The music world is a family, and no where more so than in Syracuse, New York. Each year Syracuse area musicians and music lovers come together to celebrate their own. Submissions of new music for consideration inundate the committee each year, and through a painful process of choosing just four nominees, awards in all musical genres are given out at what has become the musical event to attend in Syracuse, the SAMMYs.
The night before the award ceremony is a special recognition event for those inducted into the SAMMYs Hall of Fame. There are many wonderful musicians who have roots in Central New York and have played huge roles in the Syracuse music scene. This years inductees, honored at a ceremony upstairs at the Dinosaur Barbeque Thursday, were George Rossi, The Bells of Harmony, Savoy Brown, and Jam Factory. Mark Copani was given the award for Music Education; and the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the late great Mark Murphy.
Basking under the warm glow of orange-hued lighting, the room bubbled with conversation as patrons populated the bar and clustered around dining tables. SAMMYs committee member Liz Nowak gushed, “The award show is about honoring the music of 2015, but tonight is about honoring six decades of music.” Patrons and honorees reminisced and swapped stories over platters of pulled pork, cornbread and coleslaw before the formalities commenced.
The evening’s master of ceremonies, Dave Frisina of 105.9 The Rebel channeled attention toward the podium, effortlessly sashaying through heartfelt and witty dialogue. Frisina as emcee, had the privilege of introducing each inductor, who in turn introduced an inductee. Regarded as a special honor, each inductor’s relationship with their inductee afforded them an opportunity to share personal accounts of why the inductees deserved the distinction.
Following the ceremony, attendees were treated to a performance downstairs by Tennessee-bred funk, R&B and jazz fusion band Dynamo. The congregation of musicians clustered on the cramped stage infused the room with polished yet experimental dexterity as Dain Ussery’s vocals coasted elegantly on the surface. An air of mutual respect floated between the star-studded crowd and the talent pouring their hearts into the music. A tale of old meets new, Dynamo upholds the legacy set before them, all in the name of making music that moves people.
Carolyn Kelly Blues Band warmed up with a quick jam before Kelly strolled to the stage in a silky black confection that swayed delicately with every soulful note. The first performance of the evening initiated an onslaught of striking computer-generated video projections, adding visual effect behind the bands. The extravagant visuals added an early 2000’s old school vibe. The blues band concluded its short set with an energetic rendition of “Amazing Grace,” as a flaming sunshine explosion flared across the screen behind them.
Instrumental rock group Ohne-ká and the Burning River brought a very different energy to the stage. Emitting a folk vibe clad in suspenders and a plaid button down, Ryan Jones widened his stance, the first indication of the big, skull-penetrating sound they exude. Though their musical style didn’t invite fluid dance like other genres represented that evening, their tone beckoned listeners to look inward and quietly contemplate from their seats.
Savoy Brown delivered a solid blues rock performance, not accurately reflected by the lack of dancing on the open floor space directly before the stage. Before exiting the stage, in a moment of jest, leading man Kim Simmonds put his glasses on, slightly recoiling as if his new-found sight brought an awareness to the fact that he’d just performed to an occupied theater.
Once Joe Driscoll‘s one-man reggae rap garnered the crowd’s attention, a handful of willing dancers finally got their feet moving. He cleverly paired looped beat boxing with live harmonica to compose a catchy rhythmic pulse, easy to nod your head or tap your foot to.
During the previous night’s induction ceremony, Jam Factory frontman Mark Hoffman qualified the band’s impending award show performance, proudly stating, “We’ve had three rehearsals and the band is kicking ass.” Their performance supported his confident assertion, topping off the award show with a sweetly nostalgic finale. Approximately thirty willing dancers, many Jam Factory followers since early adulthood, danced in front of the stage. They basked in time-honored soul alongside a handful of newly made fans.
Joining Hoffman on stage for the family affair was his son, contributing funky bass lines while his daughter added backing vocals. As the band members poured their hearts into a project they love, an adoring fan glowingly praised, “They’re still as good as they ever were.”
The SAMMY Awards of 2016
Rock – Joe Whiting
Folk – Austin MacRaie
Pop – Elizabeth Canino
Jazz – Andrew Carrol
Americana – Early Bird Trio
Jam Band – Jam Factory
Alternative – Professional Victims
Country – Lonnie Park
Hard Rock – After Earth
Hip-Hop/Rap – Mafiosa
The People’s Choice Awards for 2016
Best Band: The Horn Dogs
Best Festival: The Great New York State Fair
Best Venue: Dinosaur BBQ
The Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist: The Lightkeepers