Schenectady grads bring bands to Northern Lights

Saturday could be called “Schenectady High School Night” at Northern Lights (North Country Commons,

Saturday could be called “Schenectady High School Night” at Northern Lights (North Country Commons, 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park). Bands staffed by Schenectady High grads team up in a back-home-from-college showcase: the Late Night Show, Filming Ohio, Fall in Fighting, and the Hamilton Hill Steel Drum Band — the most unusual and best-known of the four groups.

A new book by writer Trish Marx and photographer Ellen Senisi celebrates the remarkable achievement evoked by its title “Steel Drumming at the Apollo,” and the CD that comes with the book encapsulates the energy of the music that powered that achievement. Formed from a three-man nucleus — Spencer Anderson, Ahmel and Aaron Williams — the group grew into a seven-piece percussion juggernaut when Miki Conn of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center encouraged them to build a bigger sound for the Apollo Theater’s Super Top Dog talent competition, a series of Amateur Night battles in fabled Harlem showcase.

The book is the story of their journey from individual high school music students to an ensemble of very unified and accomplished players and performers who bonded tightly in the high-pressure crucible of four competitive appearances at the Apollo — three of which they won.

“It’s more than just about the music,” said bassist Steven Senisi on a recent visit with this writer.

“We’re like brothers,” agreed drummer Andre Brown, who won the Butzel Award of the John Sayles School of the Arts at Schenectady High School and now attends Berklee College of Music in Boston. “We’re from the same high school, the same band program and the same teachers, and it has built a strong bond.”

The three founders — Spencer Anderson and the Williams brothers (who are his half-brothers) — had been playing the Trinidadian steel pan drums that are common in calypso for several years at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center when Brown, Senisi and other newcomers met them before auditions held at Proctors.

“We saw the guys’ abilities, and the sound was just killin’,” recalled Brown. “It’s a great thing to have this group and be able to express ourselves together,” he added. “This is not your average steel pan band,” explained Senisi. “We play a fusion of jazz, R&B, funk, rock and Gospel,” he added. “We listen to calypso, but we approach this music with our own style.”

In fact, the members of the Hamilton Hill Steel Band love all styles of music and echoes of metal erupt alongside hip-hop cadences, a Gospel shout-out might soar over a funk groove and jazz licks punctuate a rock riff. The music has skill, as well as variety, plus the heft and force of confidence and the uplift of a brothers-like connection among the players.

The Late Night Show said a loud and spirited farewell from the Music Haven stage in Central Park last summer, shortly after graduation. They gave their friends in Filming Ohio, led by Justin Friello, their first gig, opening for the Late Night Show at the Van Dyck. Fall in Fighting is so new they didn’t have a name until Wednesday night. Steven Senisi plays in the new group, with guitarist brother Will Senisi and drummer Ricardo Barney. Andre Brown also does double duty, playing drums with The Late Night Show.

Show time is 7 p.m. Admission is $7. Phone 371-0071 or visit

Miki Conn of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center will be selling the book/CD package at Northern Lights on Saturday.

Also, author Trish Marx, photographer Ellen Senisi and members of the Hamilton Hill Steel Band will sign copies of “Steel Drumming at the Apollo: The Road to Super Top Dog” on Jan. 19 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at The Open Door Bookstore (128 Jay St., Schenectady). Phone 346-2719 for more information. Published by Lee & Low Books, the book sells for $22 and includes the band’s eight-song CD.

“I’m always looking for a good story,” photographer Ellen Senisi said, explaining the origin of the book. “One of my kids [bassist Steven Senisi] is in the group, and I realized this was right here, and it’s a good story.”

She added, “The school is a hotbed of music, with kids constantly working on each other’s projects.”


While these four bands full of Schenectady High grads rock Northern Lights on Saturday, another Schenectady High grad returns to town to play: Andy Campolieto with his Boston-based band Jo Henley at Red Square (388 Broadway, Albany).

Campolieto and guitarist Ben Lee formed a series of bands after meeting at Ithaca College and formed Jo Henley after moving to Boston. Their seven-song album “Long Way Home” has a rural, serene sound without being static. It has guitars, fiddle and a spry rhythm section with a thumping lope. And it has really, really good songs — reminiscent of Gram Parsons, “Workingman’s Dead” or the less rowdy side of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. They bring a great bonus on this gig: bass ace Tony Markellis. Also performing: One Trip Garden.

Show time is 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Phone 465-0444 or visit


The three-show concert component of “Loop Sanctuary IV: Dreaming a New Real” at the Chapel + Cultural Center (2125 Burdett Ave., Troy) opens tonight at 7 with “Dreaming a New Real: An Evening of Projected Film, Video and Multimedia Short Works,” all on the subject of dreams.

The works of nearly two-dozen artists from across the United States and as far away as New Zealand and Norway will be presented. As in past years, the talented Sara Ayers serves as curator of “Loop Sanctuary IV,” which began last week with an exhibit by painters G.G. Roberts and Matt Tiernan that runs through Jan. 25. Admission to tonight’s multimedia presentation is free.

Coming up: The Firlefanz Puppets on Jan. 18 and the Beige Channel, Twisted Pair and the Axe Iron Suns (Ayers’s band) on Jan. 25. Phone 274-7793 or visit

Categories: Life and Arts

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