Honor Thy Rocker: Syracuse Area Music Awards
by Mark Bialczak - Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
There are always plenty of reasons to attend the Syracuse Area Music Awards.

A lot of musicians will be holding their breath Friday, March 7, at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. They’ll be hoping for a triumphant march to the stage to collect the shiny black Sammy, a tradition that started when founder Frank Malfitano hosted the first edition of the event at the Landmark Theatre in 1993.

There are always plenty of reasons to attend the Syracuse Area Music Awards. People get a healthy helping of the music they’ve come to celebrate, and the performances are designed to hit the spot for many generations.

This year’s lineup includes the alternative pop rock of the Mike McKay Band, the soaring rhythm’n’blues of Brown Skin, the Americana of Pale Green Stars, the hip-hop of The Goonies and the throwback power pop of The Flashcubes.

The conversations in the lobby are always lively, part catch-up and part hey-look-me-over. Fans get the chance to mix and mingle with the musicians they love to watch play out and to listen to on recordings.

Chances are they will be able to congratulate some of the newest members of the Sammys Hall of Fame. The Homel-Alaniz Band, Art Robins, the Tiffault Family, The Flashcubes and Gerber Music, as well as Music Educator of the Year John Spillett and Lifetime Achievement winner, the late Ronnie James Dio, will be honored at a ceremony Thursday, March 6, at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. They can boast about who they voted for in the Best Band and Best Venue categories in the online People’s Choice Awards, talk about the music scene and speculate about who they think deserves to go home with a trophy.

For those musicians whose recordings made it through the judging process to the list of nominees, though, it’s still about waiting to hear the winner in their category. Every Sammy winner becomes part of a tradition that builds yearly.

“I think it was such a show of respect, appreciation and support to all of us who dedicate our lives to music when the Sammys first launched at the Landmark,” says veteran guitarist, pianist, bassist, arranger and studio technician Mark Doyle, who was inducted into the Sammys Hall of Fame in 1996. “It was a really validating experience, and having them in a theater made it feel glamorous and important, like the Grammys. We lost that for a few years when they were outdoors and folded into the Taste of Syracuse, but the Palace is a perfect venue for them.”

More than 100 recordings were submitted to the Sammys board for consideration by judge committee chair Andrew Russo, the pianist and music educator, and his panel of four: audio engineer Paul Bertalan, Le Moyne College director of music Travis Newton, violinist and fiddler Jonathan Chai and jazz pianist William Day. They listened hard before nominating 43 recordings in 11 categories.

There is no set number for nominations in any category, so the amount of nominees fluctuates in each. Although there were three submissions in modern rock, none were deemed worthy of nomination, so that category remains empty this year.

There are veteran musicians who put out nominated recordings in 2013. Mark Doyle and the Maniacs have two recordings nominated in the Best Blues category. Doyle admits he thought hard about submitting two recordings in one year.

“I did, but historically, live albums either don’t get nominated or if they do, they don’t win,” he said. “The live album is the most current edition of the band, so I needed to submit it if only for that reason. Pushin’ is a crafted studio album of which I’m very proud. I figured that if I submitted both, they would have to nominate at least one. I honestly never expected the committee to nominate both. Watch them cancel each other out, then I’ll be a double loser, strolling the Walk of Shame on the way out.”

There are new musicians on the list. Syracuse New Times regular music contributor Jess Novak was nominated in the Best Pop category.

There are veteran musicians with new bands in new categories. Mick Fury, known in the past for his rock work with Silent Fury, is nominated with his band Midnight Moonshine in the Best Country category.

The Jesse Collins Quartet is sure to win, being the only nominee in the Best Jazz category.

The five artists in the Best Americana category, meanwhile, are all so noteworthy in their own right it might as well be a steel cage match. The duo of Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb have played their acoustic guitars together around the world, but that’s no guarantee against veteran Jeff Jones and his Pale Green Stars mates Brian Coyne and Jeff Tripoli, interesting songwriter and singer Greg Hoover, former Scarlet Ending twin Kayleigh Goldsworthy and the five-piece Ruddy Well lineup.

And there’s even one nominee who’s already won a Grammy Award, Joanne Shenandoah, in the Best Other Style category.

A win would mean the world for any and all of them. In fact, being nominated is pretty cool in its own right.

“You know, we all go into the studio to make the best album we possibly can, we usually spend our own money to do it, we pin our hopes and dreams on them time and time again, and now more than ever they just seem to vanish into the ether,” Doyle says. “So a nomination, maybe an award, means more than it ever did. It’s just nice to know that somebody’s listening, that somebody gets it and appreciates the work.

Here is the list of those who will be watching, wishing and hoping.

Best Alternative: Hobo Graffiti, Trent Park, 4 Point 0, Our Friends Band.

Best Americana: The Ruddy Well Band, Pale Green Stars, Greg Hoover, Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb, Kayleigh Goldsworthy.

Best Blues: Funky Blu Roots, Double Barrel Blues Band, Tim Herron, Mark Doyle & the Maniacs twice, for Pushin’ and Live and Burnin’.

Best Country: The Easy Ramblers, Mick Fury & Midnight Moonshine, Nick Piccininni, Just Joe, The Fulton Chain Gang.

Best Hip Hop: Oxburg, Mafiosa, Jefell, Tall Bucks, Power Jay & Blaze-A-Lot.

Best Jazz: Jesse Collins Quartet.

Best Metal: Era, One Last Shot.

Modern Rock: No nominations.

Best Other Style: Duo L’Adour, The Fat Peace, Markita Collins, Mike Powell, Joanne Shenandoah.

Best Pop: Jess Novak, Kill the Lites, April Sun, Sir Magnus, Joe Lorenz.

Best R&B: Erika Lovette, The Blacklites.

Best Rock: The Gunrunners, Elephant Mountain, Safe, Gregg Yeti & The Best Lights.

The Founders Award will be presented to The Madisons, and the Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist will be announced Friday night.

Tickets to the Sammys Hall of Fame induction Thursday at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and awards ceremony Friday night at the Palace Theatre are sold out.

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