Folk Duo Johnnyswim Display Music’s Uplifting Power In NYC
Last night, I was a guest at the Cancer Research Institute’s 60th annual awards gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. The event was stacked with the giants in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Emerging treatments and current success stories were showcased, as Nightline anchor and ABC News reporter Bill Weir emceed. Honorees included Dr. Jill O’Donnell (Cancer Research Institute), Sean Parker of Napster fame, and as a melanoma survivor, I was also showcased in the event. Amid the somber mood and darkness, however, folk duo Johnnyswim provided a light.
Cipriani 42nd Street is a massive architecturally stimulating venue. Formerly the Bowery Savings Bank, the impressive space lies just across the street from Grand Central Terminal, and down the block from both the Chrysler and Lincoln buildings. A huge stone archway greets visitors, ushering them into a large dining hall surrounded by modified Corinthian columns that terminates in a second archway housing an enormous rear window silhouetted by velvet curtains.
Remnants of the Bowery Savings Bank remain, with the dining room separated from the foyer by a framework of teller windows, and the entrance lined with deposit counters complete with pens on chains (that this writer found unpleasantly lacking in ink during an exchange of contact information).
The musical guest, folk rock duo Johnnyswim, provided a break from the somber mood of the evening, coming out with an appropriate mix of melodic tunes that relaxed and uplifted the crowd all at the same time. Singer-songwriters Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez make up the band. Johnnyswim met in Nashville and formed in 2005, releasing their first self-titled EP in June of 2008. Once described as “21st century troubadours,” the duo serenaded a captive audience through the entrée course with a short set.
Though the acoustics at Cipriani were not optimized for the band, and at several points our table discussed the possibility that the venue chose to forego a sound check, the band spoke well enough with their sound to make up for the lack of clarity.
I didn’t hear a word either of them said between songs, but from the heavily reverberated noises they made that might have been words, it seemed like they were very much in tune with the event and happy for the opportunity to play the gala. Sudano had a more personal reason to be there, as she happens to be the daughter of the late Donna Summer, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2012.
The name of the band was intentionally misreported to come from an inside joke between Sudano and Ramirez about a scene from the movie Jaws. When, in actuality, the band gets its name from the words Sudano yelled as a child directly after stumbling upon her dead goldfish.
Johnnyswim’s style isn’t easy to neatly pin down. For instance, the set started out with a song called “Heart Beats” that sounded like it could have been the runner-up for the newest James Bond single, and they proceeded to mix in elements of Adele, Johnny Cash, and Mumford & Sons. Ramirez himself has a bit of an Elvis Presley pompadour going on, and looks very much at home strumming away while his hips rock and sway to the music just like the King.
Article by Kevin Lankes
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