SKANEATELES | Pop songstress Melissa Manchester brought her large, bold voice to the village Sunday to help raise money for the arts at the Skaneateles Area Arts Council's 10th Annual Fundraising Gala.

The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter appeared on stage under a large tent on the picturesque grounds of the Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center and shared her talent with approximately 250 patrons.

"Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your splendid gala, you are doing such a blessed thing," she said to the seated guests. "I am your after-dinner mint."

Since 2006, SKARTS has issued more than $75,000 in grants to local artists and arts agencies and free concerts in local venues. This year's seven grantees include The Auburn Chamber Orchestra, Auburn Public Theater, John D. Barrow Art Gallery, The Masterworks Chorale, Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce, Skaneateles Music Guild and The Spafford Area Historical Society.

Manchester stepped on the stage shortly after guests had had plenty of time to mingle during a cocktail hour and feast on fare from local farms and growers. The meal was catered by Chef Chris Kuhns of the Sherwood Inn and Phoebe's Restaurant, with desserts from the kitchens of Joelle's and The Mirbeau. Wine offerings were made available compliments of Anyela's Vineyard, of Skaneateles.

"This event supports local artists and likewise it supports local farmers," Kuhns said.

A wide smile never seemed to leave Manchester's face as she sang songs from her long list of well-known tunes, several made famous during the 1970s and '80s. Her warm stage presence welcomed listeners to sample songs from her newest release, "You Gotta Love the Life," her 20th album.

"I do refer to my musical projects as albums," she wryly said. "I am the representative from the age of vinyl."

Her humor and easy poise pervaded her set, which was accompanied by Susan Holder and Stephan Oberhoff who effortlessly switched duties on guitar, percussion, keyboards and backup vocals.

Manchester's seasoned voice glowed with clarity when she sang such familiar songs as "Through The Eyes of Love" from the 1980 movie "Ice Castles" and Billboard Top 10 hit "Midnight Blue," written in 1975 with Carole Bayer Sager.

Her musicianship was evident when she vocally grabbed songs from a variety of genres and wrung each of them out fully onstage. By slowing down the peppy tempo of "Be My Baby," released in 1963 by the Ronettes, Manchester's dreamy arrangement achieved a newness for the 51-year-old song.

Manchester introduced "I Got a Feeling For You," a bluesy hip-swiveler she wrote inspired by a night in a Mississippi Delta juke joint.

"Sometimes, life shows up as a song," she said.

A man "three sheets to the wind" approached her in that bar, she said, and asked her if she was married and she replied that she was.

"Too bad," she said the man told her, "I got a feeling for you."

Throughout her program, the audience kept time in their seats, grooving and humming, and some sang along to lyrics co-written by Sager and Marvin "gone too soon" Hamlisch.

Sponsors Robert and Nicolena Errico were among several other supporters of the annual event who looked forward to, as emcee Julie Abbott-Kenan put it, "the summer party of the year."

"It's a good time and it's fun and it helps the community, and we love bringing the artists to town," Nicolena said.

Staff writer Carrie Chantler can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or carrie.chantler@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenChantler.

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