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Hobofest founders Seward, Smith step down after 10 years

September 8, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Though many aspects of the annual music festival Hobofest are bound to put smiles on faces - group dances to Romanian gypsy music, people dressing up like they live in Hoovervilles or Baby Gramps' didgeridoo-like vocals - this year was bittersweet.

After 10 years, founding members Peter Seward and Todd Smith stepped down from their positions Sunday, Sept. 2.

"Accomplishing 10 years is the fulfillment of a lot of dreams for me," Seward said in a previous interview, "and I sort of want to quit while I'm ahead."

Article Photos

Peter Seward, co-founder of Hobofest
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Not only was this Seward's and Smith's last Hobofest, but they're retiring the name "Hobofest" too. There will still be an end-of-summer free music festival in Saranac Lake next year, but an evolution is expected.

Before Tall County performed, Seward announced the new committee, a predominantly younger group of musicians and music appreciators from the Tri-Lakes region, who will take over operations - Shaun Kittle, Chris Morris, Stacey Judge, Natasha Stevens, Jake Vennie-Volrath, Eric Munley, Kiki Sarko, Eric Foster, Luke Meissner, Chris Knight, Emilie Allen, Eric Ackerson, Jessica Collier, Theresa Hartford and Rob Carr.

For the past decade, Hobofest has generally highlighted folk, blues, jazz, gypsy and, for lack of a better word, weird music. Munley said the new music festival is still in its initial planning phase, but the music will change to a degree.

"I think it's going to be 50 percent the same and 50 percent different," he said. "There will be a new brand established with a slightly different vibe. I think having a family-friendly, community-friendly free show in the same spot with some of the same gear will create a lot of similarities and at the same time bring something new to the field."

Munley plays mandolin in the local group the Blind Owl Band, which closed out this year's festivities. He and his partner Sarko own the Waterhole bar, where they make it a point to book bands that tend to blur the lines between punk and folk or rock and jam or R&B and funk.

Munley praised Seward and Smith's creativity with Hobofest.

"A lot of musical events just fall into a place where music is the theme and there's nothing deeper than that," he said. "Hobofest has always gotten a little bit deeper than that. It's sad to see it go, but it's exciting that good people are getting together to move forward."

Morris said his main goal with the committee is to do justice to Seward.

"He did 10 years," Morris said, "so now I'm hoping we can do 10 years. That's the goal, and also getting Wu-Tang Clan to play here."

Morris plays keyboards and trumpet in Crowfeather, a genre-less band led by Kittle. Morris is a fan of hip-hop, R&B and soul, and he would like to see those genres included in the new festival.

Theresa Hartford has performed in previous Hobofests. She also works with the Jeh Kulu African Dance and Drum Theater in Burlington, Vermont, which she would like to incorporate into the new music festival.

"I'm hoping we get more of a world music vibe," she said. "I'd also like to have entertainment and dances in between the acts when bands are setting up."

Hartford, a singer-songwriter, is originally from Boston. She said she was a little worried moving to Saranac Lake at first. She wasn't sure if the arts were going to be as predominately featured in this community.

"I'm so happy that there are a lot of creative outlets in this area," she said. "and Hobofest is definitely a great feature for supporting both out-of-town bands and local acts, which is fantastic. It had an authenticity to it. Even moving it from the [Union Depot] to [Riverside Park] a couple of years ago was a sentimental moment. I'm going to miss what Pete brings."



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