The joyful moment happened more than a few times during Kevin Cain’s tenure as director of The Vault, and he remembers it fondly:
Cain and a small crowd would be gathered in the plucky indie music and art venue he ran for almost three years, when Buffalo’s Retro Metro would emerge from its underground track blaring its earsplitting horn.
It just so happened that the sound of the horn fit perfectly into the key of G. So when a rock band happened to be playing in that key, as rock bands often did, the horn added a spectacular layer of harmony to the music trickling out of the building onto the Main Street sidewalk.
“There are times when someone will be playing and it’ll line up absolutely perfectly, and everybody will just erupt in laughter and joy, because it’s perfect,” Cain recalled between sips of beer during a recent chat on Allen Street Hardware’s sidewalk patio.
If he still talks about The Vault in the present tense, it’s because many of those hundreds of small moments of beauty still haunt him. But the space itself, which served as one of Buffalo’s more remarkable showcases for independent music and off-the-radar art before its final show on June 29, is no more.
A combination of personal creative reasons, a fear of burning out and a dissatisfaction with the course of development of Main Street prompted Cain’s decision to move on to other projects. The end of The Vault, which comes on the heels of the closure of Mohawk Place and Soundlab, marks the end of one exciting chapter among Buffalo’s vast underground art scenes and the beginning of another.
Since Amanda Giczkowski opened the space in 2009, it has served as an oasis of eclectic culture on an otherwise quiet stretch of Main Street that was all but abandoned before the 710 Main Theatre reopened last summer.
The Vault’s DIY nature and open-access attitude meant that it was equally at home hosting album release parties for rock bands and hip-hop artists, solo exhibitions for first-time artists and experimental fusions of all kinds of art, music, theater and unclassifiable pursuits. To some extent, those small audiences overlapped, creating what on any given night would be one of the more gloriously unlikely crowds in Buffalo.
Some of the best moments, Cain recalled, happened when the venue was nearly empty and its few inhabitants were intensely focused on what was playing out on the stage.
“There would be five or six people, or 12 or 13, and everybody would just freak out at the end of what somebody was playing because they were playing the best that they could, the hardest that they could, and we, the audience, were appreciating it to the max,” he said. “Those were the times that I felt the most accomplished.”
My favorite moments at The Vault, where I was an infrequent visitor, happened during Buffalo’s annual Infringement Festival, when the strangest bands and art projects would play out there, and during the Curtain Up! celebrations. On those September evenings, it seemed the venue reached its full potential by mounting simultaneous indoor and outdoor shows that drew tuxedo-clad theatergoers along with indie music and art scenesters.
For Cain, there’s no reason to lament the closure. He compared it to the strategic trimming of a branch on an otherwise healthy cultural tree.
The energy that went into The Vault, “is actually just going down underground into the roots to make that tree sturdy,” he said. “And you know what? Next spring there’s gonna be new stuff growing on it anyway.”