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Salt City Summerfest Aims To Bring Entertainment To Festival-Starved Downtown Syracuse

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Scott Willis
Guitarist and vocalist Mark Hoffmann and CNY Jazz Executive Director Larry Luttinger share a laugh at Tuesday's announcement.

The dearth of music and cultural festivals in downtown Syracuse for the second consecutive summer means less activity for restaurants, bars, and retailers that count on the foot traffic to drive business. But not all is lost; CNY Jazz has created a unique 7-week festival featuring small stationary and strolling performances to fill the void.

It’s being billed as the Salt City Summerfest. CNY Jazz executive director Larry Luttinger says he wanted to find a safe way to bring live entertainment while still supporting the economy.

"This is going to be a difficult summer for folks to get through with the minimal festival activity. Remember, more than 100,000 people that come to festivals in downtown Syracuse, and that's largely absent this summer."

He says lingering pandemic concerns combined with numerous street closures due to construction means thinking differently about they normally put on large events like the Northeast Jazz and Wine festival.

"There's no big stage in Clinton Square. There's no headliner. There's no beverage tent," he said with a chuckle. "The fun factor of drawing a huge crowd of thousands is just not there. That's because this year, the cards are stacked against that concept. It's just not viable."

So, Luttinger says these smaller, pop-up events should fit the bill.

"You may be a barber shop quartet stop by and do a tune. You may see a country violinist. You may see Mark Hoffmann strolling around. You may see a do-op group. I know you're going to see Syracuse Ballet doing 2 and 3 minute pop-up dances to surprise diners. You're going to possibly see a Shakespearean character walk up and do a soliloquy."

Assemblymembers Bill Magnarelli, Pam Hunter, and Al Stirpe helped secure funding for the event. Stirpe says this gives musicians and others an outlet to perform.

"They live and breathe performing, and when there's no place to go, it's tough on them, like everyone else it takes a mental and emotional toll."

Several corporate sponsors also stepped up, including title sponsor Berkshire Bank and several downtown businesses. Performances begin Friday, July 23rd and continue through September 11th. A schedule of artists and locations is forthcoming. More information is at

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provided photo
CNY Jazz
The Salt City Summerfest isn't a new concept; this was from Arts in Motion in 2013.