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Snow Plow Blues Festival Adds to Syracuse's Musical Depth

  Tired of snow? Snow plows? Winter?

Too bad. It's only the first week of February. (And we did have a rather tame January as far as the white stuff was concerned, mind you.)

And there's a chance to embrace what is come Feb. 20, when a new music event kicks off at the Palace Theater. It's called the Snow Plow Blues Festival, and Syracuse promoter and event stager Tom Honan of Live Space Entertainment has designs to make this an annual feature around here.

The lineup in the revitalized old theater on James Street is a mix of Syracuse musicians, regional favorites and an interesting talent from down south: On the bill are Los Blancos, the Carolyn Kelly Blues Band, Phil Petroff and Natural Fact, Professor Louie (from down Woodstock way) with singer from his band Crowmatix Miss Marie, and Eli Cook from Virginia. Doors open at 6 p.m., music will start at 7, and tickets are $20. They're available at Sound Garden in Armory Square and online at Brown Paper tickets.

"I have sort of a blind faith in the CNY blues fans, so their joyful presence along with a major-league lineup will be what makes this thing take off and grow, and perhaps travel," says Honan, who has brought a handful of shows to the Palace, staged a series in the Persian Terrace before the Hotel Syracuse closed and, more recently, had a steady presence of national/local mash-ups at the Catherine Cummings Theatre in Cazenovia.

Honan says he thinks is a natural because of Syracuse's longstanding zeal for the blues.  "Some red-hot blues in the middle of winter is a fine way to melt away the cold.  I believe there are many music fans who would agree with that.  I also think it is a good thing to keep blues music energy going year-round.  I hope it will energize people at this time of year when the Blues Fest committee is doing their good work.  As former Blues Fest board chair, I have a great respect and a soft spot for it and the people who produce it.  I hope we can help each other."

The lineup came together naturally, Honan says. Los Blancos and Petroff have been mainstays in Syracuse for decades. Kelly's star rose when veteran and Salt City favorite Roosevelt Dean enlisted his old friend on stage toward the end of his illustrious career before he passed away from cancer, and she's gone on with many of his band members since.

"I've been talking with (keyboard player) Mark Nanni  about several other projects, so it was easy to invite Los Blancos.  Those guys are always on my first-call list.  As far as (singer) Carolyn Kelly and (guitarist) Phil Petroff, I owe a lot to Carolyn's manager/band mate Jim Pavente.  He and I had a chat at the St. Camillus 'Respect' event.  That was the first time I had seen Carolyn perform and I was blown away.  Jim then suggested Phil, who I've been a great fan of for some time. Pretty awesome that everybody was available," Honan says. "Most importantly, everybody in each band absolutely loves to play, and that is a great gift to an audience."

Professor Louie, meanwhile, has become a regular and Honan-produced shows here and in the region. And, yes, Honan hopes to bring this festival to other places in New York state and possibly further, too.
"Louie and I go back to the late 90's when I did a show with Rick Danko at the Hotel Syracuse," Honan says.  "Louie came up with Rick, and they put on an awesome show, and we became fast friends.  I have learned a great deal about the music business from him.  He's been around the world and loves playing in Central New York.  He is also producing an album for the CNY band Way Down Wailers at SubCat Studios.  He's is also a huge Los Blancos fan, and is looking forward to playing with them.  Oh, have I mentioned that he is a monster keyboard/accordion player and Miss Marie can bring the house down with her big voice?"

Not to forget about Cook, who's earned this comment from John Mayer on his web site: "Mystifying."

"I met Eli at a conference last month in New York and was immediately impressed with his knowledge and work ethic," Honan says.  "Also, many trusted colleagues at the conference spoke very highly of him.  He is a versatile rocker and well-grounded bluesman who has done some great gigs around the country.  The fact that he is driving up to Syracuse from Virginia should tell us a lot about his commitment to the music and to an audience."

Oh, by the way, as all that blues is going on, the second of two weekends of Syracuse's annual  Winterfest will be getting ready to unwind. Embrace your inner snow fan.

Mark Bialczak has lived in Central New York for 30 years. He's well known for writing about music and entertainment. In 2013, he started his own blog,, to comment about the many and various things that cross his mind daily.