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Syracuse native Carrie Manolakos talks about singing with Phish at Madison Square Garden

Moments after midnight struck Monday night, Syracuse native  Carrie Manolakos took the stage at Madison Square Garden to sing for nearly 20,000 people. She joined iconic jam band Phish for one of their biggest shows of the year: New Year’s Eve at The Garden.

Phish has played multiple-night runs at MSG the past three years, culminating each year with an elaborate, choreographed stunt at midnight on Dec. 31. This year’s stunt featured a golf cart marathon, dancing caddies, a shower of foam golf balls and a special arrangement of the song ‘Tweezer Reprise’ with soaring vocals by Manolakos.

Manolakos, a graduate of Manlius Pebble Hill, rose to Internet fame in May with a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ to promote her album “Echo.” A video of the song went viral after receiving a gushing review from Gawker.

Prior to becoming a Web sensation, Manolakos made a name for herself on Broadway, playing Sophie in ‘Mamma Mia!’ and later toured with the second national run of ‘Wicked.’

I spoke on the phone with Manolakos this morning from her apartment in New York City about her music career, the weather in Syracuse, her New Year’s resolutions and, of course, what it’s like to sing with one of the world’s biggest bands.

Happy New Year! How’s it treating you so far?

Oh my gosh, it’s been incredible. What a great way to start the year. How about you?

Great, I was at the show Monday night and got to see you sing.

You were? It must have been so much fun. I’ve never experienced anything like that, there was just so much excitement.

I was excited when I found out the guest singer was from Syracuse.

Small world. I grew up there and graduated from Manlius Pebble Hill. I’m in New York now, I went to college at NYU and stayed down here. But of course, I miss the people in Syracuse and love going up there.

Well it’s zero degrees here today.

That I don’t miss.

Tell me how you got hooked up with Phish for the show.

Actually I knew the music director. For New Year’s they hire people they don’t need for their regular shows. They hired Carmel Dean for the music arrangement and I knew her from years ago. I basically got a call out of the blue saying they needed a high belter and riffer for this thing. They were trying to emulate that Pink Floyd song, I forget what it’s called…

‘Great Gig in the Sky.’

Yes! They needed someone like that so they called me.

Were you a Phish fan prior to this?

I remember listening to them in high school and I think they’re great. But being in that room full of people I was like, ‘Wow, now these are real Phish fans.’ It was such an honor to be able to share the stage with them.

Did you have any idea what to expect?

I sort of did. After I got that call I did some research on their New Year’s gags. We were putting pieces together bit by bit so we didn’t really know the whole picture until the day of. So I half-knew what I was getting into, and it turned out to be so much fun.

The vocals seemed somewhat improvised. Was there instruction saying, ‘here’s how to sing it,’ or did they just let you go out there and belt away?

About three quarters was written out for me and then there’s a part in the middle that basically just said, “Riff.” Once that hit, I was just improvising until the end. I wanted to keep it consistent, though, because there were so many physical elements and other things going on that could throw you off.

There was a lot going on onstage — confetti, balloons, midgets running around with golf clubs… [See video below]

It was wild. It’s really hard to describe because it was totally out of body. And I was only onstage for a few minutes. You walk on, there’s lights strobing in your face, huge balloons everywhere, and foam ping pong balls all over the ground. Then here I come in wedges and a long dress, so I was just thinking, “Don’t fall.”

What’s it like playing for a crowd like that?

It was the most magical thing I’ve ever done being onstage and looking out at the audience. Nothing compares to hearing 20,000 people screaming with excitement and love. It was pure magic and joy. And Trey [Anastasio] is the coolest guy. I was looking at him as I was singing and he was smiling back at me. Two minutes goes by really fast when all that stuff is going on, so I walked offstage and was like ‘What just happened?’

Did you get to hang out with the band?

We hung out before the show and they were nothing but amazing and gracious. They were just as excited as we were — it’s their big New Year’s thing. They kept saying how cool it all was.

Did you make any resolutions?

I made a lot. One of them is to write as many songs as possible this year and play as many shows as I can.

And are you making that happen?

I had an album come out last April. I’m working on booking shows now. I’m playing the Cutting Room in New York on Feb. 28, and I’m working on booking some West Coast gigs and writing as much as I can. I’d love to play in Syracuse once it warms up a bit, probably sometime in the spring. I’d maybe like to play the Westcott Theater or The Palace.


Watch the video here!