You’ve heard the expression “right place, right time“? Well, in this crapshoot we call the music industry, luck and opportunity – or lack thereof – play as big a role as talent. (Think Seattle, 1990s…)
I spent a decade in Syracuse, New York and by luck and happenstance wound up being involved with not one, but two of the best live music clubs that town has ever seen. One was a gargantuan firehouse that was a hotspot for any traveling rock band on the Thruway circuit. It was also a test market for punk and pub bands crawling across from New York City or Detroit or Boston or braving their way across The Big Pond. Some, like The Andrew Pearson Band, never exploded and got the publicity they deserved. Others, like The Police, showed up in a station wagon on the road to global domination. Frequently a new hot band would play New York, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit…and Syracuse…like we were the poor sister in rock’s unholy pentagram. Worked for me. Both venues, sadly, are just memories today.
Famous musicians who played the theatres and arenas would often show up to jam or hang out; if I only had kept a diary, I could be living off the royalties today. But I didn’t, so I’m going to have to let those stories creep out within these virtual pages from time to time. (Like when Elvis Costello hung out behind the service bar window one night to avoid the crush of the crowd…several hunded people might have a great story to tell today if they only looked up when ordering their drink.)
But the reason these gigs succeeded in the first place was that this blue-collar town had a tremendous local music scene that supported a wealth of local talent as well as these “name” shows. Syracuse was loaded, but the spotlight never got there like it would for Athens or Seattle or Austin. MTV wasn’t even around when some of the artists breathed their last, the Internet and digital technology were years away, and even the fanzines and alternative papers had a hard time surviving. There were bands with big light shows and commercial setlists that most punters thought would be big, but almost to a band they died and faded away. It was the alternative artists – years before the word became kitsch – that persevered and endured and eventually succeeded, some in legacy, some on a grand scale.
Tomorrow, my TGIF column will pay tribute to that magic time I spent in The Little Town That Could. And like my good friend and stalwart of the scene always says, sometimes the best music is right in your backyard. Support your local music scene, folks – they need you now more than ever.