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With only a few months of warm weather in Western New York, outdoor concerts have become a popular way to enjoy the summer and be entertained with a free or cheap evening.

In Niagara County, the number of concerts being offered and the quality of the entertainment have been growing, with concerts bringing in tens of thousands of fans to enjoy the warm weather and music in Lewiston, Lockport and North Tonawanda.

With a rebel yell, the summer concert season will begin its 14th year at Artpark with internationally known rock star Billy Idol in First Niagara’s Tuesday in the Park series, starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Coors Light Wednesdays @ Artpark series begin June 12.

The long-standing summer concert series has been growing, attracting big names and thousands of music fans. Last summer the overwhelming popularity of the free concerts prompted Artpark to charge a fee of $5 to $10 for general admission tickets. The fees help to limit attendance while bringing much-needed revenue to the park.

“We didn’t envision what we had when we first started up there,” said Artpark President George Osborne. “Our goal was to bring more people to Artpark by bringing in programs that people want to see. We brought more people by raising the quality of the bands that we hired.”

Artpark also built decks with awnings over them to seat corporate sponsors. He said there were six sponsor decks in 2003 or 2004, and the number has increased every year.

“Now we have 21 VIP sponsor boxes. The decks in the sponsor boxes were completely sold out –100 percent – before the season started. We never had any available to the general public,” Osborne said. He said a VIP standing-room area in front of the stage, which goes for $25, also is sold out for several concerts.

Osborne said this year Artpark is bringing back two concerts that were incredibly popular two years ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd, on Aug. 13, and ZZ Top, who will close the season Aug. 27.

He said both bands caused traffic to back up for 4 miles in both directions before their concerts. He said limiting seating should alleviate that problem.

Other top acts for Tuesday in the Park will include:

June 13 – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

June 18 – REO Speedwagon

June 25 – Chicago

July 9 – The Doobie Brothers

July 16 – Bad Company with Paul Rodgers

July 23 – Blue Rodeo

July 30 – The Machine performs Pink Floyd

Aug. 6 – 38 Special with Blue Oyster Cult

Aug. 20 – Gladys Knight and the O’Jays

On Wednesdays @ Artpark, the Coors Light series will feature:

June 12 – Gov’t Mule

June 26 – Dispatch

July 10 – O.A.R. and Friends

July 17 - Flaming Lips

Tickets are available at the Artpark Box Office, by calling 754-4375 or (888) 223-6000, or online at artpark.net or tickets.com.

The concerts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Artpark are just a slice of the music scene in Niagara County and beyond.

In North Tonawanda, free concerts take place at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning June 19, in Gateway Harbor Park on Sweeney Street.

Here is the lineup:

June 19 – opening act Silver Xtreme; headliner Black Widow

June 26 – Soul Barons; Boys of Summer

July 3 – Impact; Diva Show Band

July 10 – All Star Project; Cock Robin

July 24 – Maniacs; Beatle Magic

July 31 – Common Ground; 90 West

Aug. 7 – Double Take; Joy Ride

Aug. 14 – Exit; Breakaway

Aug. 21 – Murphy’s Law; Strictly Hip

Aug. 28 – Ultra Violet; Hit’n Run

Also in North Tonawanda at 7 p.m. Thursdays, beginning June 20 in Klimek Veterans Park, the former Fishermen’s Park on River Road:

June 20 – Jim Beishline and Janice Mitchell, pop-jazz and American Song Book music

June 27 – Bar Room Buzzards

July 4 – Ralph Fava and Friends, featuring Cheryl Ferris

July 11 – Kathy Carr American Song Book

July 25 – Polish Night with the Pic A Polka Band

Aug. 1 – Italian Night with Fonzi and Grandi

Aug. 8 – Jim Sansone and Company

Aug. 15 – Greater Niagara Musicians Concert Band

And beginning June 9, the Cornerstone’s Niagara River Rocks Sunday concert series begins monthly shows at 5 p.m. in Gratwick Riverside Park:

June 9 – Primus and Beggar’s Best

July 14 – Tea Party

Aug. 25 – Rusted Root and Hypnotic Clambake

Lockport’s Labatt free outdoor Friday concert series begins June 20, moving this year from Ulrich City Centre on Main Street two blocks to the south to a larger city-owned lot on Chestnut and Elm streets. The series, in its sixth year, will feature big-name acts such as Kansas on July 12 and Kellie Pickler, country music headliner of “Dancing with the Stars” fame on Aug. 9.

Other performers include:

June 28 – Puddle of Mudd

July 5 – Theory of Deadman

July 19 – Pink Floyd Experience

July 26 – Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

Aug. 2 – Jonny Lang

Aug. 16 – Rik Emmett

While the Lockport concerts are free, a VIP section in front of the stage is priced at $22 in advance and $27 on the day of the show.

Other free concerts include the Village of Youngstown concert series at 7 p.m. in Faulkner Park on Fridays from June 14 to Aug. 23, as well as the Lewiston Council on the Arts Blue Monday in the Hennepin Park Gazebo at the corner of Fourth and Center streets at 7 p.m. July 15 through Aug. 19.

Appropriately, the summer will wrap up with a free festival of music along Center Street in the Village of Lewiston at the Lewiston Jazz Festival on Aug. 23 and 24.

Headliner Bobby Militello will perform on the Center Street stage at 9 p.m. Aug. 23. And at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 24, the work of Lionel Hampton will be celebrated in a concert featuring Jason Marsalis, Kevin Mahogany, Jasey Falk and Sharp Radway.

The free outdoor festival will include other performers on the main stage beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday and noon Saturdays, as well as other musical performances up and down Center Street.

The street festival also includes food, wine, a jewelry show and classic cars. Parking is free. The schedule and information are available at www.lewistonjazz.com.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com