Time to celebrate how much good music we have in Syracuse

The Dean Brothers are nominated in the best pop album category.

The Dean Brothers are nominated in the best pops album category.

It’s Sammys week.

Friday night at the Palace Theatre in Syracuse, awards will be given to honor great work in the Central New York music scene. The night before that at Upstairs and the Dinosaur, inductions will be made into the hall of fame.

A quick primer for those of you who’ve never been to the event with the nickname designed to rhyme with the Grammys.

The Syracuse Area Music Awards is a cool party. It has been for two decades now.

The event has gone through plenty of changes since Frank Malfitano hosted the first version amid big lights and bigger limousines dotting South Salina Street in front of the Landmark Theatre.

It was a grand vision back then. Dozens of categories to honor musicians and bands. Almost a dozen live performances to present the best to music lovers.

It was quite the long and winding bash.

And as worthy of attention all the recipients and hall of fame inductees and performers were, the Landmark Theatre version turned out to be too much to sustain, financially and emotionally.

The Sammy evolved.

It wasn’t exactly a yearly event. Sometimes 18 months were designated in between, better to allow everybody to catch their breath.

When the same people began to win the same awards too many times in a row, the Joe Whiting rule was established. Named after Syracuse’s great singer, sax man and bandleader, it stated that an artist couldn’t win the same award two Sammys running.

After the Landmark board did not rehire Malfitano as executive director, the Sammys found new stewards and was brought to new venues. Always, they had their heart in the right place. Somehow, some way, someplace, the depth, quality and history of the Syracuse-area music scene deserved to be displayed and honored.

Gregg Gambell, then GM of the Syracuse New Times, hooked it up with the Taste of Syracuse, bringing the awards show outdoors, for free, with the potential for luring new eyes and ears.

During its outdoor run, categories were trimmed to a dozen or so best-recording awards, performance slots were reduced and the Hall of Fame inductions were given their own night, all of which streamlined the length of the event.

Liz Nowak, veteran event promoter in Central New York, brought the event back inside, linking it to the Music Industry Conference, a big weekend of workshops and showcases at Oncenter.

Back to selling tickets, the Sammys drew good crowds in its two years in the fall in the Oncenter. But the MIC didn’t quite catch on numbers-wise.

So Nowak and the Sammys board put 16 months between editions before scheduling Friday’s edition of the event with so many lives. They moved it to the Palace Theatre on James Street. That’s a good choice for a lot of reasons, from aesthetics to historical.

The outdoor parking lot made the Sammys feel like a clambake. The Oncenter ballroom made it feel like a wedding reception.

The Palace Theatre should be just right. It has a lobby for drink-buying and gossip-trading. Its 680 seats should be enough to fill and not too many to leave gaping holes of unfilled rows. The sound can be great. The building can build a buzz, as the Thanksgiving weekend premiere of Syracuse’s Last Waltz with its all-star cast proved. And its owned my Michael Heagerty, who along with his sister, Eileen, made Styleen’s Rhythm Palace the live music club to be in Armory Square in the 1990s.

Devoted fans of the music scene can go to cheer on their favorites as the nominees wait to find out who wins the shiny, back trophies. Curious members of the community can go to get a one-night sampling of what’s going on here musically.

For the size of this place we call home, we’ve got a lot of folks who work hard to make interesting original music.

It’s Sammy’s week. And that’s a good thing.

7 thoughts on “Time to celebrate how much good music we have in Syracuse

  1. Pingback: Sammys Hall of Fame class proves to be a hard act to follow | markbialczak

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