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Musicians gather to celebrate friendships that have endured

Jessie Galante has lived in every major music market in the country, and spent some time in a few European ones, too. But though she's called Nashville, New York and Los Angeles home at different points in her career, Galante insists that Buffalo is unique.

"The sense of community in our music scene is deeper than I've experienced anywhere else," she said.

Galante, a singer and 2010 Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee, relishes those bonds and has relied on them. When her husband, recording engineer, studio designer and acoustician Larry Swist died of cancer in 2013, the music community helped give her the strength to endure.

Fittingly, gratitude for the support of the music community that helped Galante survive her darkest days informs the "Musicians of Buffalo (MOB) Christmas Party," scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Tralf Music Hall.

The annual event launched in 2015, and intentionally took place at the Sportsmen's Tavern, where it was received enthusiastically by full houses its first two years. This year, the event moves to the Tralf Music Hall, due to what Galante calls "growing pains" associated with the popularity of the event.

However, in a nod to Galante, Sheehan and Lebel's positive experience at the Sportsmen's, this year's event will act as a fundraiser for the Sportsmen's Americana Foundation, a not-for-profit arts and culture organization that seeks "to foster, promote and expand community appreciation for Americana music from Buffalo and Western New York," according to its mission statement.  

The MOB Christmas Party came to be shortly after Galante ran into one of the most successful and widely respected musicians to emerge from Buffalo in the past 40 years – virtuoso bassist and bandleader Billy Sheehan, of Talas, Mr. Big, David Lee Roth Band, Niacin, Winery Dogs and Sons of Apollo fame.

Galante was at the National Association of Music Merchants show in 2015, when she saw her old friend.

"This was the first time we'd seen each other since Larry died," she said. "He was surrounded by people at one of the booths, and he was giving an interview to a guitar magazine, but when he saw me, he stopped, said 'Excuse me for just one second' to the crowd around him, and came over to give me a big hug and offer his condolences."

Galante has known Sheehan since the 1980 formation of her Buffalo hard rock band Actor. "Billy helped us get our first steady gig, at the old Stage One," she recalled. "That's the kind of guy he was back then, and that's still the kind of guy he is today."

Seeing Galante at NAMM triggered in Kenmore native Sheehan – who lived in Los Angeles for decades before a recent move to Nashville – fond thoughts of home. He phoned BMHOF Nominating Committee Chairman Richard Sargent and floated the idea of assembling a Christmas show.

Soon, he was chatting with another old friend, 2011 BMHOF inductee Bobby Lebel – who, like Galante, met Sheehan at Stage One in 1980, where he was asked by the bassist to jam with Talas on a version of Cream's "Crossroads" – and the idea for MOB was born.

Sheehan is one of the most in-demand rock bassists in the world. But a part of his heart has never left home.

"Buffalo is where I grew up and learned most everything I know about playing music," he said last week, via text message. "My musician friends here are supremely important to me."

For Lebel, who has been tasked with handling musical director duties for the MOB show, the gig offers an opportunity to both "celebrate the Buffalo music community, and to help keep it together and moving forward." This third installment in the annual series will be "a four-hour show" that will include "a mix of traditional holiday stuff, funk, rock 'n' roll and big-band jazz," bolstered by "the startling diversity of the lineup."

Lebel would like to see the event grow in coming years. "We're going to continue to get as many music luminaries involved as possible," he says.

At the heart of all of this lies a testament to the friendships forged in a music community that, though it can be unforgiving, can also nurture, heal, and look out for its own. No one knows this more than Galante.

"I was embraced and cared for when I needed it the most," she says. "Billy, Bobby, and so many people in this community - they all loved Larry and they took me under their wings. It was very hard for me. For a long time,  I literally was doing nothing musically. It was all too painful. But they brought me back to music, inspired me, gave me creative energy, and helped me get through it all.

"Music is incredibly healing. With everything I do now, I feel like Larry is alive in my creativity. And for that, I'll always be grateful to Billy, Bobby and the entire music community."


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