There are many things that unite the Buffalo music scene. Sadly, one of them is the ability of some of the participants in both the performer and nonperformer categories to complain, naysay and generally assume the worst.
Perhaps this is an offshoot of our history as a sports town and, in particular, a sports town that has grown used to losing. Before Wednesday, the “Fire Darcy Regier” thing had its logical merits, but was also indicative of our tendency to see things as gone hopelessly awry, and then to demand that someone become the figurehead for whatever we deem to be the problem. (So keep your head down, Mr. LaFontaine.)
This happens in the music scene, especially when a new club opens. There are those who insist on seeing the glass as half-empty, even when doing so accentuates the negative and generally creates a bad vibe around the new endeavor.
The Buffalo Iron Works, recently opened at 49 Illinois St. and adjacent to First Niagara Center, has come in for this sort of naysaying over the past few weeks, most noticeably during my weekly live chats at BuffaloNews.com.
The problem, with some people at least, seems to be that the club booked cover bands and tribute acts during prominent weekend nights, following a Sabres home game and surrounding Pearl Jam’s Oct. 12 appearance at FNC. The gist of these complaints suggested that “business as usual” on the Buffalo club scene would find a prime venue being dominated by cover bands, to the detriment of original artists.
The complaint is, in general, not without merit, as this has happened in the past. Clubs are businesses, and they are more concerned with making money and surviving than they are with being seen as patrons of the arts. That said, the plan at the Iron Works has always been to present a variety of live music acts, be they local, original, cover band or national touring acts. Area alternative, folk, funk and rock bands already have performed at the venue.
I recently shared on Facebook a story written by my colleague Mark Sommer in The News on Oct. 31, that detailed a plan launched by investors to transform an 8-acre grain elevator site into a “waterfront attraction with bars, restaurants, a brewery, an entertainment venue and ice rinks.” Part of the $15 million plan will include year-round concerts.
This information seemed positive to me and, I assumed, would be interpreted in the same manner by my ever-expanding list of FB “friends.” To my (perhaps naïve) surprise, what followed was a virtual onslaught of cynicism and negativity, with folks throwing around references to past failures – Bass Pro, the Twin Span bridge and so forth.
Again, I get it. We’ve been promised an awful lot over the years, and in the music scene in particular, we’ve gotten used to playing the waiting game, hoping for the best while expecting the worst.
And yet, the idea of us making progress as a serious entertainment and live music city is no longer the stuff of pipe dreams and high hopes. We are seeing real, tangible results on the waterfront, in the Canalside region, the Cobblestone District and on the Outer Harbor. As I look out my window toward Canalside while typing this, I don’t need to imagine it – I can see it.
More hopeful thinking did appear in the thread of comments following my sharing of the grain elevator story. One post in particular nailed the heart of the matter for me.
“It’s funny that so much is happening in terms of progress and buildings and for the good, and yet I am the first comment on here that is positive,” wrote Eric Kancar of East Aurora, a longtime supporter of live music in Buffalo. “If what is happening down there is any indication, this will happen. Cynicism and negativity will get this city nowhere. Finally, things are happening. Take notice.”
Of course, one needs to discern between blind, naïve optimism and a clear-eyed sense of hope. The arrival of new music venues and a general feeling of real progress in cultural investment will not change the fact that a band playing covers of songs by popular mainstream bands is going to draw more people, and thus make significantly more money, than a band playing original music. Over time, the playing field might even out. Or it might not.
Regardless, when a sense of hope permeates the air, I tend to take a long, deep breath.