24 Hours at the Westcott

From hippies to ravers: two nights, two shows, two packed crowds filling the university neighborhood’s go-to live music venue.

Words and Images by Sam Henken

At the Westcott Theater, cracks in the music venue’s facade reveal its past. Outside, the marquee that once announced The Blair Witch Project and possibly Deep Throat broadcasts DJs, bands, events. Inside, the concession stand greets concert-goers, and if they step toward the stage, they can see the room that once housed the projector in the storied building’s 97-year history. But if the music sounds good, the remnants of the old Westcott don’t matter. A person can forget that he or she stands in the epicenter of a small strip of stores and restaurants, removed from Syracuse’s campus and from the chain-restaurant haven that sits a mile away on Erie Boulevard.

The Westcott Theater has yet to reach its 10th anniversary as one of the premier music venues serving Syracuse and the surrounding colleges. Before it was bought and renovated into the theater, it was one of the last single-screen movie theaters in New York and operated by Nate Tobin of the Manlius Art Theater. In the 1930s and ‘40s, its offerings reflected the Golden Age of Hollywood, showcasing vaudeville acts and silent movies. In the ‘50s, it transitioned from pornos to B movies and then classic horror films. In its last era as a movie theater, it catered to the artsy, professorial crowd, featuring independent movies ignored by the huge multiplexes elsewhere in the city.

The Westcott’s eclectic film history lives on in a theater that operates in a different genre but shares the same home and the same name. Go to the Westcott Theater any two nights in a row is like hanging out with your Dead Head uncle on Friday and then following your freshman roommate to a rave in a basement Saturday night. To document those random musical extremes, these photos were taken over 24 hours at the Westcott. One night featured an after party for major EDM act Excision; the second, a performance by blues rock artist Anders Osborne. You’ll see different crowds, different styles, and vastly different shows that make it clear how big of a difference a night can make.