The doors had opened early, and people were starting to pour in. The place was already crowded by the time we did our soundcheck, and I attempted to sing half of a song before I realized with utter horror that my voice was not going to “pull through” for tonight’s show. It was completely shot. Trying to sing a moderately high-pitched note was impossible – it was even difficult to talk. I had been hoping that it would miraculously improve by showtime – but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t sing.
This presented a considerable problem – because I am the lead singer.
Our band, JIM, was formed in Lake Placid in 1995. For about 10 years, a few lineup changes, 5 albums, and lots of shows, we built up a devoted following before disbanding in 2005. Since then, we played reunion shows periodically, the last being over 6 years ago. Fans had been asking for more shows, and now we were finally delivering. They had come from all over the region, the country even, to join us in our revelry. Hundreds of happy faces filled the room, many old friends and acquaintances mixed with potential new fans, all excited to hear what JIM had to offer – and I knew I couldn’t sing.
I pulled the band members aside and told them that despite our hopes – it wasn’t happening. How could we play a show without a lead singer? I was anxious. Pacing. Politely trying to explain to any of the happy faces that wanted to fraternize that this show may not happen. “I can barely talk, much less sing.” How do you tell a huge crowd of people that have gone to great lengths to come to your show that it is impossible to play?
When our friend Katie Wilson (representing the Adirondack Sports Council) had approached us about reuniting the band to appear as part of the nightly entertainment during the 2023 FISU World University games in Lake Placid, we initially dismissed it. We had all but given up on playing again after 6 years absence, and with our bassist, Dick, living in Oregon, it seemed like an impossible undertaking. With a serious offer on the table, gradually we warmed to the idea and began to work it out. Dick would fly home for a month of rehearsals, and we would supplement the outdoor FISU stage performance with a follow up at Smoke Signals music lounge that final weekend of the games.
The first show, a Tuesday night, was fantastic. A large crowd of friends and fans enthusiastically braved freezing rain while we performed for 2hrs (without breaks) on a (debatably) heated stage, outside, in 30 degree temps.
The next morning – my voice was gone. With nearly 4 days till the Saturday Show, I figured I would recover in time. I drank gallons of tea and honey, and barely spoke. By Saturday morning it seemed better, but not great. Optimistic, we all hoped that by showtime I would be fine.
But I wasn’t.
Nervously weighing my options, I told myself that I just had to try. I couldn’t just let everyone, including my band, down. It may be a complete disaster, but at least I would try. When we took the stage, the venue was packed to capacity. Smiling, exuberant faces were pressing all sides of the stage, ready to dance, shouting and cheering us on. I approached my microphone and in my scratchy, baritone said,
“Welcome, we’re JIM!”
(Cheers and applause.)
“We had a great show on Tuesday – thanks to all of you who were there!”
“The thing is, I completely lost my voice, and can’t sing”.
(The room quieting with concern)
“But I’m going to try. I will speak some parts, and try to sing lower and try to make it work and it will probably sound terrible, but we’re going to try.
Please bear with me, I’m sorry and thanks again…”
And we were off. They were screaming and cheering, now fully sympathetic.
We proceeded to play with everything we had for 2.5 hours, to a mobbed house, in a frantic burst of energy and affection. I sang what I could, spoke the rest, and generally croaked my way through the night – but the band was playing like fire and the crowd was too happy to care that I was dismally underperforming.
At one point, during a song with a particularly high vocal part at its peak, I was dreading trying to figure out how to fill the void. As I began to sing the part an octave lower, I suddenly realized, with awe…, that the crowd was singing my part for me.
I was completely blown away – it was transcendent.
As the FISU games came to a close in Lake Placid, and locals debated the various merits or problems that they observed, I can only offer that our experience was amazing. We brought together crowds of old faces and new, locals and visitors. For us, this was a renewed connection to a town that is forever a part of us, and a community of friends and fans that have so ardently supported us for so long.
So, thank you, Lake Placid; and thank you, JIM friends – for a wonderful memory. I hope we can do it again.
And yes, my voice came back, slowly.
Sven Curth is a musician currently based in North Creek. Photos by Bear Cieri