Andy VanBourgondien, co-owner of UpRiver Cafe in Lake Luzerne (left rear), hands a sample of his chili to a patron attending annual Bands N Beans festival held March 2 in Lake George. The 2014 edition of the event featured nine bands and a total of more than 300 gallons of chili concocted by about two dozen restaurants. UpRiver Cafe won first prize in a taste-test competition judged by the public. Photo by Cheri Bordelon
Dozens of people gyrated to the throbbing beat of a rock band playing a few feet away onstage, while hundreds of others surrounded the dance floor, watching or socializing as they sampled chili and drank beer.
Condensed moisture ran down the fogged windows at Roaring Brook Ranch Resort, a result of the body heat of the crowd as well as steam from about two dozen huge pots of chili.
Such was the scene Sunday March 2 at the 23rd annual Bands N’Beans fest, a fundraiser for the Lake George Arts Project that’s no less than legendary for welcoming spring to the North Country.
George Greene, President of Roaring Brook, stood in the hallway of his resort and glanced into the massive banquet room where most of the crowd was hanging out. People were four deep at the bar not far away.
“What a crowd,” he said. “You couldn’t find a place to stand in there.”
Nearby, Vernon Fuss, vocalist for the band Dirt Cheap, leaned against a pool table in the musician’s lounge — waiting to go onstage as another band performed to a pumped-up crowd.
“This is electric,” Fuss said, noting that the band has performed at Bands ‘N Beans for five or six years, and this year’s crowd is one of the largest and most enthusiastic ever. “We always look forward to this party — it’s one of our best gigs of the year.”
Dirt Cheap bassist Steve Hymowech interjected his thoughts.
“And we don’t get paid for this performance — This shows just how much fun it is!” Hymowech said. “Bands always want to play this gig.”
Fuss said that musicians and artists were like a community, looking out for one another.
“Performing to raise money for the Lake George Arts Project helps perpetuate the arts, so it helps us too,” he said.
Nine bands performed at Bands ‘N Beans, keeping the 1,000 or so partyers moving to the music for more than four hours.
Artist Betsy Brandt and Andy VanBourgondien, owners of UpRiver Cafe in Lake Luzerne, were dishing up samples of their three-bean chili with pork and beef, served in a filo basket with sour cream. Their chili ended up winning first place overall by vote of the crowd.
This is the 10th year for Van Bourgondien’s culinary creations to be represented at Bands ‘N Beans. The last few years is been for their UpRiver Cafe, and before that, for his prior employers, The Sagamore Resort and Inn at Erlowest.
“I can’t believe the crowd this year,” Bourgondien said. “Omigod there was a long line out the door 30 minutes before the party was to start. We went through our 15 gallons of chili in one and a half hours — and I had thought we’d be eating chilit for a week or two afterwards!”
“Everyone needs relief from their cabin fever,” Brandt added.
Not far away in the kitchen, Jeff Garry of Roaring Brook was filling cardboard boxes with beer bottles that had been emptied in the last hour or so.
“It’s been a tough winter — and hot chili, hot music and cold beer will bring people out,” he said.
Phillip “Philson” Wilson of Pete’s Aaahh in North Creek, wearing a beret on his head that was crafted to look like a pepperoni pizza, intermittently strolled through the crowd when he wasn’t serving up his chili concoction which contained 16 pounds of prime rib. When he and his assistants served it up, they topped it off with apple-smoked gouda cheese and a touch of lime. Wilson said this was the third year he’d represented his eatery at Bands ‘N Beans.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “The spirit is high, and everyone is so friendly — and it’s like an honor to be here.”
Glens Falls’ Downtown City Tavern served up an entirely new variety of chili for the annual festival, which has hosted chili made with ostrich, elk, and deer meat as well as rare varieties of peppers.
The tavern’s chef/partner David Britton said his chili was based on chicken gizzards and hearts, seasoned with “Scotch Bonnet” peppers. It was announced after the fest that his chili won the “2014 President’s Choice “award.
“We love it here, man,” Britton said, looking over the crowd. “We love the atmosphere, the people — that’s what it’s all about.”
Joanna Loveland, Bartender at Frederick’s Restaurant in Bolton Landing served up her eatery’s chili with a lot of enthusiasm. Every time someone cast a vote naming their chili as the best, she’d lead the staff in a rousing cheer.
“There are some great chilis here this year,” she said, adding that the competition for best chili had heated up in 2014. “There are new restaurants participating with new recipes — the bar has really been raised this year.”
Frederick’s chili, which won the top award in 2013, had its recipe bolstered, too, for this edition of Bands ‘N Beans, Loveland said. It contained no less than four meats: pulled pork, chorizo sausage, ground veal and ground beef. This new concoction — tweaked with a secret ingredient of Jim Beam whiskey — ended up winning a prize: the “Hootin’ N Tootin’ Awesome Chili” award.
Loveland added that the Frederick’s staff enjoyed representing their restaurant at an event that annually raises about $20,000 for the Lake George Arts Project, which sponsors various free concerts through the year, featuring top-quality musicians — as well as hosting fine art exhibits at their Courthouse Gallery.
“We love this event — it supports a great cause,” Loveland said.