Art and theater: Bigger things for 710 Main, Theatre District

By Colin Dabkowski

News Arts Critic

With the experience of an unpredictable 2012 fresh in our memory and the whole of 2013 spread out before us like a big blank canvas, trying to prognosticate what the year will hold is a fool’s errand. But that won’t stop me from making a few modest wishes for Western New York’s arts scene over the next 12 months:

• In previous wish lists, one item has rarely failed to make an appearance: The return of the former Studio Arena Theatre, which closed in 2008, . In 2012, that wish came true when Shea’s Performing Arts Center arranged the opening of the newly rechristened 710 Main Theatre. In the new year, I’d like to see 710 Main have a hit with its first full-scale production, Road Less Traveled Theatre’s “The Circle Mirror Transformation,” opening Feb. 1.

After that, it would be great to see collaborations among more Buffalo companies on big, challenging and popular productions on the 710 stage. This approach, properly executed, is one of the few real chances the theater community has to expand the audience – and as a result the financial stability and overall quality of theater – in the region.

• A related wish is for Buffalo’s Theater District, for far too long a lackluster zone that only comes creaking to life when shows are playing, into a bustling, mixed-use community. The return of traffic to Main Street may play a role in that, but there needs to be a renewed effort from the city to make good on the promise of a vibrant Theater District that has never fully materialized.

• One of the big stories last year was the reawakening of the century-old buildings along the Buffalo River, especially its grain elevators. I’d love to see a large-scale collaborative effort to draw more sustained attention to the elevators for reasons other than one-day events, performances and festivals.

• As groups like the Arts Services Initiative, the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance and Give for Greatness continue to grow, 2013 should be the year for them to fully coalesce around a single and powerful goal: To transform the political landscape into one that understands and fully exploits the connection between taxpayer-funded cultural endeavors and the vitality and national reputation of Western New York. This could be the year that we stop thinking of culture as a condiment.

• One of the major reasons the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield Penney Art Center have struggled to engage the full spectrum of Buffalo’s community is because they maintain expensive admission prices. In 2013, as Buffalo continues to rank high on the list of the poorest cities in America, both museums need to make it a priority to eliminate admission charges and usher the entire community through their doors. Everyone will benefit.

• Let’s hope this is the year that Allentown’s always-burgeoning, never-quite-peaking gallery district comes fully into its own. The monthly First Fridays gallery walk continues to grow in popularity, but its reach could extend even farther with a more concerted effort to brand the district, the event and the city that hosts it, as a destination.

• Beyond/In Western New York, the mega visual arts exhibition that knocked the socks off of unprecedented numbers of visitors in 2010, is on hiatus this year. Here’s hoping its organizers reconvene to mount another major event in 2014 or 2015. The effort will be worth it.


Music: Someone please save Mohawk Place!

By Jeff Miers

News Pop Music Critic

I’m an optimist, by which I mean, I hope for the best, while silently expecting the worst. Say what you will, but it works for me. When your eyes are constantly watching the dark side of the street, you aren’t too much fun to be around. Which makes it hard to keep a good band together. Or be a decent father, husband or friend, for that matter. So I’ll offer, in the spirit of optimism, a musical wish-list for 2013. All of these items are indeed possibilities for the coming year. But please don’t hold me to them. I’m a dreamer, after all.

• Wealthy investor with heart of gold and encyclopedic knowledge of popular music history purchases Mohawk Place and preserves indie-rock scene for generations to come. Mohawk Place always managed to hang on by the skin of its teeth. Sadly, events have conspired so that the financial burden involved with continuing to do so has simply become too much and the club is scheduled to close Jan. 12. For many of us, Mohawk Place is as important to our conception of the Buffalo area as is Ralph Wilson Stadium, or the Albright-Knox, or that statue of David in Delaware Park. Someone needs to step up.

• A new permanent outdoor amphitheater on the waterfront helps transform Buffalo into a first-tier concert market. The success of the Thursdays at the Harbor and Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor concerts suggest that a permanent amphitheater on this very site would work. There’s plenty of room. The location flatters Buffalo, and would very likely be attractive to out-of-towners – who would travel here if the proper talent was booked. And the promotion and production team is already in place. This seems like both a no-brainer and a win-win. The run-off business at surrounding clubs, restaurants and bars would mean further opportunities for local musicians, too.

• Robby Takac’s Good Charamel record label takes off, and hordes of young bands from across the country flock to Buffalo to record at his GCR Recording Studios. Good Charamel scored big by signing the legendary Japanese female power-pop outfit Shonen Knife, and has also released two “J-Rock” collections – compilations of contemporary Japanese noise rock and garage pop bands. If the label took off in a big way, Takac and Co. would certainly be looking at more Buffalo bands to work with. Similarly, the staff Takac employs at his GCR Recording Studios is world-class. The studio is state of the art, and should be booked several years in advance. I’d like 2013 to be the year this happens.

• Radiohead plays Buffalo.This band – arguably the most significant act in popular music of the past 20 years – has never played a headlining show in Buffalo. This needs to change.

• An alternative to Darien Lake becomes a viable option for promoter Live Nation. Choice is good for consumers. Currently, for big, ticketed summer shows, Darien Lake is the only choice. Something closer to Buffalo would be nice.

• At least one Buffalo band is selected to perform at the annual Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. We have more than a few bands that are ready, willing and able to break into the big festival circuit. Perhaps the fact that last year’s high-profile Moe.Down Festival marked the first time an independent Buffalo band was asked to perform at the event – Aqueous, hand-picked by Moe.Down organizers – is a harbinger of good things to come.

• Music Is Art Festival sets record attendance for its 11th year gathering. That a festival as ambitious as this one broke through the 10-year barrier with its original mission statement firmly in hand is an inspiration. The 2012 crowd was sizable, but for 2013, the festival should be jam-packed from morning until well into the evening. MIA is succeeding, but it needs continued and increased support from the public in order to continue on its growth trajectory.

• A balance is achieved between the amount of classic rock and more contemporary – dare I say cutting edge – bookings at the various free and “soft-ticketed” summer concert series, thereby silencing the (too) many critics, and offering a little something for everyone. And not just because I’m sick of hearing people complain about it! In all seriousness, we need to have a summer concert roster that fully reflects the tastes of the people who live, work and party here. Balance and variety are the keys.

• A general realization that live music is as important to Western New York culture as sports, theater and art is achieved by one and all. World peace and an end to famine and hunger would be nice, too. Hey. A guy can dream! Bring it on, 2013.


Classical: Continued success for BPO, Nickel City Opera

By Mary Kunz Goldman

News Classical Music Critic

What does the year 2013 hold for classical music? It’s tough to tell. But I know a few things I would like to see happen – or, in some cases, continue to happen.

• Let’s all hope that the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s financial health continues. This year will bring new challenges and, with luck, new triumphs. This spring, the orchestra is stepping into the national spotlight with a performance at Carnegie Hall of the massive and problematic Third Symphony of Reinhold Gliere. And then may the BPO continue to set an example for the world of how an orchestra’s management, musicians and board can work together for the artistic good of us all.

• Every year I hope Nickel City Opera continues its upward momentum. Money seems to be tighter for everyone, but the company is prevailing. This year, the company is tentatively planning on staging “Shot!,” an opera by Persis Parshall Vehar about the McKinley assassination. Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” is also reportedly in the works.

• Collaborations among groups are almost always interesting and can help build audiences. The BPO’s “Nutcracker” with the Neglia Ballet Artists, which has turned into an annual event, is a case in point. Another shining example from 2012 was the BPO’s performance with a guest organist of the accompaniment to the silent film “The Phantom of the Opera,” at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. I hope for more artistic, sometimes multimedia, collaboration.

• My hopes last year that the Statler or the Lafayette hotels would carve out space for a jazz club did not come to fruition. It probably will not. I do not blame the proprietors. If the market’s not there, it’s not there. Maybe we could see more clubs offering occasional quality music. Allen Street Hardware has a back room that features jazz bands. The Central Park Grill recently changed hands, and it would be nice if the buyers brought new life to this legendary venue.

• Speaking of jazz, the Colored Musicians Club should get its act together. The club recently held a fundraiser at Denton, Cottier and Daniels aimed toward getting a decent piano into the place, presumably for the first time since Count Basie used to play there. If the club is ever to be taken seriously as a musical venue, that piano must materialize. Also, the very excellent museum, built with public funding, should get regular hours and be promoted properly so that people can visit.

• Pope Benedict XVI is a musician – an excellent classical pianist, as I understand it – and he has been fighting a tough battle to improve the Catholic Church’s music, which has hit the skids in recent decades. Reforms are slow to reach Buffalo, but in the last couple of years, the accomplished young singing group Harmonia has performed a few Renaissance Masses in a liturgical context, something you would normally find only in a city like New York or Toronto. It’s a challenging endeavor, and a brave one. Maybe next Christmas we could have a midnight Tridentine Mass! They have one in Manhattan.