No matter how rich your musical resume, you have to pay your dues locally to draw a crowd around these parts.
Blues-rock-soul veteran George Kilby Jr. gets that. It's why he and and his band the Road Dogs are opening up for jam-grass band Hot Day at the Zoo Saturday night at the Waterhole in downtown Saranac Lake. In return, they'll open for him in New York City, where he's been a regular performer for decades and they want an in.
While Kilby isn't particularly famous, the Anniston, Ala. native has worked long and hard enough to be a bigger deal nationwide than the young New England stringband. For more than 20 years his band backed blues pianist "Pinetop" Perkins, a former Muddy Waters sideman and one of the greats of the genre in his own right. Lately, Kilby has been collaborating with Tao Rodriguez Seeger (grandson of Pete Seeger) and well established roots-jam band Railroad Earth.
George Kilby Jr., a veteran musician whose sound spans blues, rock and soul, performs in 2010 in Sweden.
But he knows he's virtually unknown at the Waterhole, while Hot Day at the Zoo are local favorites. They've played the bar many times, often during Saranac Lake's biggest festivals like Winter Carnival, and they always pack the place. They even recorded their live album there.
"Phish had Nectar's, HDATZ has The Waterhole," Laura Goldfarb wrote in the biography on the band's website.
Kilby and his wife live in the western Catskills, where they fled from New York City some years ago, but he fell in love with the Adirondacks through friends in Lake Placid.
"My college roommate, his mom has had a house there forever," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I think mostly my interest came from how beautiful it is up there. And the people are cool."
Now one of his sons attends North Country School outside Lake Placid, and in his frequent trips up here he's been itching to play out locally. So when he met Hot Day at the Zoo this winter, at a shared gig that also included Tao Seeger, they got talking about the Waterhole.
"They said, 'Look, the Waterhole is one of the best venues around, but they need to get to know you,'" Kilby said.
Hence the trade-off. He said opening for Hot Day at the Zoo might save him years of slogging through sparsely attended gigs before he actually makes money playing up here.
Kilby said he likes that dynamic among concert-goers in the Northeast, where seeing is believing and word of mouth rules.
"One of the things I think is interesting about the music scene up there, younger people are going out to see music," he said. "The ground seems more fertile in the north. For some reason, the people are more into organic music, in my opinion."
But just because you've earned a reputation somewhere else doesn't mean you'll draw a crowd here - the first time.