As this year’s second annual East Aurora Music Fest approaches Saturday, Mike O’Connor said that he expects to play “until the police come” as he celebrates this year’s expanded festival.
The lineup will range from brassy sounds to a duo with a young woman who plays her violin like a guitar. The weekend’s musical lineup – 33 local bands at 10 venues.
“Music, the unspoken language of all,” said O’Connor of the “Neverben” band, who last year marveled at the crowds out walking, pushing strollers and riding bicycles as they listened to bands playing around Elm and Riley streets.
“It was like, ‘Wow look at all the people milling about town,’” he said. “It’s a pretty musical town. There isn’t a night of the week when you can’t go somewhere and get live music.”
O’Connor was pleasantly surprised last year by the turnout of about 2,500 who came to hear 20 bands play four venues. It felt like a big block party. The crowds were so big, the festival had no choice but to expand, said John Venezia, the founder.
“They all had the best night they ever had,” he said of the participating bars and restaurants. “We were concerned with the crowd getting too big for the venue and someone getting hurt.”
From 3 p.m. to midnight Saturday, a shuttle bus will offer rides from the Healthy Zone ice rink headquarters on Riley Street to new stops on and off Main Street, like the Brother’s Restaurant, Bar Bill Tavern and the American Grille on Seneca Street. The Roycroft Inn, which is hosting Leeron Zydeco, will sell food from an outdoor tent, as will the Elm Street Bakery.
“Everybody clamored to get involved,” Venezia said.
To research the lineup, posted at eamusicfest.com, he and friends spent the last year and a half reading musical listings in the newspaper and going on scouting trips to local bars.
“We personally have heard every single band,” Venezia said.
They listened to the rink’s headlining act, JJ Swing, at the River Grill in Tonawanda. The eight-piece band has a horn section and plays hits by Steely Dan, Chicago, and Earth, Wind and Fire.
“They’ll get people up and dancing,” said Venezia.
At the Cove banquet hall in Depew, they were taken with .22 Caliber, “a high-energy band that really entertains,” which plays ’70s and ’80s style rock.
A visit to Talty’s in South Buffalo led them to “Busted Stuff,” with the guitar-style violinist that plays songs from Dave Matthews to Led Zepplin.
Saturday promises to be warm, sunny and perfect for listening to music. Just in case people are tempted to stay home to watch California Chrome try for the Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes, the 6:30 p.m. horse race will be broadcast at the rink. The East Aurora High School hockey team will use the opportunity to raise money for new jerseys and offer a race-related game of chance.
Last year, almost $20,000 was raised through the sales of the $10 wristband tickets. (Veterans are free.) Proceeds were divided between two charities set to benefit again this year: People and Places, a local nonprofit organizer of vacations for people with disabilities, and the Aurora Ice Association, which runs the Healthy Zone ice rink and is working to build a lodge with permanent locker rooms.
This year if $30,000 is raised, “I’d be thrilled,” said Venezia, a project manager at Time Warner Cable who started the festival after being inspired by the success of the Hamburg Music Festival.