Stars shine at Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam

Andy Flynn covered the first ever Bluegrass Jam for the Lake Placid News, and shared this article which they published. Like many cities that have hosted Olympic events, Lake Placid now is seeking new ways to make use of the Olympic facilities left behind for the good of the local community. He writes this from that perspective.

The Del McCoury Band at the 2014 Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam - photo by Andy FlynnThree days after the inaugural Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam brought some of the hottest bluegrass acts in the country to the Olympic Center, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Will there be another one next year?

The answer is … maybe.

“We will be crunching numbers the next few days, evaluating financials and final attendance numbers, but I have heard very positive feedback and it is my sincere hope that we can continue to host the Bluegrass Jam for years to come,” said Katie Million, events director for the New York state Olympic Regional Development Authority.

Million and Olympic Center Manager Denny Allen organized the Bluegrass Jam, which featured 10 acts on two stages in the Olympic Center’s 1932 Rink on Saturday, Oct. 25. It was an all-day event, starting at 12:30 p.m. and running until about 11:00 p.m.

The bands were the 52 Pick-Up, Eastbound Jesus, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Big Leg Emma, Hot Day at the Zoo, the Gibson Brothers, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, Amy Helm, the Del McCoury Band and Sam Bush.

“The 52 Pick-Up set the bar high, and the music was just great all day long, right to up to the amazing all-star jam at the end,” Million said. “I thought we had a nice variety of traditional and newgrass styles and, in true festival style, had some diversity with some Americana/folk mixed in as well.”

Million had hoped for higher attendance, a crowd of about 2,000, but thought the turnout wasn’t bad for a new event. It was announced in early September, giving bluegrass fans less than two months to learn about the show.

Joe Mullins and Duane Sparks with The Radio Ramblers at the 2014 Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam - photo by Andy FlynnThis was the first time Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers had been to Lake Placid. They traveled to the Olympic Center on their tour bus Saturday, the day after a performance at the Maple Ridge Center in Lowville. With their special guest, nine-time International Bluegrass Music Association Fiddle Player of the Year Michael Cleveland, they had a photo taken of themselves in the front of the Olympic Center before leaving for Springboro, Ohio, where they played a concert on Sunday.

“We had a beautiful drive across the Adirondacks this morning,” Mullins said. “We worked for some friends at the community center over in Lowville last night where they host the Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival. We had been up this way and worked for them back in the summer. But this is the first time right in Lake Placid, and the scenery is just breathtaking. And the history here. You can kind of feel that this place is pretty special.”

Cleveland was filling in for Evan McGregor, a founding member of the Radio Ramblers who recently left the band. McGregor will be replaced by Jason Barie, who spent the last six years traveling with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

“We’ve had subs this month until we get a new hire that starts in November,” Mullins said. “We’ve been thankful this month. Michael subbed with us two different weeks, and Jason subbed with us in Nashville this month and played the Opry with us. He’s a first-class guy.”

Barie makes his debut with Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers during the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival held in Wilmington, Ohio on Nov. 7 and 8. 

Musician feedback

Asked what ORDA can do to help grow the Bluegrass Jam into a successful annual event, many of the Jam’s musicians said giving the public more than six weeks to learn about it would be a good start.

“Plan earlier,” said Mullins, a southwestern Ohio native who has been a banjo player, vocalist and radio broadcaster for more than 30 years. His band was named IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year in 2012, and he is currently an IBMA board member. “This didn’t show up on the bluegrass radio screen until the end of the summer, and I would love to see this remain an annual event. And if it’s going to be the last weekend in October, nail it down and let everybody and his brother know about it year round. The last weekend of October, the beautiful Adirondack Mountains and Lake Placid is the place to be — because a lot of bluegrass fans travel. They don’t mind to come great distances. I’m sure there are a lot of Canadian fans here. … No doubt there are some folks here from several hundred of miles away. Even more of those folks can plan on it if they can get it on their calendar annually.”

A successful event starts with talent, according to Sam Bush.

Sam Bush at the 2014 Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam - photo by Andy Flynn“You have to start with the acts that are booked,” Bush said. “To me, the way things are mixed up within the genre of bluegrass-style instruments at this one-day festival, that’s what’s most interesting to me. When you have the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys and Amy Helm, which is not bluegrass, Del McCoury, the king of bluegrass, and then our band, bluegrass music is part of our set but it’s not the only thing in it … and the Gibson Brothers … so I really liked that variety. That part I think they’ve done a great job on.”

Best of all, for Bush, he was able to wear a T-shirt while entertaining the crowd with his mandolin.

“I’m just thrilled that it’s indoors,” Bush said. “For some reason, I was thinking it was an outdoor festival, which I was all prepared for. I brought all the layers to wear. We do them all the time.”

Leigh Gibson of the Gibson Brothers was pleased to see ORDA staffers set the bar high for themselves.

The Gibson Brothers (Eric and Leigh) at the 2014 Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam - photo by Andy Flynn“They certainly didn’t hold back,” Gibson said. “Some festivals ease with a toe in the water, but these guys seem to really want to make a big event initially and say, ‘We’re putting on a festival.’ And they certainly brought in the acts to do so. The production team and the catering are top notch.”

Gibson said it takes time to create a successful bluegrass festival.

“They really have to expect not to turn it for a couple of years,” Gibson said. “I’ve heard that most festivals, it’s unusual until the third year to start not losing money. That’s just from folks I know that put festivals on.”

Gibson agreed with Mullins about announcing the event earlier.

“If they decide they’re going to do another one, they have the whole summer to have a chance to tell folks at other festivals with fliers. Tell bands who are hired here to mention it on stage. For example, if we’re playing the Plattsburgh Bluegrass Festival, say, ‘Hey, Lake Placid’s having a festival on October 17th. We’ll be there.’ It would help out.”

Del McCoury and his sons, Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on banjo, were pleased with their Bluegrass Jam experience.

The Del McCoury Band at the 2014 Lake Placid Bluegrass Jam - photo by Andy Flynn“I really liked the fans that were there tonight and the hospitality,” Del said after his initial performance. “I just liked it.”

“It was an enthusiastic crowd,” Ronnie added. “Dad asked for requests, and we went the whole 90 minutes with requests.”

The McCourys have some festival organizing experience. They’ve been holding their own bluegrass festival, DelFest, in Cumberland, Maryland every May since 2008.

“I think they’re doing the right thing, whatever it is they’re doing,” Del said about the Bluegrass Jam organizers. “One thing, you don’t have to worry about the weather like we do in Cumberland. We’ve had some bad weather there. … We used to do quite a few festivals indoors in Carolina and Colorado.”

The Del McCoury Band last played in the Tri-Lakes in 1996 at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake.

“We used to play a lot up here in Glens Falls and Corinth,” Ronnie said.

Million said she should know the exact number of Bluegrass Jam tickets that were sold within a couple of days, and when ORDA staff make the decision of whether to hold another one, they will let the public know as soon as possible.