The Waterhole is Closed… For Now

Residents of the North Country are mourning the loss today of one of the most legendary concert venues around.

The Waterhole closed last night after decades of serving up amazing music along with countless beers and strong cocktails. Hope remains that the Saranac Lake watering hole will reopen soon under new ownership, but for now, the dim lights of the downstairs bar and the bright stage lights will be dark for the future.

For a venue of its size in such a small town — Saranac Lake has around 5,000 residents, and it’s a strong population center in the middle of the sparsely settled Adirondack Park — the Waterhole’s stage has been graced with some heavy hitters, as well as nurturing plenty of local talent.

In 2013, the venue held a two-month-long celebration to mark 20 years since owner Billy Allen converted the second level of the bar (which was open for more than 40 years) from apartments into the Upstairs Music Lounge. Since then, some significant bands have filled the two-level concert hall with music: moe., the Del McCoury Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Soulive, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Man Man, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, the Infamous Stringdusters, Max Creek, and Donna the Buffalo, among many others.

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Formula 5 was one of many regional bands to entertain crowds at the Waterhole. Photo by Laura Carbone.

It’s also been a regular gathering place for locals and visitors during the village’s popular Winter Carnival, with music every night and often two acts a day, as well as its Party on the Patio series that meant a free show every Thursday night, usually from May through October.

On Friday night, EMEFE played the last show there for a while, and near the end of the show they dedicated the song “Good Future” to the Waterhole and the crew who have been running it.

Traveling bands have appreciated the Waterhole as a venue with character as well as an opportunity to build up their fan base in the Adirondacks, but few have appreciated it as much as the local bandswho got their start there. Lowell Wurster, percussionist for Lucid, posted kind words yesterday on Facebook:

“So tonight marks the end of a North Country legacy. The beloved Waterhole in Saranac Lake is closing its doors. It really makes me sad, but I understand the reasons. Lucid first played there about 10 years ago and to this day, its one of our favorite venues. Thank you Brenda and everyone who has worked there over the years.”

Eric Munley, mandolin player for the Blind Owl Band, also booked music there for the last handful of years.

“The Waterhole is temporarily closing its doors tonight, between change of ownership. While it is a sad day for the bar, town and Upstate music community, we all look to the future with hope that soon enough the doors will reopen and live music will again fill its walls. The Waterhole has always been a blessing. A true music venue with focus on nothing besides music. Every musician that has gotten to play there knows the love that exists with in its walls. We all want to thank Brenda and her crew for so many great years of music. I know I would not be where I am today if the Waterhole was not there to inspire my path.”

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This drawing was seen on the chalkboard at the Waterhole the last few days it was open. Photo courtesy of Katrina Lauber. Drawing done by John?

Are you a musician or a music lover with fond Waterhole memories? Tell us about it in the comments!