Leon Russell and The Vanderbuilts bring community to The Westcott

Syracuse students and citizens came together to enjoy two energetic, entertaining performances at The Westcott.

Twenty and fifty-something's alike enjoyed a night of good old rock and roll on Tuesday.

A half seated, half standing, packed house patiently awaited the start of the music after spilling into The Westcott. The night started off with a captivating opening set from The Vanderbuilts, an indie-rock band that played its first gig at Battle of the Bands at SU. Despite the pressure of opening for a classic act, The Vanderbuilts did not show a trace of nervousness. The band exhibited genuine showmanship as the lead singer, Sam Kogon, and violinist, Aya Yamamoto, smiled and danced, front and center.

Photo: Emily Shearing
Sam Kogon of The Vanderbuilts serenading the diverse crowd before Leon Russell took the stage.

After playing their hit songs “I’m Coming Home” and “Come Tomorrow,” The Vanderbuilts left the room with a perfect atmosphere: warm and wistful. They had won over the hearts of the older generation in a half hours time and left the stage with loud applause.

A silence overcame the crowd as people awaited the grand entrance of the headling act. To everyone's amusement, 70-year-old Leon Russell cruised through the roaring crowd on a scooter, shrouded by his long hair and long beard to match. He made his way toward the stage as the audience whistled and cheered.

Despite his age, Russell performed with the energy and spirit of a young rock star from the moment he sat down and struck the first note on his keyboard. Few are blessed with a voice like Leon Russell’s, whose vocals still sound pitch perfect, considering his age.

Russell and his band, who were outfitted in matching Stetson hats and shades, played for a total of two and a half hours. The played a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and a few of Russell’s originals such as “Tightrope” and “Song For You. The music was spectacular to say the least. Russell showed off his stellar keyboard skills with riffs and runs that drove the crowd wild. People in the audience boldly sang and danced along to the tunes they knew. The background singers’ chemistry amongst themselves was wildy apparent, as they frequently sang to each other rather than to the audience—it was music for music’s sake, not for a thousand dollars in the wallet.

The die-hard fans felt the altruism in the performance too, awarding Leon Russell and his band a standing ovation after each song. By the end of the night, it was no surprise that an encore was demanded.

Russell’s humble personality did not go unnoticed as he cracked jokes on stage and told stories about his life experiences in his native, southern drawl. Those that had grown up following the legends music career eagerly listened to his personal stories and laughed at his sense of humor.

The concert put on by Leon Russell and The Vanderbuilts had everyone leaving with a smile, whether a student drawn to Westcott Theater to support The Vanderbuilts, or a veteran concert goer there to cross “attend a Leon Russell concert” off of their bucket list. One thing was for sure-Tuesday night was a perfect example of how students and citizens of Syracuse can come together and enjoy a night of culture and music.

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