2007, led by the jam band moe., was not invited back “for a multitude of reasons,” Lundin said in 2009, one of them being concerns about drug activity among fans. Snoe.down eventually moved to Vermont.
“We’ve always been searching for concerts, and for a lot of different reasons they haven’t come about,” Lundin said. “They haven’t fit the model, and budget-wise. Concerts today are so expensive. The best way to describe it is they don’t just buy a single venue anymore; they buy multi-venues.”
ORDA staffers have found that many of the musical acts they’ve been trying to get are only available on less-than-ideal nights – “the leftovers,” as Lundin put it – such as Sundays or Mondays.
“That would be almost impossible to draw an audience and to meet the budget that we would have to meet to make that show successful,” Lundin said.
Enter bluegrass, a music genre that typically has two seasons: a festival season in the late spring, summer and early fall, when bands play in outdoor venues; and a concert season the rest of the year when bands play in indoor venues. The pricing is generally cheaper than pop, country and rock bands, and the fans who follow bluegrass musicians aren’t usually the type who keep the village police busy with alcohol- and drug-related arrests.
“I think it’s a good fit for this area,” Lundin said. “Bluegrass brings them in. It’s really a family-oriented genre of music. It’s lively music. … People follow it, and people follow it passionately.”
ORDA still has to pay the bill. Lundin expects to draw a crowd of 2,000 or more to the 1932 Rink, which will require the authority to extend its public relations and marketing reach to nearby cities such as Plattsburgh, Burlington and Albany. Lundin also hopes the use of social media will attract visitors from other parts of the Northeast.
ORDA didn’t hire a tour promotor to round up the collection of bluegrass bands. Instead, ORDA staffers have been organizing this event on their own. ORDA Events Director Katie Million spearheaded the project, working with Olympic Center Manager Dennis Allen. Million is also the vice chair of the Songs at Mirror Lake Music Series, held Tuesday evenings at Mid’s Park in the summer, so she’s already a key player in the local music booking scene.
“Katie is a music buff,” Lundin said. “Katie loves music.”
ORDA staff signed a mix of bands that would help them fill seats, plus make the event affordable for the authority and the fans.
“Headliners, bands that people were aware of – the Gibson Brothers, obviously, the fact that they’re from this area and are such a big draw,” Lundin said. “And these new acts as well.”
This article was adapted from a piece published September 11, 2014 in the Lake Placid News.