Cam Caruso playing

In this summer 2021 file photo, notes could be heard for city blocks as the Port City filled with music during Oswego’s sixth Porchfest. During which, streets throughout the historic Franklin Square and Montcalm park neighborhoods turned from popular commuter routes into venues fit for crowds. More than 60 musical acts took hold of resident’s porches throughout the afternoon playing a variety of music from decades worth of music genres. Oswego-native Cam Caruso, pictured above, was among the slew of performers and once on 80 W. Fifth St.’s front steps.

Happy New Year, Oswego County! 

It’s a bittersweet and albeit extremely stressful time for many of us that puts an incredible damper on the celebration of the coming of 2022. With the threat of the spread of the Omicron variant hitting close to home for hundreds, if not thousands, of Oswego County residents, fear of catching COVID-19, combined with thoughts of “Is this thing ever going to end?” have really bogged us down. Are our kids going to stay in school? Who gets to determine what is safe anymore and what voices of authority should we trust? How credible is Dr. Fauci? Who should we be listening to now – especially with COVID guidance changing practically every week? So many of us are turning our backs on the new CDC guidance about shortened isolation periods for fully vaccinated individuals returning to work. So much so, in fact, that it’s become a meme all over social media. 

If there’s one thing that’s been the key to my own personal escapism from the risk of “doom-scrolling” on social media, it’s been the existence of live music in Oswego County and central New York — and now, once again, singer-songwriters and the prospect of music and concert venues are at risk once again. 

It’s a miracle that live music was able to survive after being economically death-gripped for months by CDC guidance and being deemed “non-essential” by the Cuomo administration.

In the era of the Cuomo administration, one thing that truly pressed my buttons was how quickly “non-essential” staples of communities became betrayed by their own state government. 

After so many across the state were forced to shutter their hard-fought family businesses, thousands were left in the dark — questioning how on earth they were supposed to supplement their income. But the risk of COVID exposure was too great, and the hardest pill to swallow was that if we were going to try to save lives, some of things that we loved so much would have to be put on the back burner for a while. 

Bless the musicians whose main source of income is bringing joy to people through the presence of live music. With everything from intimate live performances to Open Mic Nights at places like Curtis Manor and Bridie Manor to paid concerts at places like the Oswego Music Hall, I have an incredible appreciation for the dozens of people that bend over backwards to provide some sense of relief, be it just for a few hours. 

That tip jar or open guitar case while busking on the street or jamming in some local dive bar is more important to these people than we care to realize. Throw them a $20 once in a while — they deserve it. 

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to people like Mike Place, Cam Caruso, Kevin and Loren Barrigar, John McConnell, K Marc Warner, Steven Cali, Rob Ervin, Timothy Stone, and so many others — just to name a few. And then, of course, there’s the bands and duos: the Joe Whiting Band, DAMDOG, the Lisa Lee Duo, 1 Night Stand, The Shylock’s Duo, Tink Bennett & Tailor Made, the Domicolo-Barlow Band, the Hokum Brothers, etc. I apologize if I’m leaving anyone out. But if you’ve made a musical appearance anywhere in Oswego County within the place year, I thank you tremendously. Many of you I’ve never met directly, but I’m incredibly grateful for you. You’ve made a sizable dent in this community and people are starting to notice.

Music saves lives. It promotes cognitive activity in the brain and has even been proven to lower suicide rates in every from youth to adolescents and war veterans. Musicians, you are providing more comfort and relief than you realize to so many in our community — even if they’ve never had the guts to tell you. Pain is a fickle thing, and for many of us, music has become our coping mechanism.

Independent venues face so many challenges going into next year, not least among them the corporate powerhouses and larger concert venues (casinos, amphitheatres, arenas, and the like) that have dominated their industry since long before COVID. 

I recently attended a show at the Syracuse Polish Club featuring my boyfriend’s uncles: Kevin and Loren Barrigar. It was absolutely fabulous and incredibly enjoyable, with delicious crockpot food and drinks available for purchase. Thank you again to the Barrigar family and for the venue for hosting us.

Shows like this are a rarity these days — and yet they shine a bright spotlight on the independent live music industry — which currently teeters on the verge of economic COVID-induced catastrophe. 

Since March of 2020, thousands of independent music venues across the U.S. have remained closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Many of which have opted to stay closed permanently or simply don’t have a choice. As the pandemic drags on into the new year, the existential crisis for these venues and the critical role they play in the local central New York music scene carries on as well. 

A simple thank you would be nice. Economic revitalization and aid would be even nicer.

Introduced to the Senate in July of 2020, the Save our Stages Act authorizes the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues. 

In March of this year, the federal government has announced an amendment to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant — previously the Save Our Stages Act — that allowed entities to apply to both the SVOG and Paycheck Protection Program 2. NIVA, or the National Independent Venue Association, supports the Save Our Stages Act (S. 4258) led by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and (H.R. 7806) led by Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX), which would “provide a critical lifeline for independent venues.” The bill has significant bipartisan support with more than 196 co-sponsors and was included in the Heroes Act passed by the House on Oct. 1, 2020.  

Key provisions of the Act include establishing a $16 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives. Grant funding may be used for payroll and benefits, rent, utilities, mortgage interest payments, interest payments, insurance, PPE, existing loans, payments to 1099 employees, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses.

While we’d love to be directly shoving money into people’s pockets — we also need to keep in mind our local representatives and politicians capable of enacting chance and pushing legislation through that will help keep businesses open and provide stages for Oswego County musicians to perform. 

Tell your legislators you appreciate their support and for including independent venues and promoters in the latest COVID-19 Relief Bill.

But more importantly, please tell the people that provide music in your lives “thank you” this holiday season. 

They certainly deserve it — now more than ever.