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At the Sammys, time to celebrate like it's the Grammys

Syracuse's version of the Grammys rolls out the red carpet Friday night at the Palace Theatre on James Street.

The Syracuse Area Music Awards -- that's Sammys for short, most conveniently, has been honoring Central New York musicians with shiny black trophies since 1993. Tickets for the 7 p.m. ceremony are $20, and there are still some available for purchase at

If you've never been to a Sammys ceremony, it really does owe its format to the big daddy you can watch every year on CBS. Local celebrity presenters announce the nominations in the best-of categories for a baker's dozen musical styles, open an envelope, and then disclose the winner. (The nominees, which were announced on Feb. 3, and the winners, were selected by a panel of judges.)

Winners and their fans will scream in delight, and happy recipients will march forward to the stage, accept the trophies and raise them high, stare into the lights, and either breathlessly or confidently speak their thanks into the microphone.

All of this will be interspersed with tips of the hat to this year's Hall of Fame inductees, which is quite a class. Entering the Sammys hall will be Bobby Comstock, a singer from Ithaca who was signed by Atlantic Records in the 1950s; Chris Goss, whose work with hometown progressive rockers Masters of Reality branched into studio and performance work in LA and London and ties with Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, Trent Reznor and more; acoustic guitar standout Loren Barrigar, who's grown from Nashville child prodigy to Joe Whiting sideman in international touring standout; rock band The Works, which formed in 1979 and flourished with Ed Hamel, Dave Read, Mike Featherstone, Joey Beccheria and Tom Canfield; educator of the year David Rezak, who booked gigs for decades for local musicians with his DMR Booking Agency until moving Syracuse University, where he now directs the Bandier Program; and lifetime achievement award winner Jon Fishman, drummer for renowned jam  band Phish.

The Sammys people will take your photo on the red carpet and post it on their site.

"I am excited about the Hall of Fame class this year.  We are beyond thrilled to honor this year's hometown music greats," says Liz Nowak, Sammys committee chair.

They'll all be honored Thursday night at a separate dinner and ceremony at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. That's sold out. 

But The Works will also hold a reunion set as the cornerstone of the musical performances Friday night at the Palace. They haven't been on the stage together, the original members or those that shuttled into the band until it broke up in 1987, (Andy Rudy, George Rossi and Jay Harmon), for three decades.

"We are so excited," Nowak says. "After 30-plus years to have The Works perform a reunion show.  The Sammys ticket sales show a lot of out of town attendees coming home to honor their Syracuse favorites. We have sold a ton of tickets."

The Flashcubes perform the Sammys' 2014 reunion set at the Palace Theatre

  In fact, Nowak says she thinks all of the bands taking the stage Friday night will show how strong the scene is.

"I am excited for the Awards show performances:  Joanne Shenandoah, The Ruddy Well Band, Grupo Pagan, Scars n Stripes, and The Works," she says.

Yes, like the Grammys, the actual music is always a highlight.

Shenandoah, the singer-songwriter who's a Sammys hall-of-famer, has in fact won a Grammy and is a leader in Native American music around the world. The Ruddy Well Band will add its rich and rootsy acoustic strings sound, and Grupo Pagan always gloriously delivers world-flavored rock. Scars n Stripes will bring the hard edge.

Time to celebrate like it's our own Grammys. 

Those in the seats may have a closer rooting interest, too in this age of click-to-support. Winners also will be announced in People's Choice categories for band, venue and festival.

"The People's Choice voting broke last year's record with over 125,000 votes counted. The Hall of Fame dinner sold out two weeks ago.  I am excited to honor Syracuse music and the amazing scene we have here. I speak for the entire committee on this," Nowak says.

I'll be there. I've been asked to present one of the awards again, and of course have humbly and graciously accepted the invitation. After all, I still smile every day when I look over at my bookshelf and spy the Founders Award Frank Malfitano decided to grace me in 2013 "for outstanding service and special achievement" covering the music and entertainment scene in Syracuse. Say hello if I don't look too busy.

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.