Promoters, artists discuss Syracuse’s music scene amid pandemic

Promoters, musicians talk future of local scene

At a time when most acts can't perform in-person shows, life for local musical artists is unpredictable.
Published: September 24, 2020
The Westcott Theater marquee on Sept. 23, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many other industries right now, the music business is feeling the deficits that come with a global pandemic. With concerts on-hold indefinitely, musicians and promoters alike are hitting major losses.

This is a global issue, but it impacts every musician from Madonna to the local bands in Central New York. Here in Syracuse, popular music venues like Funk N’ Waffles and the Westcott Theater have yet to welcome live musicians back to their stages. The Westcott has a few virtual events planned for October, but no set date for re-opening.

New York State regulations currently hold that public gatherings must be held outside and cannot have more than 50 people in attendance. This means that the Syracuse music scene is extremely limited, and the indoor venues have little to no options.

Owner and talent buyer at the Westcott Dan Mastronardi said the future is unclear for the Syracuse music scene, and the venue has experienced serious hardship.

“We did a Go Fund me that helped us for about a month and it’s been a struggle since May,” Mastronardi said.

When asked about the future of the Syracuse music scene, he did not have a concrete answer. 

“That is the question that I would like to know as well,” Mastronardi said. “[It’s] too hard to tell just yet.”

In addition to the Go Fund Me, the Westcott Theater is a part of the Save Our Stages campaign. Donations to the movement benefit the National Independent Venues Association as well as support efforts to keep smaller concert venues alive throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Though the local venues feel the negative impacts of COVID-19, musicians based in Syracuse are struggling as well. Syracuse native Dan Poorman is a bassist in the local band Trauma Cat. Poorman, an alum of the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, said the past six months have been a time for musicians in the Syracuse scene to regroup and focus on their art.

“I’ve had a bunch of conversations with my musician friends here, and everyone seems to be on the same page about one thing. Everyone has to actively make an effort through this,” Poorman said. “With the knowledge of everything that’s happening, we just need to take full advantage of that.”

Poorman and his bandmates in Trauma Cat have been using this time to write and record new music. The group is planning to release a full-length album within the next few months.

“We’re gonna see more musicians creating in their home studios and pushing lots of new content,” Poorman said. “But I also think we’re going to see [musicians] finding their footing as to how to market everything since all we have is the internet right now.”

Fellow local musician Cecil Nelson shared Poorman’s views. Also a Syracuse native and current SU Audio Arts graduate student, Nelson plays drums and has performed with multiple local bands and currently works with singer-songwriter Nate Glyn.

“It’s honestly been really tough,” Nelson said. “I am of the belief that the music industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, especially for performing artists. You just can’t do it.”

Despite the devastation COVID-19 has brought to musicians and the industry altogether, Nelson offered words of hope.

“I think the most important thing for musicians to remember right now is just to stay positive and do what you can,” Nelson said. “It’s a great time to write.”