Bonsai Zen

Plattsburgh’s own Lucid gets ready to bring the heat this weekend for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

Published in the Lake Champlain Weekly
January 29, 2020

By Joshua Miner

Photos by Laura Carbone

When you think about live music in the North Country, one name immediately comes to mind: Lucid. For countless people in Upstate New York, Lucid served as a portal through which music fans came to experience live music for the first time – oftentimes changing their lives in the process. Since the release of their album Miles Deep in 2005, Lucid has established themselves as a mainstay of the local music scene – tightly woven into the fabric of Plattsburgh itself. Following a brief hiatus, the group has returned to the stage for special performances – with none more special than Saranac Lake’s annual Winter Carnival.

For lead singer and guitarist Kevin Sabourin, the Winter Carnival has become an important part of the band’s history. Following their break, the first show they played in nearly a year was at the 2017 Carnival, in the Waterhole’s Upstairs Music Lounge. For the band, playing for fans here is nothing short of a reunion, with friends and fans from near and far coming together to celebrate the year to come.

“It was kind of just a culminating of energies,” he recalls thinking when they returned that year.  “And I think [now] that we’re all probably at the best point that we’ve been in a while.”

Sabourin grew up with music in his blood. His mother teaching music classes and his father an avid guitar player, his sister would become a music teacher as well. By the time he was a teen, he began getting paid gigs – and never looked back.

For over 10 years, Sabourin and his bandmates lived and breathed Lucid. With every year bringing more fans and more tour dates, the demands of the road grew and grew.

For Sabourin, his father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s made it difficult for him to continue life on the road. Likewise, other members felt the need to reconnect to their homes and families. In helping care for his father, he says he gained a new perspective on the complexities of life. Now with more time to once again focus on his music, he says he’s excited for what Lucid has in store for fans.

“We never really split up. We just called off the bus tour. And we had a big show over there at the Strand, we sold it out,” he explains of the group’s 2016 farewell show. “We pulled out a chunk of change. I got tired of making other people money, basically. I’ve been in the business of making other people money, and I’ve been really good at it. And so now [it’s] trying to figure out how the heck do I get my piece?”

The bus, brightly painted in psychedelic colors, was an icon of downtown Plattsburgh for years, often seen in the Durkee Street parking lot. As they became more well known, however, he says it was increasingly important not to sell themselves short. Knowing that what they had was special, Sabourin says the band decided to dictate their own terms going forward.

“I don’t view myself as a product. I don’t care how much money I make. I don’t care if we lose money. I’m like a painting. [People] don’t buy this painting because of how much money that painting is going to make, they buy the painting because they like how the painting makes them feel. That’s kind of how I changed. I can play the music, and I will play the music – and I’ll make it for my people. I’ll share it with everyone around them. For me to go out on stage, you gotta reach out. I’m not on some grandiose mission, but I’ll do anything that happens,” he laughs.

This carefree attitude has been a constant theme throughout their career, with their musical stylings reaching from the laidback sounds of reggae, country and folk, to hard-hitting electric guitar and metal-like speed. Far from being boxed into any particular genre, Lucid explores the entire musical landscape throughout their five studio albums. But for fans, seeing Lucid live is what it’s all about.

Earning their stripes at local bars like the Waterhole and the Monopole fed the improvisational flame the burns at the center of their shows today. While touring the south, he says, they would be able to play tighter shows, as the expectations put on the band were much less. Touring around the Northeast, Sabourin says they were often expected to play four, and even six-hour long shows. These extended sets naturally led to more improvisation.

“We write songs, yet we still like a fluid nature of blending things together. And so, the challenge of the game is to always figure out how to keep that improvisational nature, yet still have ‘the song.’ I believe in the song, I believe in making something that people can take and put in their pocket and walk around and have a little melody in their head. I don’t want some big extrapolated opus that you can’t carry.”

At the 2016 farewell show, they debuted their fifth studio album, Bonsai Zen, which has since been remastered and released. The album featured 12 new songs, with the band’s current lineup – save for drums. Jamie Armstrong (saxophone/vocals), Lowell Wurster (percussion/vocals), Chris Shacklett (bass/vocals), Andrew Deller (piano/vocals), Joshua West (drums/vocals) and Meadow Eliz (vocals) along with Sabourin put together the band’s latest studio trip – backed with the strong imagery of San Pedro, the album kicks off with the upbeat Mind Trippin’ and ends with the melodic Suenos. Spanish for ‘Dreams,’ the final track serves as a lullaby of sorts for the spiritually inclined. In the years following the release, original drummer Ryan “Rippy” Turnbull returned to the fold.

While most bands tour after releasing an album, Lucid did the exact opposite – releasing Bonsai Zen before taking a break from performing. But much like a Bonsai tree, Sabourin carefully curates not only the band’s sound, but his own life as well. Taking deliberate steps to create exactly what he means to, he embraces the Zen-like quality of patience when approaching his music.

Still, the occasional feedback from fans reminds Sabourin of the far-reaching effects their music has had. One song in particular, Bad Habit, has had a much wider impact on fans than he could have anticipated when he wrote it. It was with responses to songs like this that he began to see just how powerful music can be.

“Still like every month or something, I’ll get a message from somebody I don’t even know, and they’ll [say] that song really saved me. People actually said that, which is hard to believe,” he says in awe. “It’s hard to believe, but they went out of their way to tell me.”

Oftentimes, he says, the song speaks to those in the throes of addiction, especially with the opioid epidemic ravaging communities across the country. While the impact of that song may have come as a surprise, the healing nature of Lucid’s music has been a constant theme throughout their career.

Early on, Sabourin says he played the songs that he wrote himself – for himself. As he started to watch the crowds grow and the fans start to sing along, he began to realize that there was more to music than just writing for yourself. Armed with that knowledge, he began to write songs with other people in mind – speaking straight to people he never met. By the time 2013’s Home is Where We Want to Grow, he says he truly came into his own as a lyricist – writing or co-writing all the songs on the album.

As the touring increased, he says he found the power of his words were more than just a clever jingle to get stuck in your head. He found he was manifesting his own reality – and those around him – through his words.

“You can speak stuff into existence.”

Recognizing the power of his words, Sabourin continued to focus on writing uplifting, conscious and positive lyrics – manifesting through his mantras while also embracing the feeling of fun and community that fans of the band had come to know and love.

That community was made even tighter starting in 2007, with the band hosting Backwoods Pondfest in Peru, NY’s Twin Ponds Resort Campsite. The festival became an annual event, bringing groups like Melvin Seal & JGB, Twiddle, Break Science and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk to the area. To the disappointment of many devoted fans, the final Pondfest was held in 2016. In recent years, however, they have been featured at the newly begun Adirondack Independence Music Festival in Lake George, NY.

For Sabourin, much like a Bonsai Zen tree, he feels little pressure to do anything before the time is right. First and foremost, his goal is to put his positivity into the world and connect with people. It’s this energy which has created a fanbase unique to the North Country, a tie that binds those born here and those passing through. Whether its your first show or your 50th, once you step through that door you become part of something greater than yourself. And for Sabourin and Lucid, nothing is more important than that sense of community as they bring the Lucid family together one more time.

“That’s the thing, they keep coming,” he says of their fans. “And that was our method, one person at a time. And now when we do shows, it’s not a bunch of random people that are getting involved, every single person that is there pretty much we’ve had a personal experience with. So, the Waterhole [shows will] be like everybody we’ve met across all those years – they decided to come. And now it’s not even as much about us playing the music, but it’s more of the people knowing that there are gonna be other people there that they haven’t seen in a while.”

Lucid will be performing at the Winter Carnival on Saturday, February 1st at the Waterhole’s Upstairs Music Lounge. Tickets are $20 and can be bought in person at the Waterhole, at Plattsburgh’s Express Lane or at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lucid-wsg-the-mallett-brothers-band-tickets-83856971459. Doors open at 8 p.m. with the show starting at 9 p.m. Special guests The Mallett Brothers will be kicking off the night with their own set, followed by Lucid. For more information, visit rulucid.com saranaclakewaterhole.com.

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