Syracuse celebrates hometown musical heroes

The Syracuse Area Music Awards brought back many local legends to the Salt City and celebrated the musical roots of Central New York over two days of festivities.

As temperatures dipped into the single digits for what may have been the last time this winter, the Syracuse Area Music Awards gave a warm glow to a city sorely lacking in comfort. Held on March 5 and 6, the SAMMYs brought together local artists and their families for a celebration of the music of Central New York.

Photo: Sarah Hope
Phish drummer Jon Fishman accepts his Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2015 SAMMY Hall of Fame inductions at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on March 5.

The event kicked off with the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Thursday at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, honoring six Syracuse legends and influencers. David Rezak, the director of the Bandier Program for the Music and Entertainment Industries at Syracuse University, received the award for Music Educator of the Year. Other inductees included Chris Goss, producer and pioneer of the 'desert rock' style; internationally recognized guitarist Loren Barrigar; 1950s rock 'n' roll singer Bobby Comstock, and the beloved 1980s Syracuse band, The Works. All inductees were in attendance with their families, and each gave heartfelt speeches about the value of having a great hometown like Syracuse.

"This is a great place to learn how to rock and roll," Goss said. "Seattle, where Nirvana and Soundgarden came from — it was a dark, dreary city, which makes kids go to their basement… Good music comes out of dark places."

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Jon Fishman, the drummer of the popular jam band, Phish. Fishman grew up in Syracuse. The highlight of the induction ceremony was a speech given by Len Fishman, Jon's father. With pride and humorous stories about awful high school bands and bad grades in engineering school, the elder Fishman honored his son's passion and talent.

"You've got to love your work," he said. "If you wake up in the morning and you like going to work, that's as good as it gets."

At the Palace Theatre on Friday night, the SAMMY Awards party was much rowdier. Bands, artists and music lovers from across Central New York gathered to celebrate the year's best music and enjoy several performances including Grupo Pagan, Joanne and Leah Shenandoah and a reunion of the newly-minted Hall of Famers, The Works.

The show got off to a slow start, as many (including presenters and nominees) lingered in the Palace's foyer, drinking and socializing well after the ceremony in the theater had begun. But as the room filled and the performances began, the crowd was lively and engaged. Many in attendance — both audience members and award winners — expressed their love of the local music scene and the camaraderie among their peers.

"This scene here, talent-wise, is as good as anywhere," said Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, winner of the Best Americana award. "Everybody's so accessible, and I can just say, it's a great music community to be a part of."


The 2015 SAMMY winners

Best Pop: Nick & Noah

Best Country: Megan Lee

Best Jazz: Nick Ziobro

Best Hip Hop: Nick Case aka Decoy

Best Blues: Castle Creek

Best R&B: Brownskin Band

Best Americana: Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Best Alternative: Leah Shenandoah

Best Rock: William Gruff

Best Hard Rock: Nineball

Best Other Style: Samba Laranja

Best Jam Band: Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate

Best Singer/Songwriter: Alanna-Marie Boudreau

Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist: Spring Street Family Band

People's Choice Best Artist: Briana Jessie

People's Choice Best Festival: FoxFest

People's Choice Best Venue: Kegs Canal Side

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