A mix of big time, little city at Syracuse Area Music Awards get-together

The scene of a James Street  Tuesday morning reflects on the big Syracuse Area Music Award in the lobby of the Palace Theatre as members of the media interview Sammys chair Liz Nowak about the 2015 ceremonies on March 5 and 6.

The scene of a James Street Tuesday morning reflects on the big Syracuse Area Music Award in the lobby of the Palace Theatre as members of the media interview Sammys chair Liz Nowak about the 2015 ceremonies on March 5 and 6.

Joe Whiting stood at the podium in front of the asssembled and interested folk in the Palace Theatre on Syracuse’s James Street this morning, a quite capable and appropriate choice to fill them in on the 2015 Hall of Fame class and list of nominees for the Sammys ceremonies that will take place March 5 at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and March 6 right there in the auditorium of the cozy and cool old theater.

Whiting, you see, has been a member of said Hall of Fame for … well, practically since founder Frank Malfitano started the Syracuse Area Music Awards in 1992, the first grand event of which took place the the glitzy downtown Landmark Theatre in 1993.

The spirited R&B singer and sax player won so many shiny black Sammys early on that the Joe Whiting Rule had to be invented by the board: Nobody would win one two years running.

He’s toured nationally with forever pal Mark Doyle — whom he entered the Sammys Hall of Fame in 1996 — in so many bands, and a few years ago internationally with Central New York-transplant blues legend Kim Simmonds’ band Savoy Brown, and since the 1960s has always found the time and desire to bring his bands to bars and other local joints around his native ground.

Joe Whiting at home with sponsor representatives from WOLF.

Joe Whiting at home with sponsor representatives from WOLF.

And Joe Whiting has the gift, the touch, the smooooth, with a microphone.

Talking about the sponsors of the Sammys as he hugged the representatives from Syracuse country music station WOLF to flank him at the podium, he picked out Destiny USA bar World of Beer in particular.

“I don’t know if they’re here, but we all could use a beer, couldn’t we,” Whiting said with a smile.

And he was off, pointing out how tickets for both ceremonies are on sale today, and the worthiness of recognizing the quality of local musicians.

“They sometimes go unheralded and frequently go unpaid,” Whiting noted.

He had a riff about all of the Hall of Fame inductees, worthy as they are, about how he was so honored to have worked with Bobby Comstock twice, and Chris Goss maybe more than that, and how Loren Barrigar would “drunk your head in a crick,” and educator of the year David Rezak has “supported the scene forever,” and lifetime achievement winner Jon Fishman for Phish was so special to the area, and how he couldn’t wait to see Eddie (Hamell) and The Works play together again for the first time in 35 years.

“Twenty-eight years” corrected original member Mike Featherstone from the back of the room, in good humor.

Indeed, the folks were smiling, at the reminder of how many people such as these inductees have gone on to great fame and acclaim.

Whiting then read the list of the nominees for best-album awards in the 13 categories, selected from submissions to a judging panel of four area educators.

The past meets the present.

Here’s the link to the nominees and Hall of Fame inductees at the Sammys site.

β€’ Bobby Comstock, born in Ithaca, was signed by Atlantic Records. He earned a spot on Alan Freed’s fifth anniversary Labor Day show at the Paramount Theater in Brookyn in 1959, on the strength of hit album “Tennessee Waltz,” which was played in 17 countries.

* Chris Goss, a Syracuse native, was a member of much-loved 1980s Salt City progressive rock band Master of Reality. He left for Los Angeles in in 1989, and has produces, co-wrote and performed with Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters, The Cult, Trent Reznor, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine and many more. He enlisted famous Cream drummer Ginger Baker as Master of Reality drummer from 1990 to 1993.

* Loren Barrigar started playing guitar at 4 years old, and was playing for thousands at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville by age 6 as part of a family band The Christophers. After moving to Central New York, he was a longtime guitar player in Whiting’s band. Living in East Syracuse, the finger-style guitarist writes and performs and records, and currently tours the world as a duo with New Zealand guitarist Mark Mazengarb.

* The Works were formed in Syracuse in 1979 by songwriter Ed Hamell on guitar and vocals with fiends Dave Read on drums, Featherstone on bass and vocals, Joey Beccheria on lead guitar and Tom Canfield on keyboards on vocals. Their all-original song sound combined elements of The Clash, J. Geils Band and the film “The Warriors.” Their first single was 1980’s “I Prefer to Rock.” Subsequent members were Andy Rudy and George Rossi on keys and Jay “Charmin’ J” Harmon on drums. The Works stopped playing in 1987,

* David Rezak founded the DMZ Booking Agency in 1973 and ran it for the glory years of live club music in Syracuse — before the drinking age was raised to 21, as he liked to point out. In 1995, Rezak joined the faculty at Syracuse University as an adjunct professor, and helped students start the Syracuse University Recording and Marshall Street Records labels. In 2003 he sold the business to his assistant, Stacey Waterman, and took on his second career as an administrator in the SU music eductation program. He’s now the director of the Bandier Program and co-chair of the Audio Arts Graduate Program.

* Jon Fishman moved to Syracuse with parents Mimi and Leonard from Philadelphia in the early 1970s. The Jameville-DeWitt High School graduate met musical friends at the University of Vermont, and they formed Phish. In the early years, they’d return to Syracuse and play the Orange Grove on Westcott Street, and the vacuum cleaner was an instrument. His late mom Mimi because fan favorite, which became a worldwide phenomena, too, as Phish’s fame spread.

Before bidding all a farewell, Whiting said he had one more special act to salute. Today his parents celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary. People awwwwwed and clapped. That was the perfect reminder of Central New York’s little city embrace.

Disclaimer: I own a shiny black Sammys trophy, having received a Founders Award along with Molly English Bowers in 2013.

Here’s a YouTube clip of a video I shot of Just Joe, Central New York performer Joe Altier, entertaining before the conference began today.

Does your local music scene feel more big city or small town, and why? Drummer Jon Fishman will be honored for lifetime achievement. Are you a fan of his band Phish? Why or why not? Can you imagine wishing your parents a happy 68th wedding anniversay? What would you say to them if you could?

25 thoughts on “A mix of big time, little city at Syracuse Area Music Awards get-together

    • The anniversary fact is just so much to ponder, Aud. You are right about that. πŸ™‚ One fun fact about Just Joe is that his musical roots began as the lead singer for a hard rock band. A very successful one.


  1. this sounds like a great awards show, and good for so many deserving people, yourself included of course. i love the local music scene, both great and smal,l and like you, feel lucky to have it all around me.


  2. Looks like a fun night to come Mark. We do have a lot of local talent, and during the summer have “Friday After Five” at the river front. Unfortunately it is only for the able bodied people to attend, because the place is mobbed every week. My chair and I can’t get any place close to the action, unless I go into action with the chair, but would probably get arrested for causing bodily injury for that. Actually, thinking about it, there is nothing for the disabled around here. At least they do have things for the people who are able to go, and that is better than it used to be. We are a small town, but have a lot of festivals that bring in outside people. Unfortunately for those of us living here, the tourist $$$ don’t make up for the $$$ spent in creating the tourist attractions. No interstates here and no possibility of ever getting one, but still a small town mayor with big town pretensions. Some things never change. And they still don’t think they will some day be among the senior citizens of the town. But that too shall pass with time.


  3. I cannot wait until March, Mark! I know this will be an exciting night for the Sammy’s! I love how you describe and inform us and let us know about your important announcements. I believe the Palace is a beautiful location and wish I could have been there listening to the nominees! Great post, Mark!!


  4. We are small town….so it does feel small town. But I like it. What I do know of the music life here seems very supportive of one another. When I see live music, I see other musicians supporting them and knowing of one another. I like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just love that you have such an appreciation for local talent and music up there in Syracuse. I wish we had that here in my neck of the woods. How COOL that you, too, received a Sammys trophy! πŸ˜€ No, I can not imagine my parents having a 68th wedding anniversary… not only because they were never married, but also because I’ve only ever seen them both in the same room twice in my life, and those times were for less than 5 minutes each.


  6. How cool is it that you have a local music scene there in Syracuse where there is support like that. Here in L.A. and also in Manhattan, musicians were supportive of other bands but I think there was an underlying feeling of competitiveness that would probably prevent something quite like this to happen.


    • There is competitiveness here, too, Marissa, and there will be hurt feelings when the nominations for this year’s awards filter out, yes. And of those that are nominated, the night of the show, there will be some instances of musicians and their fans leaving after the winner in the category is announced — and it’s somebody else. But that all is just human nature, though the grousing is not one of my favorite parts of the Sammys.

      On the historical side, for the most part, people know the whole scene is elevated by each and every success and the celebration of those victories. When these folks come back to share the stories and be in the theater with musicians making music here now, it’s pretty hip.


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