Sometimes a show is more than a show.  

Sometimes a venue is more than a venue.

Have you ever been to a show where the joy in the room was almost a physical presence?

I go to a lot of shows.   My preference is to support, and in these often hastily published pages, sing the praises of local music.   The core of all my musical appreciation and central point of reference has had Syracuse as it’s heart.

Yeah, Syracuse.  

Nothing in decades of seeing music has changed that. Syracuse has informed every aspect of my appreciation of music, no matter who the act is, no matter where in the world I’ve been.  The emotional core was formed in a long gone, crappy little bar in a Westcott Street basement on a snowier than usual evening, even by Syracuse standards.

Not a lot of cities had  a music community that was literally overflowing with high quality original music. Syracuse did, with bands like The Flashcubes, Screen Test, 1.4.5., The Trend, Dress Code, My Sin and so many more.  Bands that were playing out in town and in the region 5 or 6 nights a week.  Bands that people talk about to this day and some that have gained cult like status in communities of people who have never even been to Syracuse.

The sound, got around.

Syracuse STILL has that, and with artists like Root Shock, Strange to Look At, Atkins Riot, Jess Novak,  Major Player and dozens more, in a community that is as vibrant now as I have ever seen it, you have to start to wonder, why is Syracuse such a strong local music town?

I will put our city’s music up with just about any other city in the world and the mighty Salt City will MORE than hold it’s own.

I was just a goofy awkward kid on the dance floor saving my lunch money change for 50 cent PBRs in those days.  Gangly and awkward and loving the punk rock sounds from CBGB down in NYC as well as all the great bands from the UK.  I was absolutely sure that at any moment Rolling Stone magazine was going to bust in and write the ultimate story of the Syracuse music scene and we would be on the map.

That story never got written, not in Rolling Stone anyway, but those of us who were there knew.

Maura Kennedy was on those dance floors too, and she knew, maybe more than any of us.   

A music student back then whose first ever recorded song is still a staple of the live show presented by Maura and her guitar virtuoso husband Pete, touring the world for a quarter century now as The Kennedys. The Kennedys  brought their magic to the 443 Social Club and Lounge on Burnet Avenue this past Friday night for a sold out show that as I sat there entranced made me think, this is a truly special evening of music and community in Syracuse.

If you haven’t been to The 443 you are doing yourself a disservice. Walking into the place that Julie and Jimmy built with such hard work and love is like walking into the coolest, most comfortable living room party you’ve ever been to, one with amazing drinks and great food.  How they pull that all off in the space they have without killing one another is a testament to the staff at the 443. Gracious doesn’t even cover it. The staff, from the folks working the bar and out on the floor, to the guy behind the panini press, to the sound guy, they don’t seem like “staff”, they seem like hosts, making sure everyone is taken care of, making sure everyone is happy and never once missing a warm smile.  That stuff means a lot.

Jimmy was worried that the room had gotten too hot having reached full capacity and was checking the temperature right down to air flow. Try getting that kind of attention to your physical comfort in some beer sign lit rock n roll road house.

The fact that I knew about half the room made the event more like a reunion of sorts, everyone was full of smiles and warm hugs.  It was truly wonderful, and with Maura & Pete circulating around the room, saying high and sking if anyone had any requests, prior to going on stage,  it was beautiful gathering of friends and friends you haven’t met yet.   The room was full but you never felt overcrowded.  Every single thing was perfect.

The Kennedys were, as usual, entirely enchanting, kicking off their set with “Life is Large”, a piece of jangle pop perfection that if you, like me, have the original CD, can hear Roger McGuinn play the “Ode to Joy” quote that Pete masterfully recreated on his own red Rickenbacker.  

Pete & Maura played a great selection of their own songs like the beautiful love song “Umbrella” a song Maura wrote for Pete on their anniversary.  (The Kennedys and The Tierneys share the same October 22nd wedding anniversary which I think is a neat as hell.)  

“She Worked Her Magic on Me” from the “Villanelle” collaboration Maura did with the poet B.D. Love was a highlight as well being as it appears on one of my all time favorite ever albums.  

Pete read a hilarious passage about how he once had to try to play a banjo while wearing a dragon costume,  from his must read for any good music obsessive memoir Tone, Twang and Taste.  Hearing it made me remember getting to listen to his stories when the couple had their Sirius Radio program “The Dharma Café” and how much I missed it.

They sprinkled in a few well chosen covers like the Richard Thompson classic “Wall of Death” but the highlight of the covers had to be “Queen of Hollywood High”, which Maura told us was a song she found so joyous she played the grooves right off the record when she worked at a local record shop back in the day.  She sings this song better than the John (not Jon) Stewart original in my usually correct opinion.

Pete Kennedy is one of  my all time favorite guitar and anything else with strings players.  He has this thing they do where he plays a medley of known songs that culminates with a soaring version of “Eight Miles High”.  Just watching this man on the fretboard is spellbinding and who else do you know that can do a vesion of “Rhapsody in Blue” on the Ukulele?

The encore of  Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” was magnificent, we got to hear how Maura fulfilled a lifelong goal of being a Pip as well as Gladys! If I were you, I’d be checking out their latest record (and yes, they are still called “records”) “Safe Until Tomorrow”.

This was one of those shows where you could have sat there forever listening to them.

I know a lot of musicians and they often tell me the same thing, that they are always afraid that they will throw a party and nobody would come.    I get that. I’ve been to shows that are so poorly attended that its truly appalling.   I get that fear when putting on any presentation.  Will they show up?

I can imagine that fear when booking a show in ones own home town can be magnified.

But to book a show in ones home town, and not only have it sell out but be filled with friends from all corners of your life in said home town, is nothing short of a triumph.

Julie awards the Golden Mic trophy to acts that sell out the 443 and when it was presented to The Kennedys the pride on Maura’s face, a person who reveres the music traditions of her home town, was glowing.

It means a lot, and I am grateful we were there to be a part of if.

Sometimes a show is more than a show.  

Sometimes a venue is more than a venue.

The joy was palpable. 


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