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Watertown news anchor along with his Merit bandmates looking forward to opening for Gin Blossoms

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Jeffrey D. Nelson fondly recalled the concert when a fellow band member joyfully jumped into his drum set.

It was a time when his band, the Syracuse-based Merit, was starting to make news in Central New York entertainment circles. News is something Mr. Nelson is familiar with. North country residents know him as an anchor at WWNY Channel 7/Fox 28 .

Music fans will have a chance to see that flip side of Mr. Nelson as Merit opens for the Gin Blossoms Saturday at the Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., Syracuse.

A member of the band for 11 years, Mr. Nelson said the drum set incident took place in 2004, when the Merit was opening in Syracuse for singer and guitarist Liz Phair.

Merit was nearing the release of its first album, “When We Fight.”

“We were amped up,” Mr. Nelson said, explaining over coffee Monday why Merit member Hal Appleby decided to dive into the drums two songs before the band’s set was over.

“It was a crazy experience, but it was fantastic,” Mr. Nelson said. “Here we were, in the process of cutting our first record, and we’re staring at a sea of 1,500 people. It was surreal. I think we played everything too fast.”

Merit, which formed in 2002, would go on to open for other national acts and tour an area from the South to Canada. The band received the Brian Bourke Award for best new artist at the 2004 Syracuse Area Music Awards.

But in the past few years, the group has slowed its touring tempo as its members, who met as students at Syracuse University, tend to family and their day jobs.

“The focus has shifted in the past two years, from touring to just doing shows we enjoy,” the East Hanover, N.J., native said.

With sales of more than 9 million albums in the U.S., the Tempe, Ariz.-based Gin Blossoms are known for their mix of guitars, introspective lyrics and catchy melodies. Hits include “Hey Jealousy,” “Follow You Down” and “Found Out About You.”

A portion of the concert proceeds will be donated to Arc of Onondaga Foundation, which helps individuals with developmental disabilities.

“We’ve been aching to play a show like this,” Mr. Nelson said. “The bars are great and playing is always fun. But there’s a certain part of me at least that enjoys getting up on that stage with the big crowd and having fun.”

Opening for the Gin Blossoms is particularly satisfying for Merit singer and guitarist Brenna L. Merritt.

“The Gin Blossoms were one of the first CDs I ever got when I was 15 or 16,” Ms. Merritt said in a phone interview from Syracuse, where she lives and holds down a couple of jobs, including one as graphic designer for Syracuse Stage. “For me, it’s pretty exciting.”

The Gin Blossoms released their first album in 1992.

“The ’90s rock, which they are heavily part of, has influenced us greatly over the years,” Ms. Merritt said. “I think what you listen to as a teen kind of worms its way into your head a little bit.”

In addition to Mr. Nelson, Ms. Merritt and Mr. Appleby on guitar, the band is rounded out by Wil Mecum on bass. The band members all remained in Syracuse after graduating from SU and took a variant of Ms. Merritt’s name for the band’s name. Mr. Nelson eventually moved to Watertown. Mr. Appleby graduated in 2003; the three others finished school in 2002. The band officially formed a few months before the three graduated.

Mr. Nelson says he was introduced to the drums as a child after his parents got tired of replacing electronic organs for their four children, who constantly wore them out. He described Merit’s music as “hook-laden” rock ’n’ roll. Band members write their own music.

Merit released its latest album, “Arson is for Lovers,” in 2009. In an unusual marketing move, the band decided to give it away for free on its website, www.gomeritgo.com.

“We were very proud of the record,” Mr. Nelson said. “We also wanted to see if we could grow our fan base. We took out the barrier of price.”

Ms. Merritt, who writes most of the band’s music, said she has counted 25,000 downloads for “Arson is for Lovers.”

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we tried to charge,” she said. “People are not willing, I think, to spend money on something they don’t know.”

“There’s a huge din of bands vying for folks’ attention,” Mr. Nelson said. “We wanted to make sure that as many people as possible heard our music. That’s the most important thing for us.”

Mr. Nelson said the band has written lots of music since the release of “Arson is for Lovers” that it would like to record in a new album.

“I know that the guys would really like to hear that, and I would personally like to hear that stuff recorded like it should be,” he said.

Mr. Nelson and Ms. Merritt both said they can’t imagine not being part of Merit.

“It’s certainly more about the music at this point,” Mr. Nelson said. “We haven’t stopped creating the music. We’ve just kind of tempered our expectations as to what the music is going to be.”

“Every time we get together, there’s still that charge. It clicks,” Ms. Merritt said. “We all get along really well.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop making music with these folks,” Mr. Nelson said. “No matter what any of us are doing, we’ve been together far too long. And we’re far too close.”

Mr. Nelson said WWNY has been supportive of what he called his “music career.” But then he paused.

“That sounds kind of funny to say,” he said. “It’s not really a career. It’s more of a love and a passion.”

He said the station often highlights his musical doings, and he feels viewers are aware of them.

“I think people identify the drums just as much as they do the news job,” he said. “When people see someone on TV, they want to know who they are. The fact that I’m a drummer in a rock band is one of the gettable things that people can latch onto. People always bring it up.”

Viewers who can’t get out to see Mr. Nelson in concert will soon have another opportunity to see him, although not in his rock element.

“I play the drums in the 7 News holiday band,” he said, laughing, referring to the holiday tradition of WWNY staffers entertaining viewers with Christmas songs.

details
WHAT: The Gin Blossoms in concert, with opening act Merit, featuring Watertown drummer and news anchor Jeff Nelson
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., Syracuse. Doors open at 7.
COST: General admission tickets are $40; VIP tickets are $55. VIP tickets include a meet and greet with the Gin Blossoms after the show, event poster, CD and reserved best seating. Tickets can be ordered at http://wdt.me/9QfLkp
OF NOTE: A portion of the proceeds will be donated to ARC of Onondaga.
ONLINE: Merit’s website is www.gomeritgo.com, where its latest album, “Arson is for Lovers,” can be downloaded for free.
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