The past and the present embrace Syracuse’s big music

From the balcony, a view of the Sammys crrowd getting ready for the show to begin.

From the balcony, a view of the Sammys crowd getting ready for the show to begin.

Generations of Syracuse music hugged Friday night at the Palace Theatre on James Street.


Nick Zobrio, winner of the Best Jazz recording Sammys Award, couldn’t make the ceremony to honor the best, so he sent his father to read his hand-written note, which acknowledged his teachers, his parents and his siblings.

Nick Frenay, winner of the Best Pop along with his best friend Noah Kellman — they are the duo Nick & Noah — went to the podium himself and told of how he virtually was born into the scene, son of Syracuse music veteran Gary Frenay.

All night long, figurative embraces entertained the sold-out crowd of almost 700 as the bands played, the awards were announced, and a very good time was had by all at the Syracuse Area Music Awards.

Looking to the crowd from the front of the Palace Theatre auditorium at the Sammys.

Looking to the crowd from the front of the Palace Theatre auditorium at the Sammys.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, winner of Best Americana, said how he came here from the San Francisco area, and after a decade here, he’s convinced this is the best scene with which he’s participated. The crowd cheered.

Nate Brown, drummer for the winning R&B Brownskin Band, told of how he was in the intensive care unit a year ago when the band played at the Sammys, and how good it was to be here with the support of this community. The crowd cheered.

Spring Street Family Band accept the Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist.

Spring Street Family Band accepts the Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist.

Jon Fishman, Lifetime Achievement recipient for his work with worldwide jam band favorite Phish, announced the winner of the Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist with heartfelt words about how his band had been in the same place, winning 10 hours of studio time in 1989 in Burlington, Vt., and using it to record two songs for the album “Lawn Boy.” And the crowd really cheered as Spring Street Family Band, many members strong happily walked up to receive the award for the late music writer for The Herald-Journal, who was killed more than two decades ago when the bicycle he was riding was hit by a van.

Briana Jessie, People’s Choice Award winner for Best Artist/Band, thanked new Hall-of-Famer Loren Barrigar for proving to her that “this here thing is amazing,” and cried real tears for her mother, who comes to her gigs at bars “and dances her ass off. And the crowd cheered.

The fans loved the music, too, as it should be at a great awards show. The live performances — the whole evening, really — were mixed and matched at a great pace by amiable MC Skip Murphy.

I had my iPhone 6 ready for videos.

Native American singer, Grammy Award winner and Sammys Hall of Famer Joanne Shenandoah told how she’s spent the past year working for the Department of Justice to fight abuses against children, and then she performed a song written for an upcoming movie about a child killed in Los Angeles. After that, she invited her daughter, Leah Shenandoah, to sing a duet with her, and then sing a song from the album that won Leah the Best Altnernative Award.

Grupo Pagan, led by bass player Edgar Pagan, brought the place to a great and happy roar by enlisting the Adanfo Drum Ensemble to march down the two aisles during their first song, the band’s original and aptly named “Power,” to join forces for a happy collective on and in front of the stage. After that, he staged a mash-up, inviting Sammys Hall-of-Famer Bob Halligan to add his voice as well as a chorus that included Kim Monroe and Chris Eves from Best Blues winner Castle Creek, Ashley Cox, Lisa Romano, Hall-of-Famer Joe Whiting — “I call him Jose Blanco,” said Edgar — and Kimberly Rossi.

The Ruddy Well Band demonstrated how much force and passion can be put into playing acoustic string instruments. Sweet and edgy can live on the same block. Who knew? These smarties. And the fans who jumped up to dance along in front of the stage.

Scars N Stripes put together a blazing hot and compelling theme, covering songs with Sammys times, starting with Hall of Famer and world favorite, the late Ronnie James Dio and adding a rousing cut from Judas Priest written by Bob Halligan.

And then there was the reunion set by The Works, not together as one for three decades, and as snarly as ever. Decorum was abandoned for the final flurry of the evening, bodies up front, musicians passionate on the stage, Eddie Hamel and Mike Featherstone playing off each other with their guitar and bass front to front and back to back as if they never left, the whole group looking as if they didn’t know if they wanted to kiss the girls or punch the guys in the mouth. Yeah, rock ‘n’ roll like it was from 1979 to 1987.

The big screen was a winner all night.

The big screen was a winner all night.

Sammys Award Winners 2015

P​op: Nick & Noah

Blues​​: ​Castle Creek

Rock​​​: William Gruff

Country: ​​Megan Lee

Alternative​:​ Leah Shenandoah

Jam Band​​: Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate

Jazz​: ​​Nick Ziobro

Americana​​: Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

R & B​​​: Brownskin Band

Hip Hop/Rap​​: Nick Case a.k.a. Decoy

Other​​​: Samba Laranja

Hard Rock​:​ Nineball

Singer/Songwriter​: Alanna-Marie Boudreau

People’s Choice

Artist/Band: ​​Briana Jessie

Venue​​: ​Kegs Canal Side

Festival​: ​FoxFest

Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist

Spring Street Family Band

Hall of Fame Inductees

Bobby Comstock, Chris Goss, Loren Barrigar, The Works, Music Educator David Rezak, Lifetime Achievement winner Jon Fishman

The Sammys, all shined up before being handed to the winners.

The Sammys, all shined up before being handed to the winners.

Before the night, an Ellen-like-Oscars-selfie was requested. Best I could do, below. I didn’t line up any of the winners with my dear wife Karen and I. My arm isn’t long enough, I thought. I could have squeezed other folks in the back. There’s always next year.

Karen and Mark, didn't want to bother the stars.

Karen and Mark. I don’t have a selfie-pole.

If you attended the Sammys, what was your favorite moment? If you didn’t, whose tale here hit you the best? If you take some time to watch the videos of the performers, who do you like, and why?

26 thoughts on “The past and the present embrace Syracuse’s big music

  1. Joanna Shenandoah’s story about her music and upcoming film about domestic abuse, along with her songs really touched me, Mark.
    I felt you gave a wonderful summary of all the winners and the photos, musical additions and your thoughts were great!


  2. this looks like an amazing night. love the syracuse endorsement by jpr. any nerves during the presenting? i love their stories and how grateful and humble they all sounded, kind of the antithesis of most of the monster national award shows. great pics and video too, provided by you, the ultimate one-man-band. )

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was busy to the max, Beth. Welcome to the new world! Thanks for your kind words, my friend. 🙂

      I had no nerves presenting. Veteran radio host and Hall of Famer Dave Frisina and I presented the People’s Choice Award for Best Venue. He and I actually grew up five miles apart on Long Island, so I mentioned how in the back-then we used to go to a venue called Tuey’s to see the Good Rats, and he said now we have better places to go in Syracuse, and more of them, and I said, yes, like the Palace Theatre to see Grupo Pagan, and he said, and all the rest of the bands who played tonight and The Works to come in the finale, and he ripped open the envelope and announced the winner, and I handed the Sammy and shook the hand of the really thrilled club owner, who gave a speech, which I couldn’t really hear that well because it was projected out to the audience.

      There you have it, Beth. Thanks for asking.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I award a Sammy to the picture of you and Karen, Mark. And Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers said the Syracuse music scene was better than San Francisco? Does that mean I need to move there?


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