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Dio Day to recognize late, legendary Cortland singer

Rhino Records
Ronnie James Dio

Dio Day returns Sunday, July 10, to celebrate what would have been the 80th birthday of the late Ronnie James Dio, the Cortland native widely recognized as one of the greatest singers in hard rock and heavy metal.

Born Ronald James Padavona in 1942, Dio showcased his powerhouse vocals in four major bands – Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio – over a career that began in the late 1950s and continued until his passing from stomach cancer in 2010.

Held occasionally since 2011, this year’s Dio Day comprises a daylong concert at Night Owls, which kicks off at noon and features Lou Kaplan, Jim VanDeuson, Dimitri Cosimo, Black ‘n’ Blue, The Rods (performing their first show in four years), Tailor-Made, The Delta Mike Shaw Band, and Sydney Irving and The Mojo, as well as a motorcycle ride, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at Foxy’s Bar (riders can meet there starting at 10 a.m). Proceeds will benefit the Ronnie James Dio Music Scholarship Fund at his alma mater, Cortland High School.

The Rods: from left, Carl Canedy, David "Rock" Feinstein, Freddy Villano

“It’s great that we’re able to have it for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic,” said Dio Day committee chairman David "Rock" Feinstein, frontman for the Rods, and Dio's cousin and former bandmate in Elf. “The whole reason why we started Dio Day in 2011 was that we started the scholarship fund, and we’ve given a $1,000 scholarship every year to a student from Cortland High who’s pursuing a career in music and is chosen by the school faculty. We did that even through the pandemic, so we're just happy to be able to have an event again to raise a few dollars so we can perpetuate this scholarship.”

Though he left Cortland in the late 1970s, Dio continued to loom large in the Central New York scene, inspiring generations of musicians over the ensuing decades.

Sydney Irving.jpg
Sydney Irving

“Ronnie James Dio means so much to me, as well as my friends and family,” said Sydney Irving, a Marcellus-based singer-songwriter who just turned 19. “I first learned of Dio from my dad when he showed me the ‘Last In Line’ LP – it’s such an awesome album! I got to play at the 2019 Dio Day and I think it is an amazing event for a really great cause.”

“Dio has had an incredible impact on my music,” said Dimitri Cosimo, a singer-guitarist who hails from a long line of stellar Cortland musicians and is now based in Nashville. “From his solo career to his work with Tony Iommi (in Black Sabbath) and Ritchie Blackmore (in Rainbow) and everything in between, he has inspired me to the fullest extent. It’s insane to imagine that we grew up walking the same streets.”

Lou Kaplan.jpg
Sandy Roe
Lou Kaplan

Lou Kaplan, a singer-songwriter based in Marietta who has played with bands such as Mad Jack and Savoy Brown and who just released a solo album, “Ride or Die,” cited his admiration for Dio and the rest of his Elf bandmates, including Feinstein, Gary Driscoll, Craig Gruber, and Mickey Lee Soule.

“I'm originally from Cortland, so I knew all of the Elf guys,” Kaplan said. “They were our friends, mentors, and drinking buddies. They inspired us to play rock 'n' roll, work hard, and reach our full potential. I don't think they ever knew how much they meant to us, but Dio Day is my chance to honor them all.”

Indeed, Dio’s strong work ethic earned admiration from fans and musicians alike.

“One thing I was told about Dio was that every show, he tried to give the best performance he could, no matter if there were 10 or 100 thousand people there, because there may be someone there that is hearing him for the first time,” Irving said. “I apply this to each show I play.”

Tailor Made.jpeg
Tink Bennett (second from left) and Tailor Made

“I never saw Dio perform, but I am keenly aware of his contributions and talent in the heavy metal genre,” said Tink Bennett, a lifetime Cortland musician and frontman for Tailor-Made. “I do feel as though we have some parallels, as I have had and fronted a band since 1979 – over 40 years with a loyal following – and he definitely set an example to me for that commitment to music and performing!”

Still, it was Dio’s vast vocal abilities and stage presence that cemented his legendary status.

“His musical talent and command of the stage were undeniable,” said Kaplan, who saw Dio perform with Black Sabbath at the Syracuse War Memorial in the early 1980s. “I have to add that Ronnie could sing torch songs, rock 'n' roll, blues, and heavy rock as well or better than anyone. How many people can you say that about?”

If You Go

What: Dio Day

When: Sunday, July 10

Where: Concert starts at noon at Night Owls, 3840 Route 11, Cortland; Motorcycle run starts at 11:30 a.m. at Foxy’s Bar, 187 Homer Ave., Cortland.

Cost: $10 for the concert; $10 for motorcycle run, which also includes concert admission.

Event Info



Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, WITHradio.org) and its affiliates.