Debbie and Howie Campbell have been coming to the Tri-Lakes for the past six summers, performing in concerts throughout our region.
This year, they also spent the winter here.
"As traveling musicians, we've been in communities around the country," Howie said. "The people here truly pull together, help each other, take care of one an other. It's very easy to make friends, and over the years, we've built relationships with many folks here.
Howie and Debbie Campbell
(Promotional photo provided)
"We travel around the country bringing the good news to little communities all over this land. We usually winter over somewhere - come off the road in October and resume again in April. When Pastor Harold Clark retired, it was an excellent opportunity for us to dig in and work with the Baptist Church and the community in Saranac Lake."
And that is just what they did.
"We like the community. It's not isolated. There's a vibrant street trade. Even when it's below zero, shops are bustling with business. We don't mind the subzero weather, though I don't like the salt, but I don't have a dogsled," he jokes. "We often hook up with local musicians we meet in our travels. Here, we have built relationships with many local artists, including Cameron Anderson, Sue Grimm and Sarah Curtis. We've joined with other artists for local concerts, such as the food pantry benefit concerts and the Essex County Fair."
The Winter Carnival medieval theme inspired Debbie, a fashion designer, to put together a line of medieval clothing. She also worked on a banner for the parade.
"It had been quite a while since the church had taken part in the Carnival parade," Debbie said. "I found red velvet in my sewing stuff. Together, we made a banner that said 'King Jesus.' We started with just five people to march in the parade and ended with 24 participants. Saranac Lake Baptist Church and Friends never expected to win first place in our category."
At the same time, Howie was exploring medieval music.
"For the Winter Carnival theme, Sarah Curtis and I co-wrote 'Castle of Ice and Light,'" Howie said. "With a nice medieval touch, it became the unofficial theme song of the 2011 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival."
So just who are these itinerant musicians who have chosen Saranac Lake as their winter dwelling? They're both native New Yorkers: Debbie grew up in Clifton Park; Howie hails from the Hudson Valley.
Howie has always loved music.
"In 1975, when I returned from the Army, I bought a guitar and started learning songs," Howie said. "I was playing in clubs within a year, and have been playing music ever since."
Debbie has always loved sewing and fashion. Her first encounter with a sewing machine came when she was only 4 years old.
"My wise mother told me: 'If you want doll clothes, you have to learn to sew them yourself,'" Debbie said. "And so, I learned to sew. By 8, I was sewing my own clothes. At 13, when my parents enrolled me in the Louise Boyka Studio of Stage Arts and Charm School, my love of fashion was born. The school helped transform an awkward, self-conscious teen into a poised, graceful young lady who won World Modeling Association titles."
Howie and Debbie met when he was playing at a concert in Ellenville. They were married in 1980.
"We were shooting for the stars," Debbie said. "Howie was pursuing the elusive music dream, while I desired to have my own clothing line. Little did we realize that is a difficult way to live."
Their children were born "on the road" while Howie was touring with the band - their daughter in 1982, their son in 1983.
"After five years living this way, we were dirt poor," Debbie said. "Our marriage was falling apart; we were heading for a divorce. Then something happened: We met Jesus, and he put our marriage back together."
While Debbie devoted her time to homemaking and home schooling, Howie began working as a carpenter rather than playing in bars. In 1993, the family moved to Memphis, Tenn. They worked with the Asian community there, teaching English, finishing college, starting a construction company and leading worship at church.
In 2002, after their daughter was married and their son had moved out, the Campbells moved to Charlottesville, Va. Howie began to devote himself full time to music and Debbie began working as a docent in a museum.
When the museum opened a Clothier Shop, she began designing 18th century clothing.
"My training in fashion, artistic flair and sewing expertise, combined with my love of history, has all come together into a label and line of period clothing for the entire family, Nouveau Chic (www.nouveauchic.com)," Debbie said. "I believe God handed this business to me. I was no longer looking to start my own clothing line or my business. For 20 years, I'd put those desires aside to raise my family; now God has given it back to me as a blessing. Psalm 37:4 states, 'Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.'"
While Debbie was making colonial clothing, Howie began researching hymns from that time period. His second CD, "Colonial Meditations," available at www.cdbaby.com, is a collection of hymns from the 1700s - a neat tie in into Debbie's colonial fashions. Their dreams of music and fashion were finally coming to pass.
For the past four years, Howie and Debbie have resumed being traveling musicians, like they were when they were married.
"I thought giving up our homestead to live out of a van would be hard, but I have grown to like it," Debbie said. "It's something you can get used to."
"We're homeless by choice,"?Howie added. "My latest CD, 'Wayfarin' Strangers Amped,' sums up our life."
Based on an interview with Howie and Debbie Campbell. Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.