Student musicians, waffles make Made at SU launch party a success

Review: How seven Audio Arts graduate students, three musical acts and more than 60 orders of waffles transformed one Saturday night into a bedrock moment for campus-based DIY.

Legendary alternative musician Lou Reed. Indie-pop band Ra Ra Riot. Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn.

The careers of these music artists were all made, in one way or another, at Syracuse University. Last night at Funk ’n Waffles, a new group of students launched its inaugural event to help campus musicians find big breaks of their own.

Photo: Valerie Crowder
A student plays the drums for Ricky Smith.

Made at SU, an artist development organization founded by the seven graduate students, organized and ran the event, which featured performances from student musicians S M I T H and Spark Alaska.

The group dreamed up the Made at SU initiative over the summer while getting to know each other and their new curriculum. As the pioneer class of the newly designed Audio Arts program (a collaboration between the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the College of Visual and Performing Arts), the students wanted to establish something to pass onto future classes.

With a crowd of 122 and more than a handful of T-shirts sold, the success of last night’s opening event may end up becoming exactly that.

As concertgoers sat and dined on fluffy buttermilk waffles, different types of guitar-based pop pumped through the sound system.

Headliner S M I T H, the stylized moniker of 19-year-old Ricky Smith, brought his soulful, confessional tunes to the stage with a full band. Smith, a first-semester freshman in the Bandier Program for music business, showcased his natural charisma onstage with original songs like “Reaching Out.” The song has reached nearly 4,200 plays on his SoundCloud page since being uploaded a month ago.

“Reaching Out” embraces the contemporary club-pop elements of pulsating bass and “whoa-oh-oh” chorus vocals, allowing it to completely fill a tiny venue like Funk ’n Waffles. S M I T H’s crowd ate up the grandiose noise, singing along and swaying close to the stage. Before that, the artist dabbled in pop revisionism with a slow, soulful rendition of Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.”

As bombastic as S M I T H’s set was, the evening began with the quiet bedroom pop of Spark Alaska. The one-man project of fellow Bandier student Lorenzo Gillis Cook, Spark Alaska opened the show with a quiet blend of strummy originals and covers from Mac DeMarco and Foxygen. His sweet but emotional voice recalled early Rivers Cuomo acoustic demos. Though the crowd chattered through most of the set, polite applause greeted him at the end.

Between the two artists, local songwriter Josh Coy performed a 30-minute all-acoustic set featuring material from his current band, Safe. His spritely songs resounded throughout the venue, though he lost a bit of steam during the quieter moments — especially when he fingerpicked a fragile cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” While not a campus musician, Coy and his band, Safe, are signed to Aux Records, the company founded by music industry professor Ulf Oesterle.

Saturday’s event was a bit of a litmus test for the seven students who put up their own money to make it happen. Group member Karl Stabnau said he thinks they passed.

“I thought it was a really big success. I thought the fact that we had 120 people there showed that there was actually some kind of notoriety and some kind of buzz going on,” Stabnau said. “That’s what we want to continue to build toward.”

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