Jukebox: Local legends feted in last gathering for a while

Being in the company of fellow music fans won’t be happening for some time, but Caffe Lena has a creative workaround in its “Stay Home Sessions"
Benny Cannavo, on drums at far right, poses with other members of the Accents during the late 1950s.
Benny Cannavo, on drums at far right, poses with other members of the Accents during the late 1950s.

Before stuff changed, 100 music people, my people, gathered in the Eddy Award Hall of Fame induction at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, honoring six giants. Full of musicians, industry people and fans, it was dinner, presentations, performances and speeches. I enjoyed greeting folks I hadn’t seen since J.B. Scotts, others I saw at shows last week. In sweet, friendly fun, folks fist- or elbow-bumped, then shook hands or hugged anyway. Lots of love flowed in standing ovations to the honorees, listed alphabetically here.

Benny Cannavo and the Accents formed in the ’50s to play Italian weddings. They still do, featuring sons and grandsons of the founders. All are still living at 100, 94, 89 and 86 years old.

Blotto exploded from area bars when MTV showed the world their wit and underrated rock mastery.

Always hilarious, the three surviving members joked in joyous shtick in their thanks onstage.

Thanks to Paul Rapp/F. Lee Harvey Blotto for great shout-outs to us music writers by name.

The 1950s-’60s doo-wop group the Fidelitys scored hits and played American Bandstand and the Apollo. How fun to see founder Earl Thorpe plug shows by his current gospel group Heavenly Echoes!

Hit-making country troubadour Hal Ketchum, like Blotto, reached everywhere, from Greenwich across America via the Grand Ole Opry; his brother Frank accepted for him.

Longtime Caffe Lena soundman/photographer Joe Deuel accepted for the late Lena Spencer, who introduced so many artists to us. I remembered my first visit, of hundreds: Mississippi John Hurt was making the deepest music I’d ever heard.

Playing in Schenectady bands including Liquid Giraffe, John Sykes saw music and TV as tickets out of small-town life, going on to combine them by helping invent MTV, VH1 and MusiCares.

Echoes abounded, proving the hugely liberating observation of Sykes’ VH1 partner and current LookTV impresario Jesse Jackson, who attended with wife Antoinette. When Jackson (at ad agency Schnurr & Jackson) won a national TV ad award, he noted, “Creativity has no address.” Blotto played Caffe Lena, whose piano Ketchum helped fund with a benefit show, and Blotto’s “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” aired on MTV’s first day.

Ringing with applause, hoots and hollers, the whole thing had a glow so bright the virus panic had no chance to damp our spirits.

The day before that gathering, Soul Sky, Super 400 and Across the Pond honored the memory of Dustin Mele at Revolution Hall, raising funds to fight suicide. “It was excellent. The bands, all playing Beatles [songs], were great,” said organizer Mark Emanation, guitarist and bandmate of Dustin’s father Joe Mele in Soul Sky. Their band Soul Sky had special guests (singers) Johnny Rabb, Erin Harkes and Heather Meaney. Super 400 also featured guests including Brian Bowes, Steve Candlen and Chris Carey. Emanation said, “I believe it was the best fundraising totals of all seven” (Dustin Mele memorial shows), raising more than $20,000. “It was a great night of community,” he added, explaining that presenting such events “saves my soul.” I first met Emanation when he gave the late Ernie Williams’ blues a framework, a home and a sound; his soul is in fine shape.

Heather Meaney said, “I felt privileged to … join Soul Sky and to witness the strength and impact of the Mele/Quade families, as well as everyone who works at the organizations involved and those who shard their stories.” She said, “There were a lot of courageous and caring people at Revolution Hall that night, and it was an honor to be in their company.”

Being in the company of fellow music fans won’t be happening for some time, but Caffe Lena has a creative workaround in its “Stay Home Sessions.” While its 110 seats will be empty, the Caffe will continue putting performers onstage “at a time when it’s needed most,” said board president Jim Mastrianni. Three cameras will capture performances for livestream on its YouTube channel. “We can’t be together in person for a few weeks, so we’re going to engage people right in their living rooms,” said executive director Sarah Craig, explaining that the Caffe has live-streamed shows for three years. She added that “475 people from around the world tuned in for John Paul White last night!”

Caffe Lena’s 8 p.m. “Stay Home Sessions” present Izzy Heltai and Joan Kelsey’s Silver Lining tonight, Joe Jenks Friday, a Gypsy Jazz Extravaganza Saturday, A Joyful Noise gospel show (1:30 p.m.) Sunday, Warden & Co. Sunday night, and Scott Sharrard on Wednesday. Watchers can tip the musicians online. 

Meanwhile (thanks, Stephen Colbert), in related good news, some venues are paying in full the musicians whose gigs have been canceled, and independent-venue online box office Brown Paper Tickets is urging subscribers to donate to local arts organizations. Hats off to all who act on the recognition of how fragile performers’ income has always been and how jeopardized it now is.

Meanwhile (part two), while Italy reports record casualty numbers from the virus, it also shows us how healing music is. In online videos, singers and players form impromptu orchestras and choruses from balcony to balcony over deserted streets. While our clubs, theaters and concert halls must remain empty now, music can still unite us online and on recordings. Soon, we all hope, we’ll see a return to public, shared music. In “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair wrote, “ … it is the music which changes the place from the rear of a saloon … to a fairy place, a wonderland, a little corner of the high mansions of the sky.”

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts


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