Rock Rules at 2017 Sammy Awards

A packed house at the Palace brought high energy to the 2017 Sammys.

Joe Driscoll accepting the award for Best Jam Band. Michael Davis photo

Nine of the 13 winners of this year’s Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) play tunes with a booming backbeat designed to draw dancers to the floor, especially rock’n’roll in all of its soaring incarnations: rock, hard rock, alternative, rhythm’n’blues, blues, pop, Americana, jam band and hip-hop.


Even the best jazz winner, Second Line Syracuse, rocks a version of the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now” on its award-winning self-titled CD.

Five invigorating performances framed the award presentations during the March 3 Sammys ceremony at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, and each one rocked like Gibraltar.

Irv Lyons Jr. performs with The Ripcords. Michael Davis photo

The Ripcords, featuring Irv Lyons Jr., Rex Lyons, Scott Ebner, Jay Gould and Steve Palumbo, kicked things off with a riveting set pumped up by the Boneyard Horns: saxophonist Tony Green, trumpeter Jeff Stockham and trombonist Tom Witkowski. Tunes ran from the mournful “Maria” to a boogaloo “Baby, It’s the Wrong Time,” all from the band’s new disc due this spring.

Custom Taylor Band fiddler Amy Doan electrified the near-sellout crowd with a scorching version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” vocalized by acoustic guitarist Brett Nelson. Frontman Chris Taylor practically radiated, wearing a well-bleached white dress shirt offset by black cowboy hat and black slacks and clutching his trademark silver chain-link microphone stand, and his vocals shone just as brightly. He set loose “Fireflies,” a mid-tempo romp hinting at summertime, one of the top tracks from the band’s current CD.

Strobe lights welcomed the Spring Street Family Band, as dancers boogied in front of the stage while the quintet cranked out its fetching blend of funk, rock, hip-hop and reggae. Their original, “Now She’s Got Me,” led seamlessly into an incredibly heavy cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” featuring singer Ryan Vendetti and guitarist Ben Blujus. In fact, Spring Street turned in one of the hardest-rocking sets of the awards show.

Rhymes rattled off the walls during a rock-steady set by Curtis “Tallbucks” McDowell and the Brownskin Band. The five musicians dug trench-deep rhythms while McDowell cleanly rapped out a composition called “Solar Radiation,” alongside Syracuse rhymer Real Tall. (Syracuse guitar legend Bobby Green, who had been billed as a special guest, did not appear. No explanation was offered from the stage.)

The best country award went to Small Town Shade for its EP release Ring It Up, on the strength of its insistent single, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.”

Although the Cortland quintet was the lone nominee in the country category, Small Town Shade also proved it can compete. With a strong social media presence, they tallied more votes than any other combo of any kind to take home the 2017 People’s Choice Award for best band. More than 110,000 online votes were cast, and the folks at Flynn’s Roadside Café, in Lansing, couldn’t be happier.

Overall the awards show flowed as smoothly as a Joe Carello sax solo. “We’re running on schedule,” emcee Dave Frisina exclaimed halfway through the show. “Unbelievable!”

A repeated problem, however, was the failure to identify the people who were accepting the awards. More than half the time, most audience members didn’t know who was speaking, except that it was probably someone from the winning recording act.

And many award recipients didn’t bother to identify themselves. Driftwood bassist Joey Arcuri’s dad identified himself simply as “Joey Arcuri’s dad,” when he got up to receive the best folk award for the band, which was on the road in Michigan.

Even after staging 19 awards shows in 24 years, the Sammys still suffer the age-old problem: Presenters remain blissfully unaware of whether the winners will be in attendance or whether someone else has been designated to accept the award for them.

moe. performing at the end of the night. Michael Davis photo | Syracuse New Times

Finally, five guys named moe. — the Oneida County band that was inducted into the Sammys Hall of Fame on March 2 at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que — turned the awards ceremony into a harmonious happening with a lengthy concluding set characterized by jangly guitars, razor-sharp vocals and proactive polyrhythms.

A decade ago, moe. released a series of CDs called Warts and All, but there were no rough patches whatsoever at the Sammys ceremony. It was more like a little taste of Live at the Fillmore. Outta sight, indeed!

At the induction ceremony, moe. drummer Vinnie Amico said the band’s Oneida County roots served them well. “We all wear our hearts on our sleeve. We all kind of have this style, this thing we do, because of where we’re from. We’re blue collar, baby. We work hard, we play our music that way. There’s an edge to our music and that’s a testament to upstate New York.”

Watch video of the 2017 Sammys here, and view more photos here.

Sammy Snippets

  • Fashion statements are less ostentatious than they were at the Landmark Theatre-era Sammys, but best pop recipient Jess Novak turned heads in a tight black ensemble complemented by a wide pink tie. Meanwhile, presenter Scott Dixon from WAQX-FM 95.7 (95X) represented the more casual side of the dress spectrum with a “Let’s Get Weird” T-shirt.
  • Dixon, 95X’s after drive-time DJ, plugged the reggae-rock fusion fivesome the Barroom Philosophers as potential nominees for 2018.
  • Although there’s no guarantee there will even be a show next year, this was the 19th Sammy Awards show in 24 years since its establishment by Frank Malfitano in 1993. The Sammys were not staged in 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2012, but the March 3 show was the fifth straight at the Palace.
  • Ron Keck of SubCat Studio and emcee Dave Frisina, host of Sunday night’s Soundcheck on WXTL-FM 105.9 (The Rebel), were the individuals who were most often thanked by award winners in their acceptance speeches. Sammys Committee chair Liz Nowak came in a close second.
  • Tas Cru, clinging to his band’s best blues award for its disc Simmered & Stewed, actually sang his acceptance speech: “I’m a fool for the blues!”
  • Joe Driscoll is becoming a facile diplomat as well as a righteous rapper. “Dave Frisina is a Jedi,” he announced.
  • For his part, Frisina promised that local music will soon be programmed 24 hours a day at The Rebel. “For some reason they put me in charge, and I thought that was a good idea,” he told the Sammys crowd. Local recordings might not exactly be in heavy rotation, he hinted, “but it’ll be off and on, mixed in,” he said.
  • Newly inducted Hall of Fame member Paul Case reminded everyone that music is work but work that you love to do. “You get up, you drive to the gig, you set up, you play your ass off, you tear down, you drive a million miles home, week after week, month after month, decade after decade,” the guitarist said at the March 2 ceremony. “You do it for the music.”
  • For an event designed to celebrate live local music, the Sammys Hall of Fame induction ceremony lacks any live music. Certainly some past recipients would give the Sammys Committee a good price to entertain at the induction dinner. Perhaps Ronnie Leigh and Marcus Curry? Or Novak & Nanni? Frenay & Lenin? Todd Hobin? Isreal Hagan? Dan Elliott? Come on: Let the good times roll!

2017 Sammy Award Winners:

  • Best Rock: King Chro and the Talismen, King Chro and the Talismen
  • Best Folk: Lauren Mettler, Patchwork
  • Best Pop: The Jess Novak Band, Inches from the Sun
  • Best Jazz: Second Line Syracuse, Second Line Syracuse
  • Best Americana: Driftwood, City Lights
  • Best Jam Band: Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate, Monistic Theory
  • Best Alternative: Bell & Sgroi, Bell & Sgroi
  • Best Hard Rock: Breaking Solace, Shatter the Silence
  • Best Hip-Hop/Rap: World Be Free, Nigg@$ to Gods
  • Best Singer/Songwriter: Alanna Boudreau, Champion
  • Best Blues: Tas Cru, Simmered and Stewed
  • Best R&B: Alani Skye, Don’t Forget About Me
  • Best Country: Small Town Shade, Ring It Up EP
  • Best Other Category: Syracuse Society for New Music, Music Here & Now
  • Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist: Root Shock

People’s Choice Awards:

  • Favorite Band: Small Town Shade
  • Favorite venue to see live music: Chevy Court at the New York State Fair
  • Favorite festival or music series: New York State Fair
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