Two and a half years ago, Michael “ToTs” Heagerty walked on stage at Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and asked the people inside to peel potatoes. It was the annual staff holiday party and ToTs, always the entertainer, took advantage of his turn during a karaoke session to debut his new rap song, “Peel Potaydahs,” in front of 50-plus staffers. It started as a joke. While ToTs was working at his aunt and uncle’s restaurant a few days before, a sick co-worker was assigned the task of peeling potatoes. For a reason he still can’t quite explain to this day, a song formed in ToTs’ mind at that moment – just a silly, little song that was not intended to do anything other than, perhaps, be a source of quirky motivation. But he decided to keep playing around with it on GarageBand and – fast-forward to the party – the final product was his contribution to the show. It gave everyone a good laugh, as he intended. But more than that, they were genuinely impressed by his rhyming skills.
“Most people were blown away,” ToTs says. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
The success of that night’s performance inspired him to write 10 additional potato-themed songs that later comprised his first album, The Famine Is Ovah, which he released just two months later.
ToTs, 28, was born in Camillus, N.Y., where he spent a few years before his family moved to Massachusetts. But Syracuse continued to play a big role in his life. Most of his relatives still lived there and it was the top destination for holidays and vacations throughout his childhood. He graduated from Fitchburg State College with a degree in graphic design and it wasn’t even a question. There was opportunity here for him to spend time with his family and, at the same time, figure out what steps he would take next. He moved back in 2004.
Since then, his life has been a whirlwind of recording potato-themed songs, filming the music videos to accompany them and performing at local venues – all while balancing several side projects and a
full-time job as programs and events manager at the Red House Arts Center in downtown Syracuse.
At the outset, he already knows the first question anyone would ask. It’s what everyone wants to know the answer to.
“Why potatoes?” he says.
A small part of it does have to do with his Irish heritage, he says. And he likes them a lot, (“If I had my way, I’d eat them everyday,” he says) but really, it’s become more of a way for him to learn about, connect with and creatively express everyone else’s experiences. “They’re universal. Everyone can somehow relate to the potato.” He recounts meeting a Peruvian man who, upon hearing about his potato music, excitedly divulged a lot of information about the thousands of varieties of potatoes he encountered in his native Peru and the important role they played in his culture.
“Potatoes is the joke part of it, but there are real stories and real culture behind my rhymes,” he says. His songs are packed with
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