Sully Erna Shines at The Space in Westbury, NY 12-11-14

Hailing from Lawrence, Massachusetts, Godsmack vocalist/song writer Sully Erna is no stranger to most instruments to grace a concert stage. An accomplished drummer, singer, and pianist, he comes from a musical family, having a trumpet player for a father and an uncle who was a composer in Sicily. After years of success with Godsmack, in 2010 Erna decided to try a new endeavor when he released his first solo album titled Avalon.  Catching many fans by surprise with a full ensemble of acoustic-based instruments, the album was filled with thoughtful and personal compositions while also being vastly different than anything Erna had ever done before.  Now four years later, following the resurrection of Godsmack with their latest album 1000hp, Erna takes some time before the end of 2014 to treat audience’s to the offering of his solo performances again.  While Godsmack may have two decades of longevity in Hard Rock, the intimacy of Erna’s solo performance can be described as nothing short of breathtaking.  On Thursday December 11th, Erna returned to Long Island, New York, this time to perform at The Space at Westbury.  As a baby grand piano, acoustic guitar, and an African djembe drum sat on the stage, the anxious crowd piled in, ready to be taken away by Erna.

At exactly 8:00 pm, a fog rolled onto the stage as an astral vision is projected onto a large screen. A powerful voice echoed “The universe has given us the gifts of sight, smell, and sound” throughout the venue as Erna took the stage and opened up with the title track off his solo album, “Avalon.”  Wasting no time, he immediately kept the mood going with enchanting song “Sinner’s Prayer.”  As the applause and whistles died down, Erna did something uncommon of a musician who has achieved Rock Star status by explaining the role music has taken in his life, openly saying, “Music saved me.”  Approaching the evening with a humility and honesty, rarely seen from multi-platinum recording artists, the night progressed like a call and response in a church.  Taking the time to explain why the songs mean so much to him, Erna confessed that music is a gift, a gift that prompted him to write the song “Hollow,” paying homage to those who have passed but left so much inspiration.  It was at this moment the screen turned into a slide show of epic figures that have forever left imprints on the world. Erna showed a well-rounded understanding of the art of music and impressively gave credit to a broad range of musicians, regardless of era and genre in Rock-N-Roll history.  From Elvis, Freddie Mercury, Dimebag Darrell, John Lennon, Amy Winehouse, and Layne Staley among the many, he left no stone unturned.

Between sips of red wine, Erna joked with the crowd, playfully asking, “Jeez, do I ever write a happy song? Jesus, it’s like it’s all rope and razorblades.” Chuckling to himself, he shifts to an upbeat cover of “No Excuses,” an Alice In Chains staple that resulted in the crowd singing along in unison. As the show progressed, one particular song that was extremely beautiful, “My Light,” a piece Erna wrote for his daughter began.  Accompanied by a collection of video footage of his baby girl from the time of birth to now, he never looks behind him during the entire rendition.  One could see a wave of emotion on Erna’s face to which he replied afterward that, “I can’t look, I’ll start crying,” a vulnerable position that showed the personal depth and emotional investment he has in the song.  Understandably so, as any parent that loves and adores their child can relate to in the most vivid way.

One of the most memorable moments of the evening was not just Erna’s music, but the question he had asked the audience about music. “If a note is just a frequency and frequency is just a vibration, do we hear music or do we feel it?” A very philosophical question posed to the crowd only to be answered by his spot on rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” Those who have a passion for music, and it becomes a part of them, it was a phrase that summed it all up. He later surprised the audience with more renditions of amazing songs to include Pink Floyd’s “Time” off their legendary album Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and closed it out with a hand-waving sing-along to the classic Beatles track “Hey Jude.”  After a short encore applause, he came back and performed “Until Then” which he took a moment yet again to dedicate it to someone else, the U.S. Armed forces. Accompanied by a video of clips from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as homecoming sequences, this song received one of the best responses of the evening.

The vibe from the crowd throughout the night was a roller coaster of excitement, containing all the highs and somber lows of human emotion. The humility and honesty of Erna’s tone and level of interaction cannot be expressed enough, and one may have forgotten the crowd around, getting the feeling it was just a few friends having a conversation. The wisdom of his years as a popular musician was evident in each line he sang. This show was not about making big money, it was his time to express himself as an individual and the struggles he faced early in his life and career. The crowd had a level of respect for the performer that perhaps has not been seen since the MTV Unplugged days during 1990s.

There was a genuine look of fulfillment on Erna’s face, as if a burden was lifted and the music carried it away. A sentiment, the crowd echoed after each song with thunderous applause that at times was louder than the band itself. He took the time to share an important tidbit about the songs he held dear, saying, “Pain can create the most beautiful things.”  It was not just a night for Godsmack fans, but for people who can really appreciate music. If bigwig record executives had his approach, music would be in a different place than it currently is. As the final days of 2014 wind down, and so do Erna’s solo performances, Godsmack will be back touring in early 2015, but one can hope there will be some time in between for Erna to perform solo as well.  This is a musician who knows what it is all about and a show not to be missed.

 Photo credit: Mark Schoen Photography

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