On April 19, 2023

Making a life in Vermont blending music and skiing 

 By Karen D. Lorentz 

With a strong work ethic and love of skiing and music instilled by his parents, it’s little wonder that Samuel “Sammy” Blanchette has moved to Vermont to work at several jobs, including as a performing artist, and to live at Okemo Mountain.

Born in 1989, Blanchette grew up in Connecticut, where he lived for 29 years before moving to Ludlow permanently in September 2018 — after buying the Okemo Mountain Lodge condo his parents had purchased in 1990. 

 “Okemo was the first mountain I learned to ski at in 1993, primarily because of the weekend trips to the family condo. My dad and his skiing buddies helped me ski at different mountains like Killington, Stratton, Mount Snow, and Sugarbush. I just skied for the fun of it and developed a love for moguls and the woods,” he said, noting it’s a “crazy feeling” to hit the “30-year mark skiing Okemo!”

His family still owns and operates Blanchette Sporting Goods in Shelton, Connecticut, where Blanchette “learned the ropes of running a business — retail, road sales, shipping and receiving, etcetera” — and worked from a young age until moving to Vermont.

Noting music was always playing in his house, Blanchette listened “to all my parents’ influences and genres. …. I remember being three years old sitting in the basement watching old VCR tapes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble from 1983 with my plastic orange guitar and just being mesmerized by Stevie’s awe- inspiring talent.”

Although he took piano lessons, Blanchette admits his “attention span” was more into Sega Genesis and video games. “I got my first electric guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, when I was ten and started taking lessons at 13. I also began playing out in local bars and clubs then, with mom and dad being in attendance of course,” he noted, adding it was great exposure and he got to jam with a lot of great talented artists at an early age.

After graduating from St. Joseph High School in Trumbull in 2007, Blanchette earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance (2011) and a bachelor’s in small business management (2013) at Western Connecticut State University. “I am essentially putting both of my degrees together for my current lines of work,” he said.

Q & A with Sammy Blanchette

Mountain Times: So how did your performing career evolve?

Sammy Blanchette: I became a performer because playing guitar was my escape from school work and ‘young stress.’ It translated into performing live in front of crowds nightly, and then I started singing which I never initially thought I would do. 

 I balanced the store job with my localized music career since age 18 when I began making money as an acoustic artist and worked in multiple bands. I played electric guitar in a reggae band, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, and also had my own power trio called CK3, which got its career started at Killarney’s back in 2013. 

MT: You also do solo gigs?

SB:  In 2013 my solo acoustic career started blossoming in Vermont and around Ludlow and Killington. So many great restaurants and bars support an amazing pool of talented artists and entertainers.

MT: Do you play a mix of blues, jam, jazz, reggae, and rock at your gigs or does it depend on the venue? 

SB: I play all those genres at restaurant and bar gigs, but it all depends on the audience in the moment, and to some degree, also the venue. 

Weddings and cocktail hour gigs usually involve a setlist determined by the party getting married, but we will also exchange ideas beforehand. 

Private events are a result of people who have seen me perform locally for years and are hiring me to play because they already know my type of show. 

Bars and restaurants are the wild card, but the fun wild card. I’ve gotten requests lately to play my original music more at shows in addition to all the covers I play, which is a great sign. I have seven original songs on Spotify. They were recorded at The Underground Recording Studio in Randolph in 2021. I wrote so much music when Covid hit, so then I got them in the studio. 

MT: What music is most popular with ski crowds? 

SB: That’s a great question because music and technology continue to change over time, so you get so many different requests at each show. Classic rock, alternative music, country, and reggae really tend to work well. Folks love Tom Petty, Chris Stapleton, John Denver, the Beatles, Bob Marley, etcetera. A sweet spot for me is when people like all of those genres and then also really dig jam bands like The Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, and Phish. Those songs are right up my alley to just really jam on live! 

MT: Where do you play and what’s special about entertaining skiers?

SB: Over the last few years, I’ve performed frequently at The Bull at Okemo, the base lodges at Killington, Black Line Tavern at Magic Mountain, The Wild Boar Tavern at Bromley, Mulligan’s at Stratton …. lot of great ski areas.

People are on vacation and want to enjoy the apres life. It gives you an extra boost of motivation to really put on a good show for them. . . . People embrace the hustle and drive to make that happen, especially in a fun environment like ski areas. 

MT: What’s involved in being an entertainer? 

SB: There is a lot of work that goes into it because if you do it the right way, it’s like having your own independent LLC. There’s emailing, texting, phone calling bars/restaurants and wedding venues/private events to line up all the details and scheduling, whether they’re solo shows or with bands. There’s social media, marketing and managing your website content daily. With all the technology and apps at our hands, staying relevant to your fan base is more critical than ever. You also spend a lot of time practicing material whether it’s your own originals or cover songs.

It adds up to a two-to-three-hour performance in front of your fans or total strangers or both. The best part of my job is when the audience is completely dialed into what I’m doing. Some shows, you will get little to no response and you think, ‘Oh man, this may not be working tonight.’ But then, those same folks come up as they are leaving and give you a fist bump, a smile, or a tip and then you’re like, ‘Nice! Ok, it is working!’ 

Every night is different and that’s the challenge and beauty of it. When folks are totally into your songs and show, there’s no better feeling.

MT: Other challenges? 

SB: Being my own independent contractor as a musician, I feel like I never truly have an actual day off because there is always something to catch up on, or I have new ideas for graphic design and marketing, or I need to learn new songs and write more originals. Not to mention I also work as a sales rep for the local Proctorsville brewery, Outer Limits Brewing, walk dogs for friends, and plan to work at Okemo during the summer part time in some capacity. What’s the old saying, “If you like what you do……”

MT: Was working on the mountain safety team your first time working for Okemo? 

SB: This was my first year working as a mountain safety attendant. They are information and first impression ambassadors with guests. We are out on the hill all day in various weather conditions. Some days present challenges like lift closures/delays but the work is rewarding —guest interactions, managing the lift lines, and helping ski patrol with scene safety are important for ensuring guests are smiling and safe.

Before that I was a volunteer safety ambassador for four years. I also worked in the call center during the 2018-19 ski season and then transitioned into the retail department for that summer and winter 2019-20 at both Jackson Gore and Clocktower shops right before the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020. 

MT: Were there any people who were special influences or mentors to you? 

SB: First and foremost, my family. Dad played bass guitar before becoming a father, and my grandparents were musicians back in the 1940s,1950s so music really runs in my family. 

Honestly though, everyone who told me to never give up and pushed me to succeed I view as a mentor. Not just with music, but in life. I embrace positivity and being a positive role model in all aspects. 

MT: How do you spend your time outside of work? 

SB: My girlfriend Erica and I have a black Lab named Denver. He just turned 2 and has a ton of energy. We take him hiking everywhere. Erica and I love to travel out West, shop at local Vermont craft stores, frequent local restaurants, and go swimming and bowling 

MT: What’s your take on ski town living? 

SB: I’ve lived in Ludlow fulltime almost five years and feel very much at home. Skiing and snowboarding are the most fun and stress relieving activities. It’s a great workout for your body and mind, and there’s the view. The village of Ludlow has a little bit of something for visitors and locals. It’s just a great community and resort to be associated with. 

MT: Any words of wisdom or advice to share?

SB: Be kind, passionate, and always smile. Keep on skiing and riding. Enjoy the time. 

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