Last week, things changed in Buffalo, and they changed quite possibly for the better in a significant way. At noon Thursday, Entercom Buffalo launched its new station, Alternative Buffalo 107.7 FM, simultaneously ending its simulcast of sister station News Talk WBEN AM, and launching what might be a new era for the Buffalo music scene.
During its first hour, Alternative Buffalo played a broad range of contemporary alternative music that included the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Kings of Leon, Metric, AWOLNation, Said the Whale, Lorde and Bastille. Intermingled with these new hipster hits were tunes from “classic” alternative artists such as Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, U2 and Foo Fighters.
These types of artists haven’t had a home on Buffalo radio since 103.3 the EDGE moved from an alternative to an active rock format in 2005. And with the exception of U2, Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon, none of the artists named above has played a show in Western New York since. Coincidence? Probably not.
I’m often asked questions regarding the area’s concert scene. The most common of these has to do with the types of shows we get around here – or more specifically, the shows that skip over us, sometimes for Rochester, always for Toronto and, often, in favor of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
It’s understandable, really. If you look at the shows we get with some frequency in our market, they can be generalized and narrowed down to include massively popular mainstream pop, country and classic rock. Just take a look at the docket over at First Niagara Center. Last week, pop crooner Michael Bublé played the arena; in the coming months, the lineup includes Top 40 acts like Drake, Selena Gomez, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Justin Timberlake. With the exception of the Pearl Jam show Oct. 12, there’s not much here for the considerable number of area music fans whose tastes run to the left of center, or above and beyond the mainstream.
Many area music fans have been arguing about the quality of what’s been offered through our free and soft-ticket outdoor summer concert series’ for as long as we’ve had them. That’s not likely to ever end. The gist of these rants ranges from “It’s all old and inconsequential classic rock bands” to “It’s all weird jam-bands and washed-up ’80s acts” to “I’ve never heard of half of these people.” Of course, it’s not possible to please everyone. Some people are always likely to feel that their personal musical tastes are not being celebrated with enough vigor.
If we look at the reasons behind the fact that, say, a Nine Inch Nails or an Arcade Fire or a Radiohead never seem to play Buffalo, they invariably involve a side of the music business that most fans don’t understand, because they are not privy to the inner workings. Many of the naysayers assume that artists don’t care about Buffalo, think we’re not worthy of a visit, or something along these lines. Artists don’t really have much to do with it. They work with booking agents and promoters – some local and independent, others global and corporate-managed. These people control the artists’ touring agenda or put up the money to book them, based on how strong they assume the support to be in the market.
Why does it seem that there is such a lack of faith in our market? The truth is, it’s not us. What we’ve lacked here for a long time is a strong alternative radio presence. And as strange as this may seem, since so many people have been saying for more than a decade that radio is insignificant, agents and promoters take radio support for a show seriously. Why does Rochester get alternative music shows that we don’t? Simple. They’ve got alternative radio support in the form of WZNE the Zone 94.1 FM.
“The thing is, radio is still incredibly significant, when it comes to new music,” says Donny Kutzbach of Fun Time Presents, who books shows at venues including the Town Ballroom and Waiting Room, as well as the Water Street Concert Hall in Rochester.
“Not having a station that would play new alternative music and indie-rock has been a huge deterrent when it comes to booking certain artists. This new station is not a magic bullet that will solve every problem when it comes to booking new, young bands, but if there’s a long-term commitment to keeping the station here, then I have absolutely no doubt that in the future we we’ll be getting far more of the sort of shows that have traditionally skipped over us.”