On June 4, 2009, the Syracuse Area Music Awards inducted Mike Greenstein into the Sammys Hall of Fame along with rhythm and blues singer Otis Smith, the Dean Brothers, singer-songwriter Donna Colton, music educator Carolyn Pardee and the Syracuse New Times Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, jazz disc jockey Leo Rayhill. Here are some photos and remarks from the reception, which took place in the new upstairs banquet room at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Dave Rezak’s Introduction
David M. Rezak is director of Syracuse University’s Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries.
It is my honor this evening, to tell you why my friend, adviser, co-producer and co-conspirator Michael Greenstein is being inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame.
Mike came to Syracuse University in the fall of 1966. He earned his bachelor’s in 1970 and masters in ’74, both in newspaper from Newhouse.
After graduation, Greenie joined the legions that came to SU, liked it here and stayed to enrich our community: Consider Syracuse’s #1 Mets fan Susie Greenstein (Mike’s wonderful sister), Jim Boehiem, Rose Bernthal and my amazing mom, Polly Rezak.
In the Syracuse of the late 1960s, there was no texting, Twittering or social networking. To get ink for musical happenings, we had to hang posters and beg Joan Vadeboncoeur to squeeze in a mention (in the Herald-Journal).
But when Mike Greenstein joined the Syracuse New Times in 1970, all that changed. A tastemaker who actually listened to new artists’ cassettes (they were little tape thingies…) and got excited about quality efforts.
Mike understood from the beginning that a vibrant music scene required both talented musicians and an appreciative audience, and he worked to bring them together.
The New Times had a decidedly cynical point of view on most topics, but music was previewed and reviewed with reverence and enthusiasm.
So it came to pass that hanging out at the Comstock Avenue house that The New Times called home became a frequent pastime of mine. Mikey became editor in 1971, and The New Times became an award-winning arts and entertainment weekly.
And Greenis did some “Hanging Out” of his own: at Jabberwocky, the Brookside, Under the Stone, the Firebarn and all the legendary venues of the day. He saw to it that the Central New York music scene got serious attention: features, covers, Times Table picks and reviews.
He saw what he had wrought and it was good; and on the fifth year he rested…OK, he got fired…but only for a short while, until the publisher realized that Greenstein was the personification of The New Times.
He returned within months as a music columnist. His devotion to his beat and some internal politics dictated the adoption of a nom de plume: Mr. Goodvibes, a nickname coined by musician and New Times writer J. T. Hall. Conspiracy theorists have suggested this was to avoid accusations of conflict of interest, as Mikey was also managing the mercurial Duke Fairfax and the Zany Bazookas.
As a music writer, Mr. Goodvibes earned an unprecedented level of credibility with readers and music industry folks. He was THE recognized Syracuse music gatekeeper. Local and national PR folks sought out Mikey for exposure and help.
Mike became editor-in-chief again in January 1986, a post he held for 12 more years. During that time, The New Times won more than 200 awards from New York Press Association, Syracuse Press Club and Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In 1996, Mike received the Syracuse Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award.
During this period, Mikey also served as a founding member of the Sammys board, and he chaired one of the Sammy Awards shows. He and I collaborated on some of these at the Landmark Theater. Linda Rezak will tell you that I came home frequently during that time saying, “Thank God we’ve got Mikey.” At the same time, amazingly, he was also teaching at SU and Le Moyne.
But somehow he found time to woo and marry the lovely and dynamic Heather Tully. This ultimately resulted in Mikey and Heather moving on to grungier pastures in Seattle in 1998.
But Mike Greenstein’s influence was and is still felt in Central New York. He proved to The New Times and The Post-Standard that their readers want to know more about their music community. He set the standard: Music journalists should not dwell in an ivory tower but assimilate into the fabric of the music scene.
Please join me in a long overdue welcome for Sammys Hall of Famer Mike Greenstein.
Mike’s Acceptance Speech
(more or less)
Thanks, David, for that wonderful introduction. And thank you, Sammys board members, present and past, for nominating and choosing me for this award. I am truly honored to accept it, and I appreciate it very much.
It’s already 11 years since Heather and I moved to Seattle, and while we love it there, we still come back to Syracuse every summer, and it always feels great to get back to a place where at least a few people know your name. No matter how many times we leave, Syracuse will always feel like home, because the things that matter most to us are here.
Syracuse music is a big part of that.
When I moved to Seattle, I had a wall full of vinyl LPs and not one working turntable. I wasn’t about to move all those albums cross-country just to put them in storage. So I sold them all to a used-record guy from Rochester who did me a big favor by picking them up.
Since vinyl has gotten popular again, this probably wasn’t the best business decision I ever made. But I am still happy about it. Now, instead of lugging around several hundred pounds of vinyl–and the cinderblocks and thick wooden shelving to support it–I can carry around 20,000 or more of my favorite songs in my pocket. That’s what I call progress.
As that tells you, I’m into convenience. When I listen to music these days, I usually put my iPod on Shuffle and just let it play. Not only is it fast and easy, but I enjoy the diversity of hearing rock, blues, jazz, country, bluegrass and everything else randomly, one after another.
What always brings a smile to my face is when I hear a Dylan song followed by one from Ed Hamell or Martin Sexton, or Joe Whiting followed by Ray Charles, or the Neville Brothers and Muddy Waters followed by Roosevelt Dean or Li’l Georgie or Out of the Blue. Each set seamless, each song an equal–and yet each one from the Syracuse musicians a little more special to me.
In accepting this award, I’d like to thank the Syracuse New Times, which for more than 30 years provided me a soapbox to pursue my passions for journalism and music. I hope that during my stewardship the paper helped legitimize and promote the existence of the fertile Syracuse music scene that we celebrate tonight.
My heartiest thanks go to Art and Shirley Zimmer, who rescued The New Times and wrote the first check to establish the Sammy Awards. And of course to photographer, musician and Sammys Hall of Famer Mike Davis– no one is more intertwined with journalism and music in Syracuse than Mike. And thanks also to the colleagues I worked with to get the paper out every week, and to all the freelancers gave their time to write about music for the paper, just because of their passion–and an occasional free record.
And I would like to acknowledge all my music-loving friends–many of whom are here tonight, some in the flesh and some in spirit. They shared and encouraged my musical interests and drove with me to Utica and Geneva and Ithaca on snowy nights in beat-up cars with bad defrosters, just to see bands, because it mattered to us to be there.
To all of you, thanks for the buzz.
And finally, to the Syracuse musicians who have entertained and inspired me, thank you.
I applaud you all.