A cavalcade of vehicles armed with Bernie Sanders political stickers barricaded the streets surrounding the Palace Theater in Syracuse on Friday, January 8. Bernie supporters flocked to the 1920’s era theater for a diverse assortment of musicians who volunteered their time and talents to bring awareness to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Presented by Funk ‘N Waffles, the event was initially slated to be held at the downtown location before widespread interest garnered the need for a larger event space. With a more suitable venue in place, Sophistafunk, Joe Driscoll, Root SHOCK, The Fat Peace, Subsoil, Charley Orlando and Castle Creek were among the large assembly of local talent who performed for the roughly 700 attendees who coalesced at the Eastwood locale.
With the iconic fluorescent sign beckoning onlookers from the James Street sidewalk, spectators filtered through glass doors and down a carpeted entryway. A gaggle of smiley volunteers donning outfits littered with political pins greeted passersby asking them to sign the petition to get Bernie on the ballot in NY state. Just beyond the congregation of friendly volunteers, the corridor opened into a lobby bustling with jubilant activity as guests happily sipped on adult beverages and talked politics.
The theater room seats were amply filled with Bernie devotees as Chris Merkley sweetly grazed a slide guitar, serenaded the attentive audience from a dimly lit stage, soft spotlight outlining his seated figure. Merkley exuded a city-meets-country vibe sporting a hip purple beanie and dishing out a satiating serving of country blues. By the end of his set, a few brave souls had ventured to the open space between seating and stage, dance moves demonstrating their satisfaction.
Castle Creek, named one of New York State Music’s “Bands on the Rise” filled the theater with blues-infused fire, drum beats furnished by Sophistafunk’s Emanuel Washington. Kim Monroe asserted robust lead vocals, piping through a petite frame as she strummed away at her electric guitar, while Chris Eves (guitar/vocals) tactfully interjected attention-grabbing guitar work. Among the sparse dancers at the family friendly event, a young woman clothed in fashionable Sunday school attire merrily spun in circles, jostling a preschooler in her arms who giggled in delight.
Charley Orlando, a familiar face to frequenters of Funk ‘N Waffles Downtown, wielded harmonica and guitar, inviting a number of musical guests including Merkley and Eves to play alongside. Orlando’s song choices seemed to consciously reflect the themes of the event with lines like, “I try to listen more than speak,” which could reflect Sanders’ more diplomatic demeanor in contrast to Republican candidate Donald Trump’s “carnival barker” disposition.
As Rochester-based Subsoil began their set later in the evening, the bohemian hip-hop group featuring Mooney Faugh and Laz Green on the mic invigorated the room with dancing and excitement as theater goers abandoned their seats, forming a mob at the foot of the stage. Trailing their performance, environmental activist Renee Vogelsang briefly brought attention to current environmental struggles, championing Sanders’ support of many of these efforts. Reggae collective The Fat Peace followed, infusing some funk into the ongoing dance party, keeping the crowd on its toes when the drummer mysteriously disappeared. The remaining band members resigned to gawking awkwardly at the abandoned drum kit and speculating the drummer’s whereabouts until his much anticipated return. Directly after their set, the projection screen behind the stage displayed a video of Bernie Sanders addressing a Muslim student’s concerns regarding racism in America. The room filled with cheering and applause as the video ended, before reggae group Root SHOCK immediately took the stage, sustaining the audience’s animation and radiating energy with a snappy, high-powered performance. Jessica Brown seared ear drums with a spicy heat that seduced a crowd, amorously applauding her howling mid-song vocals. Joe Driscoll followed, revving up the crowd with catchy beats and praises for Sanders.
Sophistafunk rounded out the musical marathon with an overall well-polished performance despite a few brief moments of disorienting beats and the unsettling sound of popping cables. Crowd undeterred, dancing raged on until nearly 1 a.m. as performers from earlier in the night including Joe Driscoll and members of Castle Creek joined Sophistafunk to bid the crowd farewell.