The Buddhahood and Friends 7th Annual January Thaw Concert Celebrates the life of Tony Cavagnaro

In just a week the music Gods will be bestowed upon us when music lovers in Rochester will descend upon the Historic German House for the Buddhahood’s 7th annual January Thaw tribute concert on January 24. The event is held in celebration of the life and music of local music legend, Tony Cavagnaro, who was tragically lost in a car accident in 2007. The proceeds from this event go towards the Tony Cavagnaro Young Musician’s Scholarship Fund, which benefits the Hochstein School of Music and Dance.

Keeping Tony in our hearts and minds and at the forefront of our spirit as a group has helped keep The Buddhahood alive. Celebrating his musical legacy — and his January birthday — has become an annual tradition.” – Buddhahood bassist Rick Whitney

The Buddhahood, a band founded by Cavagnaro, has hosted this event annually during the month of January  in celebration of Cavagnaro’s birthday. The show features a variety of special guests and friends to share in the celebration. This year the Buddhahood will be joined by special guests, Teressa Wilcox & Nate Coffey. Also set to appear at January Thaw are friends, Frank Boehm, Chris English, Suzi Willpower, Opal Rose, Chrissy Beth Apples and so many more. The doors open at 7PM. Advance tickets are still available for $10 at Aaron’s Alley, the venue box office and any member of the band. Tickets will be $15 the day of the show so get them now and don’t be left out in the cold when you should be getting toasty inside.

I had an opportunity to sit in on a band practice and talk to the Buddhahood about what this event means to them and why they keep it going year after year. What I encountered was a casual conversation with a band I have been listening to since the good old days, when Park Ave. Fest meant two full days of music with the Buddhahood behind Hogan’s Hideaway. What I learned was what sustains the ever evolving love and light harnessed by Cavagnaro, that was and still is, The Buddhahood.

The studio where the band practices and records is a visual history of the band and all its incarnations. With concert posters from shows past, recording equipment, instruments, photos of Cavagnaro, photos of the band members and their families, and statues of Buddha. Simple symbols that represented the presence of the Buddhahood, an eclectic grouping of cherished memories.

Kristen Mack-Perry: Let’s talk about January Thaw, Tony, and how you got to where you are now. What is it that you all want to create in having January Thaw?

Pete Mugnolo: We want to give back to the community, and do it in a way that benefited young musicians. Because When we originally thought of this idea, Tony was always do that; he was always teaching, but he would do much more than teach. He would kind of take young musicians under his wing and not only show them how to play guitar but how to function in a band. Like with the Panda guys, he really helped them get started.

KMP: One really fun thing about January Thaw is how many guests you have come in, how do they all connect with this event?

Gabe Costanzo: Well a lot of them used to be in the band, and a lot of them used to be in Tony’s bands

KMP: Well it does seem that the members of the band are always changing and evolving, do you think that’s what the structure of the Buddhahood is? a band that doesn’t need to be a certain set-up, you’re just constantly evolving?

Pete: Well Tony would always say, “I’m the only member of this band that has to show up.” Because we got substitutes for everybody! But we never got a substitute for Tony. We always played with Tony, if he couldn’t play the gig then we didn’t do it. With every single lineup, Tony was the one constant. He would say, “I am the only one that can’t be substituted”… and then he died. As a band we were like, well do we keep playing? So we had Grape Fest booked and we cancelled everything else, and we played the Naples Grape Fest because that was a drum march. It wasn’t supposed to be but we did it anyway.

Gabe: We asked if we could just show up and do the all acoustic drum march, ya know the drum and horn march that was all acoustic, and we did, because we just couldn’t do the whole stage show.

Pete: But we put together the first tribute concert November 18, after Tony died. It was at Water Street Music Hall; which was kinda like the wake we all needed to have. We just got everybody together because we wanted to raise money for Jan and Calvin. So we did the tribute and we realized that the band is not just any particular person, it’s not any one personality, its kind of its own entity. It’s an energy that people gravitate to, and that’s what the band is. We thought, it couldn’t be the Buddhahood without Tony, but apparently it can be. It’s different, but ya know.

KMP: At last year’s January Thaw I remember Calvin coming up on stage to play with you, what does that mean to all of you to be able to share that? Do you think that’s something that would have happened if Tony was here, would he have just naturally brought Calvin on stage?

Gabe: It’s organic in a weird sort of way

Pete: It’s just the right, umm… of course!

Gabe: Well we weren’t the ones to suggest it, Jan came to us and said, “Ya know, Calvin is getting really good at the clarinet, and he wants to play.” Before he played on stage, he used to go up and tell jokes, he was our MC.

Pete: He sang Happy Birthday one year

Gabe: So it was just a continuation of that. He’s doing something again this year.

Pete: Having Calvin on stage with us, is like an assurance that the music will live on [through Tony] its like the next generation continuing to play Tony’s music ya know. I’m hoping there’s a Buddhahood when I’m like 100 years old and I’m just the old guy who shows up every now and then and plays a shaker.

KMP: So this is the 7th annual January Thaw?

Gabe: yup, the first one was in 2009

KMP: This is a benefit show, where does your donation go to? do you know who it benefits specifically each year?

Pete: We donate the proceeds from the show to the Tony Cavagnaro Young Musicians Scholarship Fund at the Hochstein School of Music and Dance

Gabe: And they are always keen to tell us, “your donation went to help a young guitar player” or you know, they don’t tell us who it is but, they do let us know how it helps, so that’s nice.

KMP: Is teaching music something Tony was always passionate about?

Gabe: Well I don’t know many people who have made a living at only playing music, and Tony was certainly no exception. One of the things he did do was teaching; he owned a music shop once too, he’s done a lot of things in the music business. But teaching was always there, it was one of the things he always did.

Jim Schwartz: Teaching young musicians, guitar players and mentoring other bands, like the Giant Panda Dub Squad.

KMP: That’s just so awesome, it’s like a family of music to be a part of the Buddhahood.

Gabe: I think it is a family, and ya know, different aspects of the show, like having Calvin and having all of our guests, and the scholarship donation, it really is in a way, closing a lot of circles and keeping the whole thing going.

KMP: [to Matthew] You’re the newest member of the band, the youngest, what is it like to come into a band like this?

Matthew Sieber-Ford: Yeah, the band has such a history and its like, the band is like a family and the history of the band is like a culture. I mean you could take a class and you know, you get to graduate on the history of the Buddhahood. Every time i sit down with somebody, and not the people in the band, I hear all about how “oh I saw them play this” or “I saw them do this once,” – so there is this whole history behind it. When I first started playing [saxophone] I was playing Jazz. Then I was just hanging out and playing music with the Buddhahood, not playing with the band, but just hanging out, and that just completely just opened up my ears and my mind to like a whole new world. Playing with them is a whole other thing, I mean I’m playing with people who are old enough to be my parents as opposed to my peers, its nice to play with people who have done it before and have been doing it a long time. It has totally changed my attitude about things. The family of the Buddhahood reaches far beyond just being in the band, and so many other bands support this band.

KMP: That explains all your fantastic guests at the show, they all seem so excited to be a part of the show, and doing something with all of you in celebration of Tony. With the show now in its seventh year, what has it become for you as a whole?

Gabe: It’s a reunion of sorts

Jim: It gives us the opportunity to rekindle our memories of Tony in a community setting when we have all of the people who are not a part of the band on a regular basis, all come together, for the purpose of playing Tony’s music and keeping it alive and keeping it vibrant. A lot of it is timeless, ya know, you can play it today or twenty years from now and it would still be valid.

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