SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) —
This Friday night, the Syracuse Area Music Awards, known as the “Sammys,” will host its first ceremony at the Palace Theatre since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since its foundation in 1992, the Sammys has been finding new ways to honor the achievements of Syracuse area musicians and provide new opportunities for local artists.
The Sammys first hosted its annual ceremony at the Palace Theatre in 2013, after moving over from the Landmark Theater for cost-saving purposes. Last year, the awards were held at the Oncenter to provide more room for social distance.
“(The Syracuse music scene) is an undiscovered gem, it just needs to be put out there further,” said Liz Nowak, Sammys president since 1997. “We have 14 different recording categories. We’re not a blues town, we’re not a rock town, we’re not a jazz town—we’re a music city.”
This year’s Sammys also includes a new category, “Best Single,” to honor one single from an artist in multiple genres. There are 63 nominees for this year’s ceremony, including Trauma Cat, who will be performing at the ceremony, for Best Alternative. Also nominated for Best Americana is The Rollin’ Rust, who are working on opening their own folk music venue in Manlius called “The Rollin’ Rust Room.”
The nominees and their complimentary guests take up most of the seats at the Palace Theatre, Nowak said. Sponsors help make up the cost for these unpaid seats, she said.
The Sammys also received a grant from state assembly member Rachel Hunter, which put this year’s award show budget back to pre-pandemic levels, Nowak said. Funding for the awards ceremony comes almost entirely from ticket sales and sponsors. Sammys officials, like Nowak, are all volunteers.
Nowak took over leadership of the Sammys from its founder Frank Malfitano, who produced the first award ceremony in 1993. Those involved in the Sammys, like Nowak and Malfitano, believe in the local music scene’s contributions to the greater community.
“Culture is a fundamental part of life. We have an incredible American musical heritage, and I don’t think we’re taking full advantage of it,” Malfitano said.
The Syracuse music scene contributes largely to the economy of the city, Nowak said, from driving sales in music stores to venues like the Palace Theatre, nearing 100 years old, according to owner Stephen Skinner.
“We just think the Sammy Awards and the Palace Theatre go hand-in-hand,” Skinner said. “We’re excited to be able to host it. It’s one big, large music family in this town.”
🎶This week’s SAMMYS Showcase features
The Balswinsville Pep Band – “Plan Bee” & SAMMYS Hall of Fame educator- Casey VanderStouw. Tune into @Newschannel9 @BridgeStreetTV on Thurs Feb 23 @ 10am. 📺🎶 @BCSDBEES @sammyawards 🥁🎺 pic.twitter.com/yoY5Aq8uCN
— Syracuse Area Music (@sammyawards) February 22, 2023
The process for nomination requires artists to submit recordings, which Malfitano said encourages artists to record and release their work. The recipient of the annual Best New Artist award earns six hours of recording time in SubCat studios in Syracuse.
The first year after the pandemic outbreak began, the Sammys streamed the ceremony from SubCat Studios.
“We’re talking about an old dog, with new tricks, because it was all so new,” Nowak said. “But as a board we felt like, that many people recorded, we can’t skip a year. They needed to be recognized for what they accomplished.”
Malfitano, a Syracuse native, was running the Landmark Theater at the time and had also founded Syracuse Jazz Fest. As a Syracuse music advocate, he recognized need in the community for a way to honor local musicians.
“(The Sammys) happened organically,” Malfitano said. “There was a need and we met the need. The talent was so outstanding here. For them to not have an annual award like the Grammys that recognized their achievements, and their artistry, it just didn’t make any sense.”
Performances at Friday’s ceremony will include The Carolyn Kelly Blues Band, Brownskin Band, Chuck Shiele’s Quatro, Not Robots! and Trauma Cat. Carolyn Kelly is also one of five local artists who will be inducted in the Sammys’ Hall of Fame this year. The Hall of Fame inductee dinner will take place Thursday night at Dinosaur BBQ.
Its artists like Kelly and everyone being honored this Thursday and Friday night that inspired Maltifano to start the awards over 30 years ago, he said. He believed artists who choose to be based in their hometown or a small city shouldn’t be overlooked, rather celebrated for their achievements.
“People may not think of us like they think of Nashville, or New York, or Los Angeles, or New Orleans,” Malfitano said. “We may not be perceived as a music town, but believe me, we are one hell of a music town.”