The '80s Feel Kind of Comfortable at SRC Arena After All

Aug 6, 2014

Animation performs at Benny's Lost 80's Bash
Credit Mark Bialczak
  The moment my dear wife Karen and I stepped out of our car and looked toward the SRC Arena on the campus of Onondaga Community College about 15 minutes after 4 on Saturday afternoon, we knew that the organizers of Benny's Lost 80's Bash had decided to set the stage up inside instead of out.

The decision by Syracuse native Greg Ross, the man behind the fundraiser featuring Benny Mardones and the Hurricanes, A Flock of Seagulls, Naked Eyes, Tommy Tutone, Dramarama, Animoton, and Christopher Anton of Information Society, had to come at least the day prior, of course.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but these portable stages and sound systems might barely sneak in under that deadline, so you can't wait until hours before a show is supposed to start and decide if it's going to take place outside on a field or inside an arena.

Lines form outside of SRC Arena
Credit Mark Bialczak

Talking to insiders Friday night at an Eat and Greet at The Gem Diner as Ross circled the premises continually with his cell phone pressed to his ear, I'd heard that he'd been talking to Central New York weather folks about the stretch of time that this concert would take place.

Inside it would be. Good decision. When we left after Tommy Tutone's fun set -- as much I wanted to see the headline set of Mardones, we'd been at OCC almost five hours, I'm not as young as I was when these bands had their hits in the 80s, and, quite simply, I'd had enough --  the ground was already wet. And driving back to Eastwood, we were treated to flashing skies and then a downpour. That would have been a nightmare for fans and bands set up outside.

Pulling into the parking lot, I gladly handed over the $10 fee to the security guard. I'd asked him if it went to the designated charity, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Awareness Fund of CNY, and he's replied yes. Last August, on the behalf of Mardones, Ross orchestrated the first edition at Sharkey's Eclectic Sports Lounge in Liverpool, enlisting fellow Central New York outfit the Todd Hobin Band and five other bands. It drew around 3,000 people and was a sweaty success.

As doors stay closed, the lines get longer
Credit Mark Bialczak

This year they decided to go both international in scope of the bands that scored big hits, with the English sound of the 80s including Animotion (OK, while the female star is from England the male half is from Rochester) and A Flock of Seagulls), and national, with rockers Dramarama and Tommy Tutone,

Similar to last year, free tickets were available at the Syracuse Geico store on Erie Boulevard East. Also, anybody else was welcome to enter by contributing $10 at the door. It appeared to me that last there was a great presence of people at the gate representing the Baldwin foundation than this year.

First we had to wait to get in. There was a long line ahead of us, and as the minutes went by, a long line behind us, too. Publicity said gates would open at 4. Dark gray clouds build overhead, and there were no signs of the doors opening. Perhaps there were staffing or scheduling snags inside. At this point in my life as a concert-goer, I don't want to hear it. If the public is told the gates will open at 4, those that arrive by that time and thereafter should not have to wait in a line until 5 with no information as to why. Once a delay stretches past, say, 20 minutes, an ambassador for the facility should go outside to spread word about why there's a delay and when the doors can be expected to open. And they should walk back and back and back until everybody there gets the news.

Yeah, I know, they could tweet it and post it, but if I'm outside in a line full of people, I'm looking at the real world, not my smart phone. Unless I'm taking pictures for my blog, that is.

An hour later than expected, the SRC Arena won me over nevertheless.

I'd seen one concert in the place beforehand, a show featuring Dr. John and the Blind Boys and Alabama. While the jazz, funk and soul were superior that night, the crowd was almost non-existent, the acoustics were abysmal and the atmosphere was funereal. I came away with the opinion that the oval was a great place for a track meet or golf show.

Fans fill the seats at SRC Arena
Credit Mark Bialczak

Later, I found out it was a great place for a golf show. Saturday, with the stage set up at one end of the arena instead of in the middle, like it was that night for the hundred or so folks there to see the two legends, the sound was agreeable and the accommodations were comfortable. We sat in the bottom row of the pulled out bleachers, best to stretch our legs. 

It looked as if  there were more than the 3,000 people at Sharkey's the year prior, but less than 5,000 to 8,000 fans that organizers hoped to draw.

The lines for drinks and food were long, but moved quickly. People gobbled up the free stuff, T-shirts, light wands, sunglasses, handed out by Geico. A merchandise table sold T-shirts and CDs.

Merchandise sales draws a crowd
Credit Mark Bialczak

Most of the crowd elected to sit in the pulled-out bleachers closest to the stage.

The music started a little after 5:30, and first four bands all stuck to 30-minute sets, moving the event along.

I particularly appreciated Dramarama, from Wayne, N.J., and the hot cover of "Femme Fatale" from the late, great Lou Reed, yes, Syracuse University's own rock legend. They also auctioned off a shirt pulled off by the lead singer, bringing $50 for the charity. Cool move. Apparently many fans came to see them in particular, because hundreds of people left after that set.

For Tommy Tutone, we walked up front and watched his whole set standing near the stage. The Chicago-based band played two songs from a new album before closing with the huge hit "867-5309." Women were hoisted upon the shoulders of men and everybody sang along. It felt like the 80s.