Event a ‘once in a lifetime gig’

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“It’s like a day of Woodstock – it’s something really special and diverse.” 

Throughout his vast musical career, locally-renowned performer and retired music teacher Scott Rutledge has played alongside an array of talented area performers to nationally recognized Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and Grammy-nominated legends.

From performing at local venues to cruise ship gigs and CD collaborations, the lead vocalist and trumpeter of Classified has formed bonds and friendships with some of music’s elite.  

Rutledge plans to bring the connections he has formed through his music career to his hometown of Rome when he and other organizers present the 200th Anniversary Celebration of the Erie Canal at Bellamy Harbor Park on Saturday, July 22.

The all-day celebration will include performances by three acts — Classified, Salt City Jazz Collective and Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra — giving Rome possibly it’s first exposure to world music, the artist said. The festivities will also feature Arts Along the Erie and fireworks.

“People are in for a treat to hear so many high-quality bands at once,” said Rutledge.

Celebrating their 25th anniversary together, Classified, who has shared the stage with acts such as Earth, Wind, and Fire, Eddie Money, and KC & The Sunshine Band, will open the festival with a two-hour set starting at 1 p.m. 

“Clear sound is key, the stage has to be big enough for gear, and we need calm weather because we have a firework show set up for the night,” said Rutledge with crossed fingers. “We don’t really have a plan B at the moment, so we need all of these factors to work out for us.”

Salt City Jazz Collective, a 16-piece band, will follow Classified and take the stage at 4 p.m. Retired high school band director from Skaneateles and Frankfort native Angelo Candela, leader of the band since 2014, has performed with the jazz band the first Wednesday of every month since 1995 at the Syracuse Suds Factory in Armory Square. 

“In addition to classic big band compositions we perform original works of band members,” the trombonist said. “Most of the musicians in the group are current or retired teachers of music in central New York.”

Staying true to his love of local talent, Rutledge sits in with the Salt City Jazz Collective on occasion.

“Salt City Jazz Collective is one of the best jazz ensembles around,” he said. “I occasionally sit in with them when I get the chance. I have come to find that the big-band concept in central New York is more popular than it is in New York City.”

Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra will close out the night at 7 p.m. The 12-piece band, formed in 1980 by Bronx-native Torres, has performed at events such as Bill and Hilary Clinton’s state Democratic Convention and for former governors George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer’s inauguration. 

“Alex Torres’ band is one of the best Latin Orchestras in all of America,” Rutledge said. “I saw him once in concert in the Albany area and I talked to him backstage and said, ‘We need to bring you to Rome.’ When asked who to close out for this event, I originally suggested a national act — someone big to bring to the area and stir up interest. But when it was clear that the event planners wanted a regional act, I immediately said Alex Torres and his band.”

While his ambition for performing is ever-present, Rutledge said he’s witnessed the changing local music scene and fears where the current state of live acts is headed. That’s what makes the collaboration on July 22 so special, he said.

“The worst two things to happen to music are the ability to record it instantly and share it online and DJs,” he explained. “Live music is interactive — it’s and experience to be lived in person. Today, the aspect of live music is dead because of technology and the ability to search for any kind of music at any time and getting thousands of different videos to watch. By the late 80s, the rise of DJs decreased Classified’s sales by 40 percent.” 

Despite the obstacles that stand in the way, Rutledge is optimistic for an improvement to take place in the music business.

“The greatness of the music scene could, I hope, be back shortly, but there are just so many factors against us,” Rutledge said. “However, the environment for performers is different and venues are more willing to squash live music because DJs can be hired for a few hundred dollars, compared to a band, who requires much more than that to make a living.”

He continued, “For example, Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest musicians to date, however, he was working for peanuts. To me, farmers and musicians are treated the same — like absolute crap, which is ironic because I believe that they are the life line of America. Farmers obviously provide the food, but musicians provide the dreams and the memories that can be relived years later.”

Still a teacher at heart, Rutledge said he hopes the next generation of musicians will have a desire to express themselves, keeping local music alive. That effort will need the help of parents, teachers and the community, he said.

“The dedication and work ethic of music teachers has gone up — the quality of teachers is higher,” he said. “My mother never once told me to practice my music, simply because I was always practicing. Today, students face the issue of choosing between sports or music, which is immoral. Kids lives are like a kaleidoscope, their focus is always changing. With parents and grades breathing down their necks, a student’s importance and focus tends goes one way to suit their talents rather than their interests. Let students be themselves.”

The excitement to play back in his hometown is evident, and Rutledge claims the area has become more cultured than it was in the past. 

“Rome is starting to become more diverse with it’s food, entertainment, and atmosphere,” he said with a smile. “This event is drawing three national quality acts all at once, which I think is one of the biggest things to come to Rome in a while.”

“These three bands leave everything on stage and give it their all — trust me,” Rutledge declared. “I value music because I can give back to someone, whether it be just a smile or a memory. This will be a mega-concert and we are hoping that people 20-30 years from now can reminisce about this event. It’s a once in a lifetime gig.”

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