Regardless of what else goes on in the area, the Buffalo music scene soldiers through it. Great new bands and artists arrive, make their mark, contribute something, and either move on, or become part of the cultural fabric on a more permanent basis.
Often, it can seem that these artists struggle in vain to aid in the transformation of our area from best-kept secret into full-bore cultural Mecca. I can recall the early '90s, when so many of us in town firmly believed that Buffalo could become for Western New York what Seattle had been for the Northwest - a place where homegrown talent was harvested by major record labels and presented to the world-at-large as something truly special, unique and groundbreaking. It never happened. With the benefit of hindsight, we should probably be thankful it didn't.
It says an awful lot about our cultural character that so many talented musicians carried on in a passionate fashion in our town during that time. That's the very definition of character - grace under pressure, dignity posited against oblivion.
There are moments, however, when the zeitgeist becomes palpable. You can feel it, you can hear it, you can see it. Walking around the MiA Festival grounds Saturday, I realized event founder Robby Takac hadn't been merely blowing smoke when he told me a week prior to the event that the goal was "to have something amazing to listen to and to see everywhere you look." Takac scored a 10 out of 10 on that count.
Part of the reason for the festival's success has to do with the location. MiA has had several homes over the past decade, from its initial run in tandem with the Allentown Art Festival, to a brief (and ill-fated) stop at the Hamburg Fairgrounds, through its first peak on the Albright-Knox Art Gallery grounds. Last year, Takac and crew moved the event across Lincoln Parkway to the area surrounding Marcy Casino and Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park. The 2011 edition of MiA was a great success, and it certainly felt like the event had found its natural home. But this year, what felt like a vibrant and fun homegrown arts party exploded into a full-blown Lollapalooza-level celebration of Buffalo music, art and the many convergences between the two.
This year, Lincoln Parkway was closed to traffic. A main stage and two satellite stages sat in the street facing the park, and backed up to the steps leading to the art gallery. More than 100 bands (full disclosure - my son was playing bass in one of them) performed on stages that spread throughout the grounds of the park. There was a DJ stage tucked into the woods behind Shakespeare Hill, a Kids Village adjacent to the Rose Garden that turned into the Big Easy stage for a host of bands later in the evening, and the debut of a "Poetry Slam/Spoken Word" stage.
Local artisans formed a vendors' alleyway leading to the Americana stage.
Artists painted in real time on canvases spread behind stages, while bands performed in front of them. It was more than interesting to observe how the music affected the artist's reactions in terms of brush stroke and color choice.
In fact, in this very act of artistic convergence, one could easily see a metaphor for the commingling of artistic expression that Takac has long posited as MiA's raison d'etre.
These were the physical details, but what made MIA 2012 so magical can't be broken down to the merely physical. You couldn't touch it, and an accurate description is elusive, but there was something in the air that day.
Let's hear from someone else who was there.
"Music is Art 2012 was the single best gathering of culture this city has seen in 20 years," says veteran musician and music educator Eric Crittenden. "From the diversity of the music performances, to the sailboats on the lake - every age group and every soul had reason to celebrate during what was an inspiring congregation of music and art. Doing something this ambitious can be a daunting task at times, but Buffalo stands to gain so much more if the commitment is to bring us all together culturally, not just sell us beer."