Buffalo is certainly a city for all seasons.
Still, once our six or so months of cold and snow finally give way to sunshine and 70-degree days, it’s pretty clear that summer in Western New York is something special. Obvious as it sounds, then, it’s our duty to make the most of the summer while we have it.
Surely, you already have your own itinerary of trips, cookouts, bonfires and other outdoor activities that will take you right up to September. But there are a few major events that all true Buffalonians should fit into their season schedules – the time-honored traditions that are guaranteed to capture the best of Buffalo’s summer, every summer.
It’s not summer if you don’t do some of these things.
1. Go to Shakespeare in Delaware Park – twice
There’s no question of whether to be or not to be at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. It’s the second-largest Shakespeare festival in the country, with roughly 50,000 people lending their ears to free, first-rate Shakespeare productions every summer. It’s also the great equalizer of Buffalo theater, uniting the most diverse crowd of any local production, and there’s something beautiful about seeing such an assorted audience on the grass every night for the sake of Shakespeare. So why go twice? Simple: There are two plays every summer, and there is no reason to miss either of them. For the festival’s 38th season, you can revel in the madness and method of “Hamlet” (continuing through July 14), then return later in the summer for comic relief at “Measure for Measure” (July 25 through Aug. 18). Bring lawn chairs and wine, and see what all the ado is about. All shows start at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Visit shakespeareindelawarepark.org for more information.
2. Take in a Bisons game
The Sabres dominate the first few months of the year, and in the fall, the Bills will be the talk of the town again. But over the summer, we have only the great American pastime, which is the ideal game for these balmy, breezy days. Even if you’re the kind of person whose baseball attention span can’t stretch past a few innings, spending an afternoon or evening in Coca-Cola Field (275 Washington St.) is an enjoyable and essential experience. Just buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack, throw in a hot dog or Labatt Blue and spend a few hours relaxing at one of the most laid-back sporting events Buffalo has to offer. Better yet, plan your visit for one of the Bisons’ many special events, whether it’s the traditional Independence Eve game (July 3), Pirate Festival Night (Aug. 24) or just any game that ends with fireworks (every Friday). To see the full schedule and purchase tickets, go to milb.com.
3. Spend a Thursday at Canalside
We can complain about a lot of things in Western New York, but not having enough outdoor concerts should not be one of them. None brings the city together quite like Thursday at Canalside. The venue changed last year, and the name is new this year, but the 27-year tradition is the same as it ever was: Free concerts, downtown, every Thursday through Aug. 29. This summer’s series already featured the Hold Steady, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and R&B star Teddy Riley (who headlines tonight’s show), and the schedule only gets more eclectic from here, with concerts by Chicano rockers Los Lonely Boys (next Thursday), hardcore group Halestorm (Aug. 8) and classic rock star Todd Rundgren (Aug. 15). But for many Buffalonians, the music is secondary: Thousands of people show up and hang out every Thursday, regardless of who’s playing, just for the camaraderie. And now that the series moved to the scenic, spacious harbor – one of the best places to spend a summer night – Thursday at Canalside is truly a perfect complement to the season. All concerts run from 5 to 9:30 p.m. See the full lineup at buffaloplace.com/thursday.
4. Do as much as possible at the Erie County Fair
Parades. Puppet shows. Magic shows. Laser shows. Animal shows and petting zoos. Historical demonstrations. An assortment of carnival games and activities. Demolition derbies. Dozens of food vendors. Concerts by Three Days Grace (Aug. 7), Sawyer Brown (Aug. 8) and the Eagles tribute band Hotel California (Aug. 9), among others. A chain saw artist, a hypnotist, a one-handed juggler and a “balloonologist.”
Are we forgetting something? Many things, surely. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s scheduled for the Erie County Fair, which, perhaps needless to say, is one of the largest county fairs in America, drawing about 1 million patrons summer after summer. The fair, now in its 174th year, runs Aug. 7-18 at the Fairgrounds (5600 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg), and you could probably visit every day and still not see everything it offers. Our advice? Block out a day or two, and get in as much as you can. Savor your favorite fried foods, watch a few shows while you digest, exhaust yourself at some of the rides or competitive games and then relax at one of the concerts or demonstrations before heading out. Experiencing only a fraction of the fair’s festivities still makes for one of your busiest summer days. To browse the full schedule and purchase tickets for special events, go to ecfair.org.
5. Pick a festival, any festival
Do you like things? Then Buffalo has a festival, or two, or maybe five that will catch your interest sometime this summer. Foodies can treat themselves to the Taste of Diversity and Strawberry Festival (both on Saturday), the Taste of Buffalo (July 13-14) or the National Buffalo Wing Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). The city celebrates its ethnic diversity at the Lebanese Festival (July 26-28), Serbfest (July 27-28), the Buffalo Irish Festival (Aug. 23-25) and the Ukrainian American Day Festival (Aug. 25). You can immerse yourself in the city’s finest arts at the Buffalo Infringement Festival (July 25-Aug. 4), the Queen City Jazz Festival (July 27) and the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts (Aug. 24-25). Obviously, this is just a partial list – we barely have the space here to list all the festivals for any given week, let alone the whole season. (But you can see our complete Festival Guide at buffalonews.com). Still, you get the idea: If it’s the kind of thing that can be celebrated, it will be celebrated, again and again, at the flurry of festivals found around Western New York. So pick a festival, any festival, and mingle with your fellow Buffaloians while the weather still permits it.
Next week: The five best places to watch fireworks.