For more than 30 years, John Strong has been looking out of his office window at one of the most beautiful lakes in America.
As executive director of the Lake George Arts Project in the old County Courthouse in the village of Lake George, he’s also the guy that puts together the popular outdoor concerts that happen on that Adirondack lake every July and August.
Founded in 1977, the Lake George Arts Project has become a important player on the Capital Region arts scene.
In addition to the free summer concerts in Shepard Park, LGAP presents a free Jazz Weekend every September.
LGAP’s Courthouse Gallery showcases regional and national contemporary artists. Six exhibits are scheduled each year by Laura Von Rosk, the part-time gallery director and Strong’s only staff member.
The non-profit arts organization is known for its fun and creative fundraisers, the Black Velvet Art Party in November, and Bands ’n’ Beans in March.
A Lake George resident, Strong has two grown sons who grew up in Lake George and now live in New York City.
Lake George Summer Concerts
WHERE: Shepard Park, Lake George
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays in July and August
THE LINEUP: July 2, Blues Night with No Outlet, George Fletcher’s Folding Money; July 9, Jim Gaudet & the Railroad Boys; July 16, Eric Lindell; July 23, Chris Bergson; July 30, Albert Cummings; Aug. 6, Marcia Ball; Aug. 13, Big Fex & the Surfmatics; Aug. 20, The Out of Control Rhythm & Blues Band; Aug. 27, The Pine Leaf Boys
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.lakegeorgearts.org or 668-2616
In a recent phone interview, he talked to The Gazette about the upcoming summer concerts.
Q: Tell me about this year’s lineup.
A: It’s a nice combination of regional talent and some national touring groups. I got a bunch of blues stuff coming in. Albert Cummings might be the most known of those players. I got three bands from Louisiana coming through. Marcia Ball, who is a big name. And I got this guy, Eric Lindell. He works out of New Orleans. Kind of bluesy-country, with Louisiana influences. We’re finishing off the series with the Pine Leaf Boys, another Louisiana band. They are really young guys in their 20s.
Q: How do you decide who to book?
A: I work with a couple of agents who I have developed a real good rapport with over the years. I get input from fellow musicians in the area who might tip me off to somebody. I look at the festivals in the Northeast to see who is coming through. The fact that it’s on a Wednesday night is a nice fit for a lot of people. A band is on the road, maybe going from Syracuse to Boston. Everybody wants to be working. Besides the fact that it’s a wonderful place to play.
Q: Because it’s during the week, you’re able to book some national acts, too?
A: Yes, that’s what happens. The Wednesday night is a nice card to play.
Q: Are there any returning performers?
A: We rarely do repeats. Maybe a few years apart, we’ll do a repeat. I look for new stuff every year.
Q: Is Shepard Park a good venue?
A: Shepard Park is just one of the nicest settings that I’ve seen anywhere, right by the lake. You look right through the stage.
Q: Has weather ever been a problem?
A: Generally no. There’s been a few times that a local band, a regional band, has been able to re-schedule a rain date. If it’s a band that’s on the road, we’ve been lucky enough to move it inside to King Neptune’s. King Neptune’s is a rock club, it’s got a lot of room in it. Wednesday is a dark night for them so we’re able to use that as a backup venue.
Q: What are your audiences like?
A: It’s a general crowd. There might be a 100 to 200 people who are familiar with the series that will attend four or five times throughout the season from the area. It’s largely still a tourist crowd, but you know, with the Internet, people are looking around for things or they are following a particular artist. So they might come out of their way to see that artist. With Buckwheat Zydeco last year, we had people coming in from Syracuse, certainly from Albany.
Albany is a big draw for us. So it’s a mix of visitors and locals.
Q: What’s the history of the Lake George Arts Project?
A: There were some visual artists who were the founders. The first show they had was huge, it was an outdoor sculpture show on Prospect Mountain. It was an homage to David Smith. The Arts Project started with a bang with that show. It got national attention, if not international attention. They had a separate concert series started. I got hired in ’80 or ’81, just to coordinate the summer concert series.
Q: LGAP does quite a few fundraisers.
A: We’re a very active organization. The fundraising events we do are very accessible, affordable. They are really nice. It’s not like we are just going out and asking people for money. They get food and entertainment. We have a cruise coming up soon [Thurs., June 19].
Q: Are these events your main source of funding?
A: No, we get very good support from the town and the village and the muncipalities here. We get some support from Warren County, we get some support from the New York State Council on the Arts. And the rest is memberships, individual contributions and fundraising.
Q: Are you a musician?
A: I grew up in a musical family. I sing, I play guitar. I’m one of the founders of the Stony Creek Band (www.stonycreekband.com). We’ve been around here for 40 years. We’ve played in just about ever town in Warren County. We’ve played down in the Empire State Plaza, we were on the bill once for Alive at Five.
Q: Where is Stony Creek performing this summer?
A: We’re not doing the bar scene. Nobody misses that. We’re doing a lot of event things, town concerts.
Q: Do you have a home venue?
A: Yeah, the Stony Creek Inn (in Warren County). We play there six times a year. It’s a unique, wonderful place to play. It kind of transcends the bar scene. It’s a real music venue out in the middle of woods.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the Poconos, in Pennsylvania. I went to college outside of Philadelphia and eventually made my way up to Boston. I was playing with folk groups in high school, a little bit in college, and right after that, I just knew I had to play. So once I got to Boston, I started playing out some more. I played throughout New England a lot, in a trio.
Q: Who were your musical influences back then?
A: All the folkies coming up. The Kingston Trio. Tom Rush. Always loved Tom Rush. And then Dylan was a big influence, with those great songs.
Q: Do you like to go to concerts?
A: I do. I don’t like big shows. I love going to The Egg. I really admire what Peter Lesser does, in particular the Roots and Branches lineup that he pulls in every year. Depending on the show, I love going to Lena’s. I love the tradition of that place.
Q: How has Lake George changed over 35 years?
A: There used to be a lot more music in the clubs here. It’s slowly coming back. But it used to be just a happening town. People’s social habits have changed. There’s a little bit of an aging thing here in Lake George. The town is really unable to hold people in their twenties and thirties. There’s nothing happening for them. The summer season holds its own. But in the off season now, it is really, really quiet, quieter than it’s ever been, I think.