Right Under You Nose?

For a couple of years, magic happened here.

For a couple of years, magic happened here.

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music

2 responses to “Right Under You Nose?

  1. Siege

    Your trip down memory lane triggered the way back machine for me too – another time, another place… few years earlier and just across town. Jackson Browne played our college in the days / years before No Nukes and arenas. I happened to be working the back door that night, letting in some of the musicians after the soundcheck but before the show.
    Linda Ronstadt was supposed to open up for Jackson but a cold mmmmmm or something else prevented her from performing that night. Maybe 20-30 minutes before he was supposed to take the stage but our very drunk headliner. True to form I couldn’t help noticing that he looked larger on his record albums…
    He was with his lady, future wife and mother of their son along with a couple of members of the then only all girl band, Fanny. This was pre Runaways, pre Go-Gos days. All Jackson wanted was a corkscrew for a bottle of Mateus he was waving as he and the rest of the entourage squeezed through the door.
    I remember thinking, uh oh, our boy Jackson is not going to fare well tonight. His eyes were mostly focused but wandering from time to time in different directions. I pointed him to the backstage area / men’s locker room and hoped he wouldn’t find that corkscrew.
    Soon enough, Linda’s replacement, Jack Tempchin, finished the set with one of his signature songs, Already Gone, and I decided, drunk or not, I’d have to catch Jackson’s set regardless. Spying one of the underclassmen I motioned him to cover my spot backstage as I made my way to the floor of the gymnasium as close to the front as my girl Cindy had saved my seat.
    Soon enough the gym lights dimmed as the band sauntered onto the makeshift stage, each finding their instruments as best they could. I forget what song they opened with but Jackson was on fire. Whatever magic pill he took worked. Gone was any semblance of drunkenness. He played and sang a few songs behing the black grand piano before he strapped on his electric guitar and traded riffs with David Lindley like a true rock hero. Between songs he tipped back a sweating bottle of white wine to quench his thirst but it never showed in either his singing or playing.
    I rejoiced that I was in the midst of such incredible talent on the rise.
    After the hour and a half set I went backstage to congratulate him. He was distracted in the glow that carries over after a brilliant performance trading comments with the band so I never got the chance. But it was one of the more electric moments of my rock and roll memories and certainly a highlight of my college daze.

  2. drbristol

    Great story – and I remember the show! Might even have a poster in the…well, the tube of posters that can’t go on the walls in an adult house. (Some things about growing up just suck).

    I remember Jack Tempchin and enjoying “Already Gone”, but “Fifty Days Under The Hood” felt like it was being played out in real time. And Lindley is a wizard – I saw he and his band about a decade ago in town. He was greasy in every interpretation of the word, from his playing to the vibe to that mop of string on his head.

    A neighbor of mine is a huge JB fan and just saw him this Summer and raved about him. I remember many dorm room nights in dimly lit rooms listening to a couple of the early albums – some romantic, some lonely and introspective.

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