I’ve written this introduction paragraph about 16 times, always failing to capture exactly what I want to say. It’s funny, that the Gonzo style of journalism (made famous by Hunter S. Thompson, where the journalist claims no objectivity and tells the story from a first-person narrative) seems easier. Writing from the gut and the heart is very much like music – the less you think (many times), the better it is. But sometimes, it’s overwhelming. This is very much how I feel.
I’ve reviewed and written about the Syracuse scene for several years now and suddenly have grown into a part of it as a performer, too. It’s funny to think that before the inaugural Salt City Waltz last year, I hadn’t played or sung in front of anyone in Syracuse. Now I do several times a week.
That being said, I can’t pretend that I have any objectivity in this. The emotions involved in being a part of a show like this are undeniable, though my role was so very small in comparison to others. However, I think this perspective also offers some extra insight.
The people involved in this production worked tremendously hard to put on the show that happened on Saturday night, November 30. Hours of rehearsals, planning and organizing are a given, but it’s also the pressure, the expectations and the burden of recreating one of the greatest rock and roll shows in history. To step up and recreate a show like that or assume the role of Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Levon Helm isn’t something to take lightly, no matter the circumstances.
Luckily, here in Syracuse, we have talent that can handle those challenges beautifully, and even make it look easy. And as I watched the original Last Waltz the day of the show with my roommate, I found myself assuring, “Tim Herron does Neil Diamond better than Neil Diamond,” and “I could listen to Donna Colton sing ‘Coyote’ all day,” and, “I know how you feel about Bob Dylan’s singing, but Mike Powell is amazing.” And I realized, I could have praised every performer and their interpretations of the songs they did.
Saturday proved that as every performer got up and nailed their parts, inducing chills several times throughout the night. Both on and off the stage I found myself getting lost in the show, in the energy coming off the stage and the energy being returned to it through an absolutely incredible crowd. There was so much excitement for these local performers – as there should be.
It’s too simple to say thanks for all the hard work and that everyone did well on stage. The implications of an event like this are so much larger. It shows a community that respects one another and wants to collaborate and share in the music, made so evident in the non-stop pats on the backs among musicians as they mounted and descended the stage. It also came through in the music.
The actual Last Waltz had its issues (read ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’) and so, too, Salt City Waltz had its challenges. We had to have our dress rehearsal at a different location (The Westcott) than the actual show space, and imagine being a sound engineer who has to deal with more than a dozen guests coming on and off the stage with instruments. Or imagine being “The Band,” Los Blancos (who also performed the night before the show and the day after – insanity), and having to learn a mountain of material and then respond to guests of all different styles and types and make it all work. It was organized chaos.
Or, too, think of the stage designers who had to set up the Palace after Hot Tuna finished the night before, with chandeliers and all. Or Stacey Waterman, who hatched the idea, organized all of the logistics and executed it beautifully. Or Gary Frenay, who took all of these musicians and made sure they rehearsed, knew their parts, fit in and showed up..
Despite these challenges, it all worked and produced something even greater than itself. I’ll explain:
I have a friend who is a professional musician, and I was raving to him once about a band I had interviewed. He told me something along the lines of, “Ah, they’re assholes and you can hear it in their music,” and went on to tell me why and how.
I can’t listen to that band the same way because now I do hear them (and their charming personalities) in their music. However, that also works the opposite way. When musicians get together with best intentions in mind, with respect and care and love and a commitment to each other and the community they serve, the result is something difficult, or maybe impossible, to capture in words. To review the show as good or bad, about who stood out and who nailed what, doesn’t quite do justice to what it’s all about. I attribute that attitude to being involved, to being Gonzo, to not claiming objectivity. But I also attribute it to what we have here in Syracuse – something very unique and very powerful. The talent per square mile and the corresponding goodness of so many of the people is amazing. We are lucky.
What I hope comes of this is not just respect and amazement for the incredible performers in the show (they ALL deserve a congratulations), but I hope a continued respect and attention to the talent we’ve got gets taken away. I hope more people show up when these people bring their art to stages each and every week. I hope more people get excited to see live music all the time, not just once a year. I hope people gain more appreciation for great songwriting, realizing that a night of familiar songs is awesome, but a night of original works from the minds and hearts of people we live and work with is an incredible gift.
I’m not objective at all. And now, more than ever, I see the view from both the stage and the crowd. I see the work that goes in and what is taken away. I understand the struggle and the benefit just a little bit more. And I know more than ever that I love and adore what we’ve got here and I hope just a few people walked away Saturday night feeling the same way.
“And, in the end / The love you take / is equal to the love you make.”
“Don’t Do It” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“Up On Cripple Creek” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“The Shape I’m In” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“Who Do You Love” — w/ Dugan Henhawk (Ronnie Hawkins) and Mark Hoffman
“It Makes No Difference” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“Such A Night” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“Helpless” — with Artie Lenin (Neil Young), Donna Colton (Joni Mitchell) and Jason Barady
“Stage Fright” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“The Weight” — with Carolyn Kelly (The Staple Singers)
“The Night They Drove Ol Dixie Down” — with Michael P. Ryan
“Dry Your Eyes” — with Tim Herron (Neil Diamond)
“Coyote” — with Donna Colton (Joni Mitchell)
“Mystery Train” — with Dugan Henhawk (Paul Butterfield)
“Mannish Boy” — with Carolyn Kelly (Muddy Waters)
“Further On Up The Road” — with Pete McMahon and Rex Lyons (Eric Clapton)
“Evangeline” — with Kim Monroe (as Emmylou Harris), Chris Eves, Jason Barady and Jess Novak
“Ophelia” — Los Blancos w/ Scott Ebner
“Caravan” — with Joe Whiting (Van Morrison)
“Forever Young” — with Mike Powell (Bob Dylan)
“Baby Let Me Follow You Down” — with Ed Zacholl (Bob Dylan)
“I Shall Be Released” — with Willie “Taters” Mavins and other guests
Los Blancos, as The Band: Colin Aberdeen, Mark Nanni, Steven T. Winston, Mark Tiffault and Scott Ebner
Horns: Frank Grosso, Ken Case, Joe Colombo, Dave Frateschi, Steve Salem
Acadian Driftwood: Gary Frenay, Artie Lenin, Donna Colton, Jess Novak, Jason Barady, Ed Zacholl, John Dancks and Pat Shaughnessy
Music Director: Gary Frenay
Produced by: Stacey Waterman and Dan Mastronardi