Here Come the Sammys
by Jessica Novak - Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Idle Chatter

As the new year approaches, it also means a new Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) rotation is upon the music scene. The annual awards ceremony recognizes Central New York musicians in categories ranging from best pop to best hip-hop, lauding the best local recordings of the past year.

The 2014 festivities begin on Thursday, March 6, with the Sammys Hall of Fame induction ceremony taking place at the Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que venue, 246 W. Willow St. The Sammys awards show goes on Friday, March 7, at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. Tickets to the events will go on sale in February.

Performing artists at the awards show will include The Mike McKay Band, Brownskin, Pale Green Stars, The Goonies and a reunion of The Flashcubes.

Artists interested in submitting their 2013 recordings should visit syracuseareamusic.com/submissions for official forms and instructions available on Dec. 1. Recordings released between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, will be eligible. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 10.

Submissions for “People’s Choice” considerations for favorite venue and local artist will be accepted starting Jan. 1, with voting to begin Jan. 15.

For more information, visit syracuseareamusic.com.

Panic Stricken

In a preview for an upcoming concert, Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance warned in the Nov. 13 Syracuse New Times article “Widespread Panic Button” that the band has a catalog of about 350 songs, that no two sets are the same and that the group works to avoid playing the same tune more than once a week. So on Nov. 14 at downtown’s Landmark Theatre, the anxious audience of 2,500 was essentially walking into a grab bag of material that ranged from delicate and precise to hair-blown-back heavy.

The show started at an unusually early 7:45 p.m., but most likely did so to enable a full evening of music that ended after 11 p.m. with only a short set break to divvy up the jams as the stoic men on stage barreled through their material. With sets that spanned from an hour to an hour and a half, they didn’t disappoint and fans got their prayers answered with favorites like “Tall Boy” and “Up All Night” heading off the first and second sets, respectively. Although the jams occasionally wandered, they stayed secure in firm song form, with guitarist Jimmy Herring always giving the band a solid nod measures in advance to let the group know it was time to dive back in.

Interaction was sparse and animation on stage was kept to a bare minimum, but it made the tiny glances, nods, smiles and little laughs all the more noticeable and endearing. It’s also telling that a band pushing through hours of material communicates so effectively through the music. They don’t need flash to feel each other out.

The highlights came and went with ease. Every song hit perfect peaks with Herring’s consistently steaming and soulful solos and John “JoJo” Hermann’s impeccable taste behind the keys. Nance and percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz work as a tight-knit team, alternating between playing off one another and syncing up to keep the beat aggressive, but always with feeling. Bassist Dave Schools stood with solid self-control keeping him focused and his bass lines flying. And singer John Bell stood at the center, the pinnacle of this flock’s flying V, with a backward baseball hat belying his age and a voice that hasn’t changed delivering words that came across with precision, although their lyrics seem secondary to the music beneath them.

Lights flashed in time as the large and loud crowd was draped in spinning colors, flooding the floors that were packed even in the aisles. Balloons bumped into the air and hands flew up as solos climaxed. The energy was ferocious.

Although drink lines were wild and demand eventually proved overwhelming (perhaps the most demanding the Landmark has ever seen), the crowd hung tight, ready to rage with beer or not. Following the show, the party continued in the streets as nitrous balloons popped up, causing ambulances to make their way to Walton Street.

Despite the party-hearty distractions, the music took center stage that night, with songs ranging from “Pigeons” back from 1991 to “True to My Nature” from 2010, plus a few covers. The southern band has spent more time in Wisconsin recently than New York state, yet Bell said the end of the show that 12 years was too long to spend away from Central New York, as he promised that Widespread Panic will make their way back around sooner next time. Hopefully, for local fans, Bell will keep his promise.

–Compiled by Jessica Novak

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