If you’re soul doesn’t feel right inside, break down those walls that you’re hiding behind
Happiness comes with the sunlight of a brand new day
I’m grateful for the few dozen regular readers of this blog. I’m grateful to live in a community that is very much becoming a haven for artists, musicians, film makers, writers. If you look hard enough, you can see it everywhere. (Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart…)
When I started this blog I really wasn’t sure why I was doing it, I didn’t know what my focus would be. I knew music, pop culture, art would be a focus, but what I didn’t want to be is a critic. I am not a critic. I am not a reviewer in the typical sense. I could never understand where someone could take in someone else’s art, something they worked so hard on, which is presented to us with the hope that we the audience will like it, and tell other people how they should feel about it. I can only tell you what I feel about it and hopefully that will inspire other folks to come out and see what I see, because there is so much to see and there no time to spare, for any of us. In some ways I try to be a sort of evangelist(in the best sense of the word) in my own small way.
When I write about music or film or art of any kind, my purpose is to try and spread my own enthusiasm, my own love of it. Live music moves me more than just about anything else. I knew that in my teens and in my young adult life, and as I fumble myself deeper into middle age I am more acutely aware of it than ever and I seek out that which moves me more than maybe ever.
Did you know that my first time seeing “locally sourced” music was on Westcott Street? There was a tiny club called Squire’s East, don’t look for it now, it’s the basement of a Chinese restaurant I think these days. That night changed my life. The club was half a block from the Westcott Theater, the venue I where Friday night I saw Root Shock triumphantly make their Westcott Theater headlining debut. This is a big deal. A milestone event in the journey of this group of musicians who I know have never worked harder, made more sacrifices, gone sleepless while riding in their van.
This milestone was not given, it was earned, it was deserved. And it couldn’t happen to a kinder bunch of people.
I remember wondering, what 2018 will hold for these guys as they continue toward whatever destiny holds for them?
I couldn’t help but look around at the community that has formed around these special people, their talent, their message. I couldn’t help but think, that in 2017 I discovered this band when I needed them most.
Oddly enough, it was Donald Trump that brought me to this night. Don’t roll your eyes. Let me explain. Like so many of us I have been feeling such a weight, such confusion as my country shifted from what I had hoped it was to something I never thought it could be. I was dialed in to the daily outage brought by a vile president and his daily attacks on everything I stand for. I went to the marches, I dialed the congressman, I joined the resistance. I’m still with the resistance, the struggle for social justice. But you know, with all that angst in my head and all that fighting I was doing, I fell like I was losing myself in it. Couple that with the every day pressures of life getting to me, the worry of being the best dad I can be, the best husband I can be, I was giving in to the tendency in all of us to withdraw. I was losing the essence of myself with all the bitterness and combating all this hatred that I saw going on. The loud fast music I tend to gravitate to was not doing much for me, I was tired of being yelled at, tired of yelling, tired of a lack of peace. I needed something to cut all that anger and worry. For me that has always been the job of music, or art. It’s what I have always gravitated to.
I’ve covered some of this before…
I listened to classic soul, to Al Green, I went back to reggae music, something I always loved but never in a million years thought I would find a band in snowy Syracuse that I could go to see, and feel that rhythm with and I sure as hell didn’t think they would come with a specific message of peace, or rejuvenation, of community, of empowerment that would speak directly to my heart as well as my well worn dancing shoes. Then I found Root Shock and my mind was blown and my heart was split wide open. This was it. This is what I was looking for. I told you all about that a few months ago recounting my first show I’m not going to make you read about it again, suffice it to say, it was a significant event in a long career of consuming music.
Ever since seeing this band on that muggy summer night at Funk n Waffles, Root Shock have been a presence in my life like few other artists have, regardless of their city of birth, and I have seen a few in my time. Since that night I have seen them every chance I could. Nights at Funk n Waffles, two night residencies. I’ve seen them play in half empty tents only to have that tent overflowing before they were done. I’ve seen them play at lakeshore festivals where the only people too close to the stage were four toddlers grooving along. I’ve seen them turn sprawling shopping center parking lots into intimate funky reggae parties. I’ve seen them play in the late summer sun at the Westcott Street Festival to a full parking lot of dancers. Those festival shows were special to me because I was able to bring my family and get some of those good vibes and good messages to my 9 year old son , what other band do you know has their merch available in kids sizes anyway?
In these months I have been lucky enough to meet most of this band and I am here to tell you, these people are as kind, generous and positive a group as I have ever met, there isn’t an ounce of pretense in any of them. I firmly believe that Root Shock are onto something that is going to take off big, and soon. It’s nice to see success coming to such genuinely nice people.
The Westcott Theater show was the day after Thanksgiving and gratitude was expressed on the stage, on the dance floor in if any of those dancers are like me, in their hearts for the community that has formed here.
I was late so I missed Spring Street Family and I have heard great things, so I will need to remedy that. I was grateful that I didn’t miss checking out Yegor Mikushkin, who was creating a miracle of art with his brushes. Whoever came up with the idea to include Yegor is a genius. The piece he was working on as the music was playing, flowed completely with the funky vibes being laid down from the stage. This city has so much art, music and writing going on, we as a community need to keep doing things to incorporate art in all of its various forms. I think sometimes, that that exodus of industry almost killed this town but the more I look, the more I think art will be the thing that saves it.
When I spoke to Root Shock bassist Bill Eppel one night, I told him it would be a busy night and I hoped I would be able to at least catch Root Shock from the beginning. He said to me, “You want to see Danielle Ponder, trust me.”
Bill wasn’t kidding.
I’m going to make a strong statement here. For my money, there’s Aretha, Chaka, Tina and Danielle.
I am not exaggerating. A jaw dropping performance by one of the finest soul singers I have ever seen, and I have seen the other three I just mentioned. Seeing Danielle Ponder and her band Tomorrow People is one of those events where the hair stands on your arms and the goosebumps are visible. A powerful soul voice with a clear gospel influence and a message of empowerment and social justice. I think the set was 45 minutes long but it only took me a few minutes to be fullly committed to her “Three Word Revolution” of personal empowerment.
Bill told me I wanted to see Danielle Ponder and now I’m telling you, you need to see this woman sing, powerful doesn’t even come close.
But the night belonged to Root Shock. I know, I have raved about this band since that first night this past spring, and in 2017 it all culminated with this performance. What can’t be stressed enough is, this isn’t some bar band playing a big stage. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good bar band, we NEED bar bands. I don’t use the term as a pejorative. What I mean to say is Root Shock are pros. They do the work, they have built the repertoire, and the audience and more so, have done it while remaining kind, while working to keep ticket prices down and doing things the right way.
They have fans ranging in age from toddlers to seniors and everything in between.
When I saw them at the Wine and Jazz Festival in downtown Syracuse this summer, singer Jessica Brown said to much applause, “We are on this small stage this year, how about next year we are on that big stage over there!”
Root Shock are a big stage band and proved that with their almost two hour performance last Friday night.
The overall theme of the night for me, besides gratitude, was seeing people’s faces lit up at various parts of the performance. What do I mean by that?
The look on Jessica’s face as the lights went on and the band started and they kicked off “Wake Up”
The look on Phil’s face when the first ovation washed over the stage. Phil has one of the sweetest voices around.
The look on Emanuel’s face when “Come Alive” got hot and he hit those drums harder in the final 10 seconds of the song, the part that give you goosebumps.
The look on Dan’s face as he pumped his fist after nailing his solo during “Sunlight”. That dude is a guitar hero.
The look on Chris and Bill’s faces as the psychedelic intro on “Babylon Tree” crashed into the body of the song perfectly. Another goosebump moment.
The look on Fafa’s face as he hugged and fist pumped his way around the stage.
But the lit up faces weren’t only on the stage as fans sung along with the older songs, learned the new ones and danced and grooved all over the floor. People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, identities. Community.
There was a lot of love in the room.
Back in the day, Dave Frisina used to say about local band Screen Test, “if you go to the show and aren’t entertained, I’ll give you your cover change back” In 2018, to anyone in Syracuse reading this, I make the same offer.
I personally can’t imagine seeing these guys and not being entirely blown away, but like I said, they feed a need in me that is beyond music in so many ways. The music holds power.
In 2017 I am grateful to have found my path to seeing these artists do what they do with their unique alchemy. So in the spirit of gratitude, I say thank you:
Thank you to Bill, Jessica, Phil, Dan, Fafa, Jocko, Nick, Brian, Chris, Courtney, Ben, Steve, Emanual and Dan’s dog.
Root Shock are on a path to wherever this journey may take them, I am grateful I was able to see them on their journey in 2017 as I was on mine. I cant wait to see them again in 2018 and see where they go next.
To Root Shock I can only say what you already know, because you said the words :
“you have everything you need to live out your dreams.”
You are on to something special and I am so grateful.
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