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Rochester Music Hall of Fame makes up for lost time

John Dady
Dresden Engle
Rochester Music Hall of Fame
John Dady, giving his acceptance speech as the Dady Brothers are inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. Joe Dady died in 2019.

Before Sunday night’s induction ceremony and concert, John Dady promised -- he promised, dammit! -- he would keep it together when he and his late brother Joe were officially welcomed into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. After two COVID-induced delays, he’d had plenty of time to steel himself for the moment.

Every event, every venue, is struggling to get back to where they were just a couple of years ago. The Rochester Music Hall of Fame is no exception. The event has sold out this concert in past years, but for this ninth class of inductees the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre was maybe half full. Did it matter? It only mattered that the show finally had to go on, according to Hall of Fame President Jack Whittier. “We had to, we had to do it,” he said, urgency in his voice, at the evening’s pre-show gathering.

So the Class of 2022 – or is it the Class of 2020? – welcomed Nancy Kelly, a Wheatland Chili kid who’s sang the world. A chanteuse who’s released six albums and was named “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” twice in the “DownBeat” magazine readers poll. And she’s jazz-club enough to ask for a glass of whiskey as she settled in for her performance.

Jazz drummer and percussionist Roy McCurdy returned to Rochester for the first time since 1999. Now teaching in California, and playing and looking decades younger than his 85 years, McCurdy was born in Rochester, studied percussion through some Eastman School of Music programs and was an under-age regular playing now-lost Rochester legends such as The Pythodd Club before moving on to accompany some of the biggest names in jazz.

You have to go behind the scenes to find the night’s other two inductees. Mick Guzauski is a Grammy-winning sound engineer and producer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Prince and Eric Clapton. Rochester’s Prime Time Funk, the event’s house band all these years, bulked up with a handful of vocalists for a medley of Guzauski hits, preceded by video testimonials from three satisfied customers: Michael Bolton, fellow Rochester Music Hall of Famer Don Potter, and Wang Leehom, a Rochester native and Eastman grad who is a huge star in China.

Mike Laiacona founded the Greece-based Whirlwind, which provides technology for virtually every concert venue and tour today. As a teenage bassist, he described how he got into that end of the business: One day his father smashed all of his equipment and told Laiacona to get ready for the real world. Laiacona’s response was to start building his own amps. His induction was accompanied by a set by the Los Angeles soul, funk and rockers, Fishbone. The energy level went up about 360 degrees with that one.

Roy McCurdy at Rochester Music Hall of Fame
Dresden Engle
Rochester Music Hall of Fame
Jazz drummer Roy McCurdy inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame on May 1, 2022, receiving the honor from his daughter, Sydney McCurdy

The evening’s other out-of-town guest musical act followed the ceremony’s tradition of not really having a lot to do with Rochester or the inductees. But we don’t get much of an opportunity to hear guitarist Steve Stevens, still in his mop of MTV hair, ripping through a couple of songs he used to do with Billy Idol, “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell.”

Late additions to this year’s list of inductees were The Eastman School of Music, celebrating its centennial, and the host for the night’s event, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. They were serenaded into the Hall by the exquisite, student-fueled groups The Sequoia Reed Quintet, The Genesee Trio and Dave Rivello’s Eastman New Jazz Ensemble.

Despite the damage to live entertainment wrought by COVID, some constants remained from previous years. And the Lowry Award, named for the school’s late dean, Douglas Lowry, went to classical singer Emma Grace Wade, who absolutely blew away the audience.

But it was the induction of The Dadys that was the emotional core of the night. The duo, spreading their populist folk from here to Ireland, alongside greats such as Pete Seger, playing an estimated 7,000 gigs. Even after Joe’s death from leukemia in 2019, John has continued on.

And Sunday night, he spread the love around the stage, with Dady Brothers music presented by a band of guitarists Pat Maloney and Steve Piper, Al Keltz on pedal steel, Ben Proctor on banjo, bassist Gary Holt, drummer Jim McAvaney, Perry Cleveland on mandolin and John Ryan on accordion. Plus, John’s daughter, Mara Jones, and his son, Connor, with the vocals. A crowd somewhat representative of the local scene, although if that were the goal it could have sprawled even further into orchestra dimensions.

It was Connor Dady, John's son, who sang Joe’s song “My Old Conesus Cabin.” Joe, who died the year before it was announced The Dadys were to be inducted, did have a cabin on Conesus Lake. And he was present in more than song. Joe had been cremated, and some of his ashes made it to the stage Sunday night.

“The music we made,” said John Dady, as he broke his pre-show promise, “was so god-dern good.”

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.