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Shine on: Concert pays tribute to bar owner Sunny Balzano

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The spirit of Sunny’s will live on.

A devoted crew of musicians, all regular performers at Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, will play a tribute show on April 14 in honor of the watering hole’s legendary namesake, Antonio “Sunny” Balzano, who passed away in March. The concert is a fitting tribute to a man whose hospitality brought artists, musicians, and other creative types to a once forgotten neighborhood, said his widow.

“Sunny was probably the person that changed Red Hook more than anyone,” said Tone Balzano-Johansen. “I can’t tell you the countless people who come to me and say ‘I came to Red Hook because of the bar.’ It’s been a magnet for those kind of people.”

Balzano-Johansen will perform at the concert with the Luna Sisters, alongside Miss Ida Blue, Stillhouse Serenade, and other bands that regularly stomped the floor of Sunny’s back room.

The money raised on April 14 will go to pay for the beloved bar owner’s funeral expenses.

Food at the concert will be provided by local eateries Hometown BBQ, the Good Fork, Red Hook Lobster Pound, and Jalopy Tavern, while Fort Defiance and Six Point Brewery will serve up drinks. The outpouring of support from local businesses is no surprise, says the evening’s headlining act.

“Everyone who worked at those restaurants would come to Sunny’s after work, it became like a community center,” said guitarist Smokey Hormel, who has played Sunny’s every Wednesday for the last decade with his band Smokey’s Roundup. “It’s just one of those places — it’s got a magnetism that pulls people in. The people at the Good Fork would invite us over there, or Hometown BBQ would bring ribs over, and Sunny engendered that. He just was not a judgmental person, he was just a loving guy.”

Sunny’s Bar on Conover Street, just a cobblestone’s throw from the East River, has been in Balzano’s family since the 1800s. In the late 1990s, Sunny’s uncle was running the space as John’s Restaurant and Bar, but Balzano convinced his uncle to keep the joint open late by showing him a wad of cash he had collected at a “birthday party for no one” that attracted much of Red Hook’s growing artistic crowd. More bootleg events followed and the space soon morphed into Sunny’s Bar, said Balzano-Johansen.

“That’s sort of how we got permission to stretch the hours, and it just grew since then — if you are one of those people yourself you attract the same kind of people, because you enjoy it so much,” she said. “It’s so enjoyable to hear other friends play music and to see their work that whatever people did we just said ‘Okay, yes do it, show us!’ ”

Sunny’s Bar is going to continue as usual, said Balzano-Johansen, and those who attend the tribute concert at Pioneer Works should expect to find the same warm and inviting atmosphere as the bar.

“It’s a celebration of Sunny’s life, which was a celebration of being yourself, to not fit the mold,” she said. “It’s just beautiful that he was such a different role model for people — to be yourself, whatever that is.”

“To A Life Well Lived: A Tribute To Sunny” at Pioneer Works [159 Pioneer St, between Conover and Imlay streets in Red Hook, (718) 596–3001, www.sunnysredhook.com]. April 14 at 6:30 pm. $25–$250.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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