Hobo wandered in for Hobofest, stays a while
SARANAC LAKE — Rob Frost is his name. They call him “Hobo Rob” at the Rusty Nail’s Tuesday night open mics. He calls himself “Rob the Hobo Rock Star.”
In recent months he’s been wandering around town playing an out-of-tune acoustic guitar, wearing colorful outfits that are equal parts kids pajamas, hippie glad rags and craft projects — some of which he makes himself, on a loom. A feather is perched in a wool hat over his long hair, his long mustache tips appear to be waxed, and his teeth are — sorry, but one can’t help but notice — not in the best of shape.
I ran into Rob last Tuesday night, Nov. 28 while walking home from work. We were waiting for the light to turn at the corner of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue, and he was singing a song about a “Mobil mart.” I decided to introduce myself and grab a quick interview, if he was willing. He was.
He kept strumming his guitar for the first half of our conversation, but it wasn’t any more of a distraction than his hot-pink fleece Hello Kitty pajama pants. They’re just part of his persona.
He said he’s originally from Long Island but has been on the move for the past couple of years, including stints in Florida and Maryland — “wherever the music takes me, you know?”
“How’d the music take you here?” I asked.
“There was a Hobofest,” he said.
Now I was really intrigued. Hobofest is an annual music festival on Labor Day weekend. A few years ago, village Trustee Allie Pelletieri wondered aloud at a board meeting whether it might attract actual hobos. Rob may be the first.
He told me he was hitchhiking from Raquette Lake, where his family has a cabin, when he heard about the festival.
“I got done there and said, ‘Oh well, let’s go explore the Adirondacks.’ And then I got over to Tupper Lake, and they said, ‘Hey, there’s a Hobofest. You heading there?’ I said, ‘I guess I am now.'”
“Did you enjoy it?” I asked. “Was it your scene?”
“It was nice,” he said in a lukewarm tone. “It was fun. I enjoyed it.”
I remember seeing him there with his guitar, alone in a corner of the pavilion tent while it rained all day outside.
“I feel like I was one of the only people who talked to him,” Hobofest founder Peter Seward told me this week. “I think people just kind of gave him a wide berth because they were afraid of him being so marginal.
“I was kind of joking that it was Andrew Cuomo’s I Love New York campaign who reached out to him in Long Island and encouraged him to come up here.”
Rob said he’s currently living with a friend he met here since then. He got a hold of a computer, made a little studio in his room and is recording a CD.
“I’ve been stuck here longer than I usually get stuck places, but people here are so nice,” he said.
“Well that’s good to hear,” I replied.
“Usually I get run out of town by now,” he added with a laugh.
Have police or anyone else here given him a hard time? No, he said.
How does he support himself? Busking on the streets for change, he said, plus the food pantry and free church lunches and dinners. On Thursday in front of the Enterprise office, he was playing with a cardboard box on which was written, “I want to go home for Christmas.” He said he hopes to afford a bus ticket to visit his family on Long Island.
In the holiday spirit, he was wearing a red and white outfit he had made on his loom. He said it took him roughly 30 hours to make. I’ve also seen him wear a multi-colored outfit, which had gotten quite unraveled.
I had to ask about his instrument, which he calls “Matilda, my magical 11-stringed guitar.” I took a closer look, and it does, in fact, have 11 strings, their uncut ends jangling above the headstock. Originally it had the typical six, but someone mounted new, unmatched string pegs all over the headstock.
Twelve-string guitars are notoriously hard to keep in tune, and any acoustic guitar will go out of tune quickly outdoors amid changing temperature and humidity. I mentioned to Rob how challenging this must be.
“Yeah, but I’ve got a tuner on my phone,” he said. “My friend tried to tune this thing by ear, and I was like, ‘Don’t even bother! You’ll spend an hour.'”
A Hondo by make, Matilda has signatures carved into the wooden top, plus a vulgar bumper sticker that’s usually covered by Rob’s strumming arm.
“I got her in Somerset, Pennsylvania, right after a friend of mine called me a devil and ran off,” he told me.
“Interesting,” I said.
“Yeah, we were traveling together, and I said something he didn’t like, and he was like, ‘You’re the devil!’ and ran off. I go searching for him. I ran into this little bookstore called Pages and Light, and they had a couple guitars there. I bring this one up the lady, asked her how much it is. She asked me how much I think it’s worth. I said, ‘Well, I got about 30, 35 dollars, but I think it’s worth a lot more.’ (laughs) And she let me have it.”
So there you go. Rob went strumming off into the night, and I left happy to have met one of the travelers who passes through my hometown — and especially glad he finds it hospitable.
If you have a subject for Peter Crowley’s Roving Reporter column, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-891-2600 ext. 22.