The Syracuse Area Music Awards, affectionately known as the SAMMYS, wrapped up its 25th edition Friday, March 3, at the Palace Theater in Syracuse with a brief performance from freshly inducted Hall of Famers moe.
Ahead of Saturday night’s show at the F Shed, moe. closed out the two-night affair with a three song set of “Tailspin,” “Spine of a Dog” and “Buster.” Friday night’s awards ceremony, hosted by veteran Syracuse DJ and staunch supporter of the local scene, Dave Frisina, featured awards in 18 categories, including three People’s Choice categories, and performances by four Syracuse area bands, reflecting the broad range of styles and talent found in and around the Salt City.
The SAMMYS is the brainchild of Frank Malfitano and now under the care of Liz Nowak. In 1993 Malfitano created the celebration of area music for an event at the Landmark Theatre. The event changed venues several times over the years before finally settling on the grand old Palace Theater on James Street in the Eastwood district.
The festivities began with the Hall of Fame dinner Thursday night, upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The Dinosaur has been one of Syracuse’s premier music venues since opening on Willow Street in 1990 and was a fitting venue for the honors and stories that filled the room.
This year’s inductees were Mohawk Valley via Buffalo jamband moe., pioneering new wave singer/guitarist Meegan Voss, 70s blues rock artists Jukin’ Bone and singer-songwriter Paul Case. Also being honored were Anthony and Patricia DeAngelis for Music Educators of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Vincent Falcone. It was a night that had the feel of a class reunion. Hugs and excited shouts from people who haven’t seen each other in years mingled with stories of years’ past in venues no longer around.
The inductions and awards ceremonies were hosted by Dave Frisina, a 1994 SAMMYS Hall of Fame inductee, long-time Syracuse radio personality, champion of local music and self-professed band dad. His son, Mike is a member of Syracuse-based band Simplelife. Most, if not all, of those in the room have dealt with him in some way throughout their career. A man like Frisina is what every music town needs. He is local music’s strongest advocate and has the platform for it at his current station 105.9 The Rebel.
Induction and acceptance speeches were filled with anecdotes and inside jokes. Though, most in attendance, were on the inside of those jokes. Memories of broken down vans, vanished venues and bad decisions peppered the speeches. It was the talk of well-worn musicians who have dedicated their craft not to become famous, but simply to play. To the outsider, it was a look at a scarcely seen side of the working musician.
The first honor of the night was for Educators of the Year. Husband and wife, Anthony and Patricia DeAngelis, two area music teachers were honored for their decades of influence on local musicians at Syracuse University, Colgate University, LeMoyne College, the Lyncourt School and Onondaga Community College. They were inducted by their well-spoken and surprisingly laid-back granddaughter Olivia.
Voss was inducted by her husband and band-mate in the Verbs, drummer Steve Jordan. In her acceptance speech, she pleaded to “Save the clubs.” Case, visibly touched at the recognition for his long career avoided revealing too much of past days on the road, “My kids are in the room.” He lavished praise on fellow musicians in the room, including Jukin’ Bone member Joe Whiting as well as the master of ceremonies.
Case, sporting a black tux and pronounced the Best Dressed in the Room by Frisina, closed his acceptance speech saying, “You get up. You drive to the gig. You set up. You play your ass off. You tear down. You drive a million miles home, week after week, month after month, decade after decade. You do it for the music.” He then dedicated his award to the late Bob Fleming of the Mossback Mule Band, who passed away in September.
Accepting for Jukin’ Bone was Whiting, Mark Doyle and John DeMaso. Discussing the problems of being a young band, Whiting offered a piece of advice, “I would recommend not signing contracts under the influence of anything distilled or brewed, made in a laboratory or passed around and smoked,” eliciting loud laughter from the audience.
The final inductee of the night was moe. Al Schnier spoke first in accepting the honor, speaking of all the Syracuse area venues spent taking in shows as a fledgling musician. Schnier lauded promoters such as Chuck Chao of Creative Concerts, who inducted the band, thanking them for shaping who they became as musicians:
We came here as kids to see concerts Chuck (Chao) was promoting. They made us fans. Whether it was Driving Sideways or the Todd Hobin Band or the New York Flyers or 805; these were the bands we looked up to as kids. They could have been the Allman Brothers or the Grateful Dead; they were the same to us. You guys were rock stars.
Drummer Vinnie Amico attributed the band’s style to its Upstate New York roots, “We all wear our hearts on our sleeves. We all kind of have this style, this thing we do, because of where we’re from. We’re blue collar, baby. We work hard, we play our music that way. There’s an edge to our music and that’s a testament to Upstate New York.”
On Friday, 54 artists were nominated among 13 Syracuse Area Music Awards categories. Sprinkled in among the awards were performances by several of the Syracuse area’s finest musicians, representing genres ranging from blues rock to country, rap, alt-rock and jam. There is definitely a varied and vibrant scene in Central New York.
Emcee Dave Frisina kept the event lively and loose, often interacting with presenters and winners as they approached the microphone. Best Jam Band winner, Joe Driscoll, affectionately referred to the host as a jedi to laughter from the crowd.
The performances throughout the night revealed the depth of talent in the area. The Ripcords opened the night accompanied by the Boneyard Horns. They ripped through three bluesy/tex-mex style songs, kicking off the night in a celebratory fashion. Unfortunately, just as they seemed to be letting loose, their set was over. You can get a taste of what the Ripcords have to offer at their ReverbNation page here.
Best R&B recipient Alani Skye had several family members in attendance and received perhaps the most vocal and joyous reception to a win. Her win for Don’t Forget About Me was never in question for the vocalist as she accepted the award.
A performance by rap artist Curtis “Tall Bucks” McDowell and the Brownskin Band followed. The rhythm section of the Brownskin band mixed equal parts jazz and funk behind McDowell’s rhymes. A guest appearance by Syracuse rapper Real Tall for the song “Solar Radiation” had elements of early ’90s era Leaders of the New School collective.
The reality of life as a working musician came to light when Lauren Mettler was awarded the SAMMY for Best Folk. After an awkward pause waiting for the recipient to make her way to the stage, her brother made his way up to accept. In his speech, he stated how he had just texted her and she was still on her way to the theater. So, as any good brother would do, he stalled for time as she made her way down the aisle, peeling her coat off as she ran towards the stage.
Mettler mentioned how she had just gotten out of work and was trying to get to the theater as quickly as possible, even though she never thought she’d win. Such is life for those looking to make a go of it in the music industry. Everyday jobs sometimes throw hurdles at you along the way. Mettler was genuinely surprised and pleased with her award.
One of the night’s cutest moments came when the award for Best Hip Hop/Rap was awarded to World Be Free for the album Nigg@$ to Gods. He was on the West Coast touring and couldn’t attend the ceremony. As his family accepted the award on his behalf, his young son took a turn on the microphone as his dad’s public relations manager, exclaiming, “My dad has CDs for ten dollars!”
Country artists Chris Taylor of the Custom Taylor Band plead with the audience to get up and dance along to their performance. A funky “Keep Me in Mind” slowly drew the audience to its feet and a rousing rendition of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” easily won over the crowd.
The Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist was awarded to Funk ‘n Waffles regulars, reggae-soul band Root Shock. This presentation seemed to be the biggest crowd pleaser of the night as fellow musicians and fans alike rose to cheer their win.
Previous Bourke Award winner, the Spring Street Family Band took over the Palace with their high energy alt-rock performance that even had a band member’s dad jumping up on stage to take video with his phone. Their performance brought the audience to the stage, turning what was a somber awards ceremony into a full-fledged rawk show with a funk-metal-alt sound reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine or Faith No More.
The ceremonies concluded with the awarding of the People’s Choice SAMMYS. Over 110,000 online votes were tallied in categories of Best Band, Best Live Venue and Best Festival or Music Series. The New York State Fair wrapped up the venue and festival categories with their representative thanking all of the venues in the area for supporting the live music that becomes a part of the fair each year.
The award for Best Band went to Cortland-area country band, Small Town Shade, who also won the SAMMY for Best Country Performance for the EP Ring it Up.
moe. wrapped the SAMMYS with a lively three-song set that included “Tailspin,” “Spine of a Dog” > “Buster.” Schnier commented about the lack of curfew at the venue and suggested they keep playing until they are thrown off the stage. To the disappointment of many, Schnier apparently as well, the lights came on at the end of “Buster,” bringing a close to the two-day celebration of Syracuse area music for another year.
Best Jazz: Second Line Syracuse, Second Line Syracuse
Best Other Category: Syracuse Society for New Music, Music Here & Now
Best Folk: Lauren Mettler, Patchwork
Best Jam Band: Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate, Monistic Theory
Best R & B: Alani Skye, Don’t Forget About Me
Best Pop: The Jess Novak Band, Inches From The Sun
Best Americana: Driftwood, City Lights
Best Blues: Tas Cru, Simmered and Stewed
Best Hard Rock: Breaking Solace – Shatter the Silence
Best Alternative: Bell & Sgroi, Bell & Sgroi
Best Rock: King Chro and the Talismen, King Chro and the Talismen
Best Hip-Hop/Rap: World Be Free, Nigg@$ To Gods
Best Singer/Songwriter: Alanna Boudreau, Champion
Best Country: Small Town Shade, Ring It Up EP
Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist: Root Shock
People’s Choice Awards were conducted in an online poll for three categories. Over 110,000 votes were tallied. The winners were:
Favorite Band: Small Town Shade
Favorite venue to see live music: Chevy Court at the New York State Fair
Favorite festival or music series: The Great New York State Fair