Imagine, if you will, that you’ve been given purview over a full season of free summer concerts in our region. You get to call the shots on who plays some of the highest visibility gigs of our prime outdoor concert season.
So what do you do? Do you simply check off your own personal bucket list, and fill the roster with artists you and your buddies would love to see this summer? Or do you attempt to satisfy the greatest number of people by booking a diverse lineup that cuts across demographic, generational and stylistic lines?
Odds are, while you might entertain notions of the bucket list approach in the first blush of excitement, come reality check time, you would end up opting for the second course of action.
That very reality surely faced organizers of the annual free Thursday downtown concerts, now officially known as the Thursday at Canalside concert series. They, too, seemed to favor a cross-section approach when concocting this year’s schedule, announced by Buffalo Place on Wednesday along with the Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside series.
The Thursday schedule moves freely in a widely variegated arc that includes indie rock (the Hold Steady and Hollerado on June 6), modern alternative pop (Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros on June 13), ’90s alternative (Steven Page on June 20), roots and blues (G. Love and Special Sauce on July 11), ’80s alt-pop (the Fixx on July 25), contemporary bluegrass (Yonder Mountain String Band and Railroad Earth on Aug. 1), neo-metal (Halestorm on Aug. 8), classics from the album-oriented rock glory days (Todd Rundgren on Aug. 15) and jam band stylings (Lotus on Aug. 29).
To suggest that this year’s lineup offers something for everyone is ludicrous – there’s no jazz, after all, no true electronic dance music, no thrash metal, no punk, and so forth. But there is an awful lot of variety here, and unless you happen to be a billionaire footing the bill for a concert series without concern for pleasing anyone but yourself, variety is by necessity the name of the game.
Both the Thursday at Canalside free shows and the ticketed Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside shows favor schedules that might appeal to a wide swath of the general public.
The six Rocks Canalside shows – presented in three weekend groups of two – are what is known in the industry as “soft ticketed” shows, meaning that similar bills at arenas, “sheds,” or the like would cost you at the very least three times as much to attend. Most of these concerts have an advance price of $15 a ticket, $20 day of show. The Counting Crows/Wallflowers double bill on June 28 is $16 advance, but includes a free download of the band’s new in-concert collection “Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow” with each ticket. (By comparison, a ticket for the same Crows/Wallflowers bill at the Bank of American Pavilion in Boston on June 18, would set you back $80.50 per ticket for the best seats.)
In addition, concerts featuring the Wailers and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (July 26) and Bel Biv Devoe (July 27) will be a free admission affair.
The Canalside area is abuzz with new builds and beaucoup construction activity and will remain so throughout the summer. This fact has not been lost on Thursday at Canalside and Rocks Canalside organizers. Buffalo Place Manager of Marketing Jackie Jonmaire said a second entrance will be opened this year, allowing attendees to access the concert grounds via a gate at Main and Perry streets, to provide a more fluid human traffic flow in and out of the concerts.
There’s also the issue of parking, with the former paid public lot at the corner of Scott and Washington streets now a construction site.
“The surface lots and the ramp adjacent to the First Niagara Center are open to the public,” Jonmaire said. “I’ve been telling callers to park like they would park when going to a Sabres game or an event at the FNC. Also, we noticed increasingly last year that more and more people were learning to use mass transit to come to the shows, which is a positive development.”
Significantly for the Buffalo original music scene, local openers will continue to be added to each show whenever possible – meaning, whenever the headliners aren’t already carrying support acts of their own. That’s as it should be. It’s fitting that one of the highest-visibility stages in the area will offer a forum for homegrown music.
So what about the shows?
Many of the bookings jump off the page right away, but which ones they happen to be is certainly a matter of personal taste. For myself, the inclusion of a legend like Rundgren, who has been playing the Tralf Music Hall most summers for the better part of a decade now, is incredibly exciting. Rundgren has proven himself a pop music visionary repeatedly over the years, and is touring behind a compelling new album, “State,” this summer. (That album is comprised almost exclusively of Rundrgren’s interpretation of modern electronic dance music, so expecting solely a “greatest hits” revue from the man’s Canalside appearance is probably unwise.)
Kicking things off with the double bill of the Hold Steady and Hollerado – both bands that played the dearly departed Mohawk Place in the past – is a classy tip of the hat to the indie-rock contingent in our area.
I’m pleased that the young and rapidly rising neo-metal outfit Halestorm – led by the beguiling guitarist/vocalist Lzzy Hale, who stole the show during last year’s Edgefest at the Outer Harbor – is being given a headlining slot this year. Lotus is the only true jam-band on the Canalside roster this year, and I’m glad it’s there. The appearance of ’80s New Romantic legend Adam Ant certainly has my interest piqued.
Mostly, though, I’m pleased by the diversity of the roster, and the fact that organizers split the difference between returning favorites and first-timers. The Canalside area will be buzzing with activity this summer. Only a cynic could interpret this as a bad thing.
Thursday at Canalside
Concerts are from 5 to 9 p.m. and are free.
June 6: The Hold Steady and Hollerado (Indie-rock double bill)
June 13: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Brilliant chamber pop)
June 20: Steven Page (Pure pop gems from former frontman of Barenaked Ladies)
June 27: Teddy Riley and Blackstreet (The “king of New Jack swing”)
July 11: G. Love and Special Sauce and the Joy Formidable (Tasty mixture of funk, blues and soul)
July 18: Los Lonely Boys (Texican rock ’n’ roll and blues)
July 25: The Fixx (Return of 1980s alternative band)
Aug. 1: Yonder Mountain String Band and Railroad Earth (A night of bluegrass and Americana)
Aug. 8: Halestorm (Hard rock from central Pennsylvania)
Aug. 15: An Evening with Todd Rundgren (Rock icon)
Aug. 22: Adam Ant and The Good, the Mad & the Lovely Posse (British New Romantic favorite)
Aug. 29: Lotus (Instrumental electronic jam sounds)
Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside
Concerts are from 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets are available at the Buffalo Place box office (671 Main St.), tickets.com or charge by phone at (888) 223-6000. For more information, visit buffaloplace.com.
June 28: Counting Crows and the Wallflowers (Rock with a rootsy touch; $16 advance, $20 day of show) June 29: KEM (Smooth mix of R&B, soul; $15 advance, $20 day of show)
July 26: The Wailers and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (Reggae at its finest; free)
July 27: Bel Biv Devoe (More R&B, free)
Aug. 30: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo with Eric Burdon (Classic rock royalty; $15 advance, $20 day of show, on sale at 10 a.m. Friday)
Aug. 31: To Be Announced.