Whether it's the winter blues, cabin fever blues or the soon-to-be blackfly blues, the Northwoods Inn offers a venue to commiserate about the fickle Adirondack weather while enjoying a weekly sampling of live blues music.
As they say in Chicago, you have to listen to the blues to get rid of the blues. As they say in Lake Placid, listen to the folks in Chicago. Blues music is here to stay.
"It's the root of music for me," said Garrick Smith, general manager and co-owner of the Northwoods Inn and co-organizer of the first-ever Lake Placid Blues & Heritage Festival, set for June 20-22. "I think it transcends a number of genres, from bluegrass to country to the Mississippi Delta blues to the Kansas City blues. It's an open expression. It kind of becomes anything you want it to be."
Garrick Smith, general manager/co-owner of the Northwoods Inn at 2520 Main St., Lake Placid (Photo — Andy Flynn)
Delta Blue - one of the Northwoods Inn's restaurants - is home to a thriving blues scene, from headliners on weekends to Wednesday Open Mic Nights. It is only a sampling of the live music featured in the Olympic Village throughout the year, and Smith hopes the blues festival will further establish Lake Placid as a town known for its music scene.
"This town has a rich history of music," Smith said. "With the number of venues, I think there is a great opportunity to turn this into a music town because I think it could be one more fantastic layer above and beyond what the town already has. ... I think the music piece can add so much to that, where it's not just a drinking town. It's a town that highlights its local musicians and brings in outside talent. We're on a main thoroughfare between New York City and Montreal."
The blues festival will feature 21 bands at nine venues and is designed to attract visitors to the village the weekend before the Lake Placid horse shows begin. That's the edge of the tourism industry's spring shoulder season, the slower period between winter and summer.
"We thought it was an opportunity to create demand in this small town on a soft weekend that might otherwise not have much business or tourist traffic," Smith said. "Any opportunity we can take to expand the summer by one week is one that we should jump on as a community."
Delta Blue continually works with a bullpen of musicians, which will be called upon to perform at the June event.
"We think we've got the capability and vision to help plan the festival," Smith said. "There's almost no ceiling as to how and where it will grow."
Smith and his father, Gary, have garnered support from a variety of local residents, businesses and organizations, including Gordy Sheer, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, the Lake Placid Business Association, Songs at Mirror Lake, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the village of Lake Placid. They have also secured critical corporate sponsorship through Jim Beam and Miller Lite.
"Our biggest challenge is to keep it small and contained," Garrick said. "Ultimately, we want it to be a community event. We want it to grow to be an economic stimulus for Main Street and beyond."
The fact that the Smiths are organizing an annual music festival shows that they are establishing firm roots in Lake Placid. The family, including Garrick's brother Justin, is at the heart of an investment group that purchased the Northwoods Inn on the auction block in 2005 after the previous owner foreclosed on the historic property. It originally opened as the Hotel Marcy in 1926.
Garrick has worked for the hotel since 2006 but didn't move here until 2011 with his family: wife Tracy and three children, Jackson, Morgan and Kelsey.
"I hope to never leave," Smith said. "We have fallen in love with this town."
Garrick was born in Ithaca during his father's second semester as a sophomore at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, which is also Garrick and Justin's alma mater.
"I caught the hotel bug early," Garrick said. "My father was a hotel guy, and he worked for a company out of Albany for a number of years called The Desmond Hotel Group and then he did a short stint at Marriott in Florida."
Garrick's family moved close to nine times by the time he was 13 years old, up and down the East Coast, as far south as Naples, Florida, and as far north as the Albany area. They moved to Clifton Park in 1986 when Gary got a job as the general manager at The Desmond. Garrick graduated from the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Connecticut, in 1993 and earned a bachelor's degree at Cornell in 1997, concentrating in food and beverage. There was no question he was going into the family business.
"This was before it was a family business," Garrick said. "It's certainly a lifestyle choice. It's a culture in and of itself. Not everybody is cut out for it. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the importance that a hotel can be in a community and as a neighbor."
In Garrick's first job out of college, he was the food and beverage manager at the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
"It was a monumental example of what this kind of industry could do," Garrick said. "At the Mirage alone, there were close to 6,000 employees. We had 32 food and beverage outlets, and these things were run like little cities. My thought was that if I could learn to run a 3,000-room hotel with 32 food and beverage outlets, I could run just about anything in the world."
After spending a year-and-a-half in Las Vegas, he moved to New York City to become a manager in the private dining department at the 21 Club. Both jobs gave him a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry.
"I learned an awful lot about customer service," Garrick said, "but I think the biggest lesson came about at the 21 Club. And the lesson was, 'Always make it look easy.'"
Garrick also rattled off a quote from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration founder Ellsworth M. Statler.
"Life is service. The one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more, a little better service," Garrick said. "I think that has stuck with me through each of the career points in my lifetime."
Before working at the Northwoods Inn, Garrick worked with his father in another family business, the Hospitality Management Group, based in the Capital Region. Both Garrick and Gary are on the board of directors for the Albany Chefs Food & Wine Festival, giving them plenty of experience helping organize a communitywide event such as the Lake Placid Blues & Heritage Festival.
Coming to Lake Placid wasn't a shot in the dark for the Smiths. They had been vacationing here for years. And now they're committed to making the Northwoods Inn a successful piece of the village's economic puzzle. Although they inherited a number of challenges with the property when they bought it, the Smiths continue to invest in the hotel and make it a bigger part of the community.
"We had to learn how to sell what we had," Garrick said. "We had to create new markets. We had to generate new relationships. It's been a challenge, but throughout I think we've had a lot of fun doing it."
For more information about the Northwoods Inn or the Lake Placid Blues & Heritage Festival, visit online at www.northwoodsinn.com.
The Lake Placid Blues & Heritage Festival will launch June 20-22.
The mission of the festival is to celebrate extraordinary music and the rich cultural components of the region throughout independent venues in the Lake Placid business district.
The music will combine a number of local, regional, and national bands. Local performers include Sven Curth and friends, Lucid, Mad Dog Marino, Spring Street featuring Val Rogers, the Harbingers featuring Larry Stone, Keene Valley's own Back Porch Society, Big Slyde featuring John Doan, and Fade to Blues featuring B.B. Ready. Regional and national acts include Rhett Tyler and the Early Warning, Roxy Perry, The George Boone Blues Band, Soul Sky featuring Mark Emanation, Murali Coryell, Slam Allen, the Bad Hands, the Dave Keyes Band, George Kilby Jr., the Dugger Brothers Blues Band and Bobby Kyle.
Sponsors for the event are: Miller Lite, Jim Beam, ROOST, Lake Placid News, WSLP Radio, Matthew D. Norfolk, Attorney at Law, Lake Placid Center for the Arts, Adirondack Life and WAMC.
In addition to the Northwoods Inn's three stages, the venues that have agreed to participate in the first year are the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, Generations Restaurant at the Golden Arrow Resort, Zig Zag's Pub, the Dancing Bears Lounge at the High Peaks Resort, The Cottage at the Mirror Lake Inn and the new band shell at Mid's Park.
The cost for a full Festival Pass is $35. A one-day pass is $28, and an individual event pass is $10. Tickets can be purchased online at www.lpbluesfest.com.
For more information, call the Northwoods Inn at 518-523-1818.