Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saranac Thursdays in tune for a swingin' summer

So, I just got out of the rain after covering the season's first Saranac Thursday. Being at the first thirsty Thursday event always makes me happy - and it's not just the beer; it's one of my favorite events for a few reasons.

1. The beer is yummy (especially their new delicious Summer Brew),
2. It's a local event that attracts thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds,
3. The music never fails to entertain.

Now, I didn't get to spend too much time at the happy hour - about an hour to be exact. (Deadlines call, and I had a story to file.) But, if it were up to me, I could have listened to local band Showtime for the entire time - uninterrupted. I've heard these guys before - but I'll admit I had a few too many beers to properly show my appreciation in the past. But, today, I was able to hear the band clear-headed with hundreds of others who shared my appreciation. I can't remember everything the boys were singing, but what they did sing was clear, in-tune, strong, well-balanced and all-together entertaining. They are the perfect start to what I know will be another incredible summer in local music.

For a list of other bands playing Saranac Thursdays this summer, go to

Diana Ross, Gene Simmons and Etta James

I know I've been on an Etta James kick since I saw the concert earlier in the month, but it was that good. If you didn't catch the column I wrote this week in Fusion about the concert and my dad's influence on my music tastes, please check it out at

That column generated some nice comments and e-mails from some of our readers. I wanted to share this e-mail from Darryl Mattison, who also attended the concert. His story about his first Etta James' concert made me smile and I think will make you smile, too.

He wrote:

"I thought you might enjoy the story of the last time I saw her, which was with my wife at the Lone Star Cafe in Manhattan, early 80's. We were sitting in the balcony next to a couple - middle aged white guy with an absolutely gorgeous black chick who looked vaguely familiar. Etta was doing "Miss You", and getting the audience to sing along with the "Na-na-na-na-nanana"s. The balcony wasn't doing its part, so she looked up and said "C'mon y'all up there, what's the matter? I see that Miss Diana Ross is singin'!" Doh! By the end of the tune my wife and Diana were dancing and giving each other high fives, and the guy and I were smiling and loving the show. Only later did we figure out that he was Gene Simmons from Kiss!"

Thanks Darryl!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Emelia Failing doesn't fail

There's a young talent brewing in our hills and valleys.

Let me introduce you to 17-year-old Emelia Failing. She's been performing - quietly - in local coffee shops and festivals over the past two years, and I expect, if we're lucky, we'll be hearing a lot more from Emelia in the future.

I happened across Emelia because of her nomination as an Observer-Dispatch Teen All-Star - a recognition the newspaper gives to outstanding local teens. Failing is outstanding in many ways - a 98 G.P.A., a scholar athlete, a regular volunteer in her community. But it's her music that stands out to me.

With a voice comparable to popular pop/folk artists, such as Colbie Caillat and Regina Spektor, it's not surprising that Emelia has a strong online following. What is surprising is her mature grasp of songwriting and ability to create emotion-filled pieces that seem beyond her age. Emelia says the songs currently on her MySpace profile are older and less sophisticated writings and she expects to post newer pieces in the coming months, that she says offer a much more complex sound.

Even more impressive is Emelia's ability to recognize and utilize the wealth of talent around her. She performs and learns from her veteran musical counterparts as often as possible and says she thinks of the talent that surrounds her as "special." Let's hope Emelia sticks around to be a part of that landscape, too.

In the meantime, check her out at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sounds of summer

Summer's just about here, and there is nothing I love more than sitting on my porch and guzzling a Utica Club to the sounds of summer. By sounds of summer, I mean music, of course.

I have a couple favorite summer play lists filled with a little bit of everything, including reggae, rock and bluegrass, but my friends - and even I - am getting sick of me pulling out the same play list at every summer beerbeque.

So, help me out. Add to my play list with some of your own favorites. Here's a start:

“Boombastic” by Shaggy
“Summer Nights” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John
“Jammin” by Bob Marley (and pretty much every Bob Marley song ever made)
"Let's Hear it for the Boy" by Deniece Williams
"Summertime" by Sublime
“Girls” by the Beastie Boys
"Sunny Day" by Zach Deputy

OK, so now that you've seen what I've been working with, shoot me a comment with your summer songs.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

State fair lineup rockin'

For those of you who may have missed my previous entry that Kid Rock has been announced as a performer at the New York State Fairgrounds Sept. 5, here's a reminder. Tickets are likely to go quick so get 'em now.

The state fair will host other sweet performers as well, including:
Kelly Clarkson with Gavin DeGraw: Thursday, Aug. 27
Kenny Chesney with Jake Owen: Friday, August 28
"Crüe Fest 2" featuring Mötley Crüe with Godsmack, Theory of a Deadman, Drowning Pool and Charm City Devils: Thursday, Sept. 3
Big & Rich with Cowboy Troy and Candy Coburn: Friday, Sept. 4
Sara Evans: Thursday, Aug. 27
Boyz II Men: Friday, Aug. 28
Darius Rucker: Sunday, Aug. 30
Rick Springfield: Wednesday, Sept. 2
Switchfoot: Friday, Sept. 4

Visit for ticket information.

Etta James still legendary

I'm speechless. It's all because of Etta James.

Last night's concert at the Turning Stone proved some legends will never die. At 71, Etta James took the stage like a swanky, sexy - and dare I say feisty - 20-something. With second row center seats in the Showroom, I heard every whisper intended to be just for her and her bandmates, witnessed every flirty smile she shared with the front row of gentlemen, and saw every gleam and glitter from the gold sequins that decorated her vest.

I wasn't even born yet when Etta James was making her mark on the world, but decades later I can see what made this soulfoul crooner last. Whether she sang her classics: "At Last," "Come to Mama" or pleased crowds with a Janis Joplin cover, Etta James delivered. I was easily overcome with emotion as she belted every note with a vigor and emotion that couldn't possibly come from anywhere but pure love.
But it was Etta James' ability to capture audiences with her personality - tart tongue, seductive gaze, sexually-charged interchange and genuine appreciation - that drew me in past her musical ability.

Beyond the experience of being witness to this legend's performance, the concert provided another example to me of the Mohawk Valley's role as a premiere entertainment hub. It's hard to believe a woman of Etta James' caliber and legendary stature would spend her Tuesday night just 20 minutes from Utica. Once again, I am awed by what the Mohawk Valley offers to us in terms of entertainment. I will consider Etta James' performance at age 71 a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm proud to say I was able to experience it without leaving our area.

Turning Stone will host upcoming acts including Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago; No Doubt and Third Eye Blind. Check out for more.