Laughs, tears and lots of music punctuate the Sammys Awards ceremony
Photos by Michael Davis
Attendees of the 2011 Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) were fortunate to witness the show that they did on Nov. 11. Not only was the Friday evening ceremony filled with glitz, glam and happy award surprises, but the performers took the night to new levels, rolling from soulful to exciting to loud.
Sammy-goers trickled in from the cold, rainy elements ready to celebrate the Syracuse scene. Fashion varied from sweat shirts to rock nominee Silent Fury’s “founding fathers” costumes (not to be confused with pirates), to sequined gowns as Kim Monroe and Chris Eves offered a pre-Sammys showcase on the level above the OnCenter Ballroom and Just Joe serenaded those milling just outside the ballroom’s doors.
Energetic emcee Skip Murphy welcomed the audience as he introduced the Hall of Fame inductees of 2011, who were recognized at a ceremony held at the Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que venue the previous night. The crowd showed appreciation for Joe Riposo, Marcia Hagan, Rick Gary, David “Rock” Feinstein, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and prog rockers 805, who garnered the greatest response.
The awards kicked off with an interesting mix of presenters for the Best Country category, as Syracuse Chiefs mascot Scooch waddled onto the stage with Chiefs general manager John Simone and WSYR-Channel 9 veteran Tim Fox. The Easy Ramblers took home the honor and also took some time getting to the stage, although their genuine surprise was clear as they accepted the award.
The Best Folk/Bluegrass award went to the deserving Loren Barrigar, who couldn’t make the event due to a gig.
For the first musical interlude, super soulman Isreal Hagan took the stage and immediately bounced into a set filled with some serious emotion. With his smooth voice, engaging cover interpretations and danceable originals, he took control of the stage with a single microphone, guitar and killer voice. Bob Dylan fans got a happy surprise when Hagan took on “Like a Rolling Stone,” delivering the song with a voice so slick even Dylan would be proud. He modified the folk classic to a more time-friendly length given the 15-minute slot time and squeezed in “Play the Blues” from his recent album Balance (independent) that had a group of women dancing up front.
Hagan took another turn when he told the audience to imagine a stage full of Marshall amplifiers and a Stratocaster guitar in his hands before breaking into Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” Acoustic soloing is a tricky task, but Hagan did it well. Hagan quickly split afterward and jetted to a gig at Carnegie Café.
The Best Jazz award, presented by power talents George Rossi and newly minted Hall of Famer Joe Riposo, was preceded by sweet memories from the duo. Rossi recalled knowing and respecting Riposo and laughed about Riposo teaching him what a corpus callosum was when Rossi attended Onondaga Com-munity College while Riposo expressed the importance of jazz music as an all- American art form that reaches around the world. A young Tom Bronzetti came to accept the award for The Tom Bronzetti Band and thanked the full circle: his inspiration, Liverpool High School music director Jim Spadafore, and Riposo, who continues to inspire Spadafore.
The Best Recording-Other Styles prize went to Samba Laranja, and Best Hip- Hop/Rap, presented by the lively Bobby Green and Michael Childs, went to musical wizards Sophistafunk. Unfortunately, the band was in Vermont playing at Phish’s home bar, Nectar’s, but representative for the group Patrick Scanlon stepped in to accept.
Best R&B went to Dave Hanlon’s Cookbook, who received a standing ovation for their achievements.
Channel 9’s Bridge Street co-hosts Chris Brandolino and Kaylea Nixon, on hand to present the Best Pop honor, first acted out a humorous script as Nixon “tripped” Brandolino, who called for a lawyer. Just in time for a plug, attorney Joe Stanley of local TV-ad fame came marching through the audience to help the “injured” Brandolino.
Following the shtick, the presenters handed the Best Pop award to Sammy returnees White Picket Fence, who thanked their parents for helping make the win possible.
Best Blues was presented by Dino (pronounced Dee-no), longtime bouncer at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and filling in for city of Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner (who had her hands full that night with the propane gas spill that closed Interstate 81) was Jeff Moleski of Moletrax Studio, cited as the best Miner look-alike in the audience, according to emcee Murphy. Mark Doyle and the Maniacs took the award, but not before Dino, who has seen hundreds of acts pass through the Dino in his many years, made some eloquent points during his introduction. “You don’t know how lucky you are here in Syracuse,” Dino declared. “We are so lucky to have the talent we have here. You don’t need to go anywhere else.” He was also sure to recognize veterans, since last Friday was also Veterans’ Day.
Then the ceremony took a quick pause as the lights went down and strange videos popped up on the two television screens that flanked the stage. Images flashed and eventually an 805 memoir took shape on the screens as photos from the band’s earlier days were displayed. When the lights came up (as close to 8:05 p.m. as possible), WTKW-FM 99.1 (TK99) deejay Dave Frisina was at the microphone to introduce drummer Frank Briggs, who immediately fired into a jawdropping solo with multicolored lights spraying from behind his raised throne of drums. Each member came out with Frisina’s introduction—Gregg “Creamo” Liss on bass, Ed Vivenzio on keys and Dave Porter on guitar and vocals—and the entire audience was on their feet.
Porter let everyone know that the group had barely played a note together for 20 years, yet the musicianship was beyond impressive as the group navigated their way through complicated time signatures that would put Dave Matthews to shame amid a wild light show to enhance the experience. If Creamo couldn’t spit fire on Friday, this was an acceptable alternative.
Porter was heartfelt in his short statements between songs, explaining his gratitude to people who came from as far as Texas to see the reunion. He was also humorous when he asked for the stage lights to be turned up, coaxing, “C’mon, c’mon. We’re not that old.”
Porter informed the audience that sadly, their 10-foot python Dudley had died, that Creamo had been warned by the fire marshal that he would be immediately arrested if he did attempt any fire-spitting and that Porter did not, in fact, bang his best friend’s girl in the back of his daddy’s car as the 805 hit single “Young Boys” might suggest. He just needed to fill out the cadence of the lyrics so “my girl” became “my best friend’s girl.”
As the band broke into the aforementioned “obligatory single,” videos displaying past 805 members flashed on the screen, including the late guitarist Marc Viscosi. Porter noted that he couldn’t quite cut Viscosi’s solos so he asked the audience if any young guns could rip it up instead. Brad Wiley, who had been a member of 805 following Viscosi, took on the axe challenge and delivered the mean solo Porter requested.
Things got sentimental when Porter mentioned that they’d have to send Briggs back to California although the band wished that he’d stay for a while. Briggs took the microphone and repeated what he had said at the Hall of Fame dinner: “This is the best band I’ve been in.”
The group closed out with an overload of sound and lights as they blasted through an explosive version of “I Am the Walrus,” once again garnering a rousing standing ovation.
The ceremony then switched gears as more than 20 representatives from the former Syracuse Symphony Orchestra mounted the stage to accept the Syracuse New Times Lifetime Achievement Award. Ernest Muzquiz, a percussionist with the SSO for nearly 40 years, spoke on behalf of the group followed by a few words from Chair of SSO reincarnation Symphony Syracuse, Jon Garland. Unfortunately, much of the audience drowned out the heartfelt words of symphony members as attendees moved from their seats to the sides of the ballroom, closer to the alcohol.Dinosaur Bar-B-Que music booker Scott Sterling and Frisina collected some of the audience’s attention back to the stage and presented the New Rock/Alternative award to The Scarlet Ending, who came bouncing down the side of the room to accept. Best Metal went to Torment the Vein and the Brian Bourke Best New Artist award went to a gracious Liz Strodel though commonly known as the drummer/vocalist of The Super Delinquents, Strodel’s Sammy achievement proves her solo talent as a singer, songwriter, multinstrumentalist. Before handing out the Best Rock award, presenter Michael John Heagerty, a.k.a. potato rapper Tots, delivered some crispy lyrics before handing the Sammy over to Michael P. Ryan.
Finally, former state Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann and ex-husband guitarmelter Mark Hoffmann presented both People’s Choice Awards for Best Club to Hear Live Music and Best Band. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que took best venue while J.D. and Rollin’ South won Best Band.
Much of the ballroom had left before the end of the event though it wasn’t running over its slated 9:30 p.m. end time—a true embarrassment to Salt City music lovers—leaving a small but mighty audience to hear Feinstein and The Rods. Porter gave a glowing introduction, telling about his days playing poker with Feinstein and his cousin Ronnie James Dio and instructed listeners to hold onto their seats as the group boomed into a loud, heavy, hard rock set. Feinstein and bassist Garry Bordonaro swung their guitars around simultaneously, although this was the first time in years Feinstein did so without long hair to whip with the guitar.
The trio created a massive sound for so little instrumentation, and made sure to melt every last face left in the place with their ripping guitar lines, pounding drum solos and demanding vocals.
Although jokes had been made about Feinstein’s butt guitar-playing abilities, he refrained from using the instrument like a bath towel, instead using his teeth at one point. The small audience that remained was lucky to see one of the most intimate shows The Rods may ever play, given the European festivals they often play to thousands of fans and many had the chance to shake Feinstein’s hand right from the stage.
was a fast-paced, loud and lively night for winners, presenters, music
lovers and musicmakers and a special reminder of the wealth of talent
sitting right here in Syracuse. As Deno said earlier in the night, “You
don’t need to go anywhere else.”