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A View From the Ridge

A View From the Ridge

Perspectives on the music scene according to Melinda Sorrentino

If you’ve been to the Ridge in Chittenango for any of their music events, you’ve had a blast. From regularly scheduled shows on the weekends featuring the area’s finest, to tribute shows celebrating the greats, to thematic festivals the Ridge is brimming with music.

Nestled into the trees is an impressive A-frame-ish mountain chalet.

This music hotspot  has succeeded all because of the nice, cool lady running the place. In my personal estimation, I think I can safely speak for the rest of the city’s musicians who’ve played there, that she is among the most gracious venue hosts a musician could ever hope for. Musicians feel extremely welcomed here … respected and taken care of. I see musicians reciprocating by taking care of the boss. Duh, cool, right? Imagine that … the beneficial effects of mutual respect. Because of this, I also note that musicians indeed play better and the fans have more fun. At the festivals and tributes the camaraderie between musicians is ideal. Since the physical set-up of the venue encourages mingling between the musicians and the music lovers, the camaraderie there is also pretty darn ideal. It’s a great model.

The venue itself is a treat. An A-frame-ish mountain chalet —akin to a mountain ski
resort— is nestled on a ridge looking over the lush green valley which constitutes the
location of hole 9 —yes, this is located at a golf course— one is instantly charmed upon
arrival. Super cozy and charming inside as well. Out back they’ve built two stages, each of them catering to different kinds of events. Both of them impressive.

I dropped by to chat with Melinda Sorrentino about it. I want you to meet this positive lady doing positive things, hoping that all this good energy rubs off  on to this city.

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Melinda Sorrentino.

Chuck Schiele: HI Melinda. Thank you for taking some time to talk with us here at Sounds of Syracuse. You have a golf course. You turned it into one of the hottest music venues in town. How did that happen? What inspired you to make music such a part of your club culture?

Melinda Sorrentino: Not an easy, straight-line answer, Chuck. I’ll start with the fact that I’ve never golfed in my life —and still haven’t— but bought the golf course (and surrounding land) as a separate for-profit entity back in 2011 after my sister and I founded Clear Path for Veterans, next door. We felt it was important to ensure that the fledgling organization had a good neighbor, and wanted to provide a trusted place for Veterans and the public to interact. We also thought that the zen-like nature of the golf game would be of some interest to Veterans. So we opened the course and the need for food and beverage gave me an excuse to satisfy my innate need to feed people. That, along with my irrational desire to open a restaurant, and lots of help from good people along the way, got The Ridge on the map. Since then, Clear Path has grown in other mission-driven directions and The Ridge has taken on a mission of its own. We’ve become a sort of community dinner table where people feel connected so it made perfect sense to add live music to The Ridge experience. Even separately, food and music both have an incredible way of bringing people together and when you combine them, magic can happen. Physical spaces also affect people in significant and subjective ways and we’ve worked hard to make The Ridge feel like home to everyone that walks through our doors.

CS: Do you, yourself, play music?

MS:  I play some piano – mostly alone in my living room with no one listening. And a lifetime of listening and an obsession with the stories music tells has logged a veritable encyclopedia of lyrics in my head. Last year, under much duress, I got up and sang a Carole King song.

CS: What do you look for in those who perform?

MS: Good question. Lots of intuition involved in that process and when you are inviting someone to share your space with people who are there for a good experience, there’s a
responsibility there. The musician is sharing his or her art too and wants to be listened to and appreciated – even above the clamoring of plates, silverware and dinnertime chatter. So, I look for artists who are not only talented and authentic but also skilled at reading a crowd and add to the atmosphere of the place. In an industry riddled with big egos and self-importance, you have to be able to spot that right away. -Egos and alliances should be checked at the door.

CS: Briefly explain your working model/philosophy.

MS:  I know it sounds cliché but if I had to sum it up, it’s the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. That includes
everyone you encounter from the dish person that works his ass off for you to the customer buying a great bottle of wine. Choose to see the good in people and understand that even though you can be disappointed sometimes by a lack of gratitude or just plain
incompetence, that shouldn’t change how you choose to approach people.

CS: Amen to that. Just because someone insists on demonstrating a lesser version of their self doesn’t mean I have to …

MS: Exactly. And never give up what you love to do for what you have to do – make space in your life for both and surround yourself with people who are made of the same stuff. Skills can be taught and learned but passion, integrity and genuine care for others need to come naturally in the people you chose to work with – it has to be organic. Be different and when people start copying you, head in another direction. And have a great sense of humor —especially in this business— that’s a must.

Tribute bands, original music and more will grace the stages this season!

CS: You feature a regular series of tribute shows. Please share.

MS: This super successful series actually started when Jamie Notarthomas offered to bring his annual Dylan tribute show to The Ridge in May 2016. From there, we laid out a whole series together —we’ve done 27 of them so far— and Jamie’s been instrumental in not only the creative part of things but also bringing some great players into the fold. It’s grown into a really close-knit, committed family of people who love the challenge of studying the work of music’s greats. While I have a personal desire to showcase original music at The Ridge, and Jamie has a quite a resume as an original artist (we’ll be unveiling an original series this summer), we still understand that our audience wants to hear songs that are familiar. -Music can so easily bring you to a place or time in your life that you want to remember. This tribute series gives them that and we’ve covered some great artists —from Van Morrison, to Stevie Wonder, to Carole King to Pink Floyd— and we’ve got some great ones planned for this
summer as well. These shows are collaboration on steroids and involve as many as 30-40 musicians – and we’ve had some really, really special moments. While there’s been a lot learned
musically, we’ve also learned a ton about each other both practically and creatively – working, organizing, interpreting the music. Some people are amazed by the fact that we pull these shows off. -Most think that working with so many creative people at once must be like herding cats. It’s actually quite the opposite and an absolute pleasure to work with so many talented, capable people.

CS: You’ve had music happening inside the restaurant part of the clubhouse for quite a while. But, now you have things happening outside.

MS: There is a lot going on outside, yes. With a pretty well established music culture inside, we ventured into doing some outdoor festivals in our early years —Bacon and Bourbon Festival and Ridgestock to name two— (in their 5th and 4th years respectively) and with very little infrastructure outside of our beautiful setting, pulled off some great stuff. Once you succeed at something you’ve challenged yourself to do, you want to do it again and again and a bond forms in the team of people who help you pull it off. There’s a great feeling that comes from
having 1,000 or more people come to your place and have a memorable experience and to be appreciated for the attention to detail and hard work put into those events. So, I decided if we wanted to do more of that kind of thing, we needed to change the landscape a bit to fit our needs. And I found some wonderful people crazy enough to help me – Bob West, Dan Coley and Jamie (among others) all, without question, dove head first into building a stone amphitheater right in our back yard out of rocks found on the property. Jamie and I drew a plan on the back of a Chinese dinner menu and we were off. The thank yous I owe to them and the stories we have to tell would take up a whole article. Needless to say, we’ve created a totally unique, one-of-a-kind space that you have to see to understand.

This winter, for the first time since we opened in 2012, I decided to take a break to focus on a new direction and take time to really think about how we could keep the same great juju at The Ridge but continue to adapt and evolve. Sometimes it’s just easier to see clearly when you’re not in the trenches and having fulfilled my bucket list desire to own a restaurant, was ready to move on to a new chapter focusing on events and the outdoor music that we have become so good at. I was prepared to do all the food and beverage myself with a smaller staff and while we were all ready for the change, there were plenty of moments of rethinking the possibility of keeping the restaurant side operating. In a conversation with a good friend who asked if there was anyone out there that I could rely on to run the food side of things and do it right, I explained that there’s only one other person I would trust. While I hadn’t spoken with him in almost a year, within an hour, I received a text from Chance Bear saying that he was thinking about making a change in his life and wanted to meet to talk. The prospect of having him here was so exciting that I was willing to change the plan. He is not only an incredibly gifted chef and legend in food here in CNY, but also a passionate team player and as authentic as they come. We met, realized the fit was perfect and we haven’t looked back. It takes a combination of integrity, creativity and humility to fit in here at The Ridge and Chance and his team —Dan Strathdee & Ross Levy among others— have it. And it goes without saying that their food is extraordinary!

Musicians and memories made during dinner and every spare moment at the Ridge.

CS: Every musician who has worked at your venue will applaud your grace and appreciation. The common chit-chat among players around here —who have watched club after club go down year after year— is that you seem to be doing things right … and everyone has placed their bets that you will endure. Please share your views on that and why.

MS: That’s a great compliment, Chuck. And encouraging to hear since I’ve faced many challenges just like everyone else. I heard a TED talk about longevity recently and while it was talking about biological longevity in people, I think there’s a parallel there for business as well. Studies have shown that the single most important factor in living a long and healthy life is being connected to others and waking up every morning with a sense of purpose. If you run your business like you live your life and are motivated by things other than money, it all falls into place. Set that bar for everyone around you and combined with some hard work, you’ve created a culture and a business model that is meaningful and sustainable.

CS: Awesome. Please share some of your favorite memories in music at the Ridge.

MS: Some of my favorite moments happened outside of performances when no one was watching. -Some great musical memories were made in rehearsals before our tributes, sitting around a fire after Ridgestock, in the down-time after a great show. Performance-wise, there are so many special moments … it’s almost impossible to choose. Those lucky enough to have been here for one or more of our shows know what I’m talking about. There’s also magic that happens outside of the music – a real connection between everyone that’s really special. Not to mention the fact that one night at a rehearsal, almost like magic, my dying computer was fixed, guitar holders were hung, and the toilet flush valve replaced. Musicians are pretty smart, capable people!

CS: Let’s hear a funny war story … like the time that crazy lady reached into a musicians gig bag and extracted a fresh pair of skivvies … heh, heh, heh.

MS: One of my stories actually does involve a pair of skivvies, but they were my own, static-cling stuck to a bar towel that my bartender grabbed to dry a glass.  Yes, in front of a customer, and yes, they were clean. No,
seriously, some real war stories involve building our outdoor venue while
simultaneously having shows in it. Exactly a year ago, we were pouring concrete for the stage two days before the Dylan tribute, and laid  5,000 square feet of sod until 2 in the morning the day before Ridgestock, and the list goes on.

CS: What do you think of the music CNY has to offer?

MS: This town has an incredibly deep bench of talent that seems to be constantly
growing. We see new faces and new configurations of players all the time. And for the most part, musicians in our community value collaboration and are so passionate about the music that it trumps everything else – sometimes    healing even long-standing rivalries or grudges. Facilitating that is a big part of what The Ridge is about.

CS: Any tips or advice to offer musicians and bands from a talent buyer’s perspective

MS: Be authentic – don’t be a phony. You can skip this question if you’d like. ϑ

CS: What’s in the near future for the music at the Ridge?

MS: We’ve got lots of great things planned for this season – our tribute series kicks off with Bob Dylan on May 24 and continues monthly through October. The series includes tributes to Bob Marley, Peter Gabriel, George Harrison, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen and John
Lennon. Our 5th Annual Bacon & Bourbon Festival is coming up on Saturday, June 9th and this year, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Music for the Mission, a local non-profit focused on assisting the homeless and hungry right here in our own community. The headed up the collaboration of musicians for the song We Are One which will be performed at this year’s event.

CS: Is there a music schedule online so folks can find your scene?

MS: Yes, absolutely. Our entire music schedule can be found on our webpage –
www.The RidgeRocks.com and weekly events are highlighted on our homepage.

The view, the people, the comfortable atmosphere, the comraderie between spectators and the musicians alike all make this event and venue one of a kind.

Jamie Wallace