Take Main Street, east, through Williamsville, down into Clarence Hollow and out the other side, into Akron, and be careful not to blink, or you’ll miss it.
Braun’s Concert Cove is tucked behind an incline on the right hand side of Main Street. What appears to be a humble new concert venue, at first glance, reveals itself as an impressive set-up, with a large two-tier deck surrounding a massive stage, and a brand new pavilion-style roof covering a standing room area that could easily accommodate 1,500 or so fans.
On Friday, the new venue – which specializes in presenting revered ’80s metal acts and contemporary country artists – welcomed Poison vocalist and reality television star Bret Michaels and his band. The place was packed by 7 p.m., as local openers Stealin’ and Jim Crean & Hair Nation warmed up the crowd with sets of classic metal and hard rock covers.
Those in the crowd treated both bands like royalty, with many singing along to classics like Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” with fists raised and cans of beer held aloft. It felt like an arena rock show even before Michaels and his band took the stage. When they finally did, a little before 10 p.m., it was suddenly as if grunge had never come along to kick “hair metal” to the curb back in 1990.
The crowd appeared to be comprised of folks between ages 30 and 50, who arrived at Braun’s ready to rock. Unlike later generations, when a sort of ironic detachment as an audience member became de rigeur, fans who came of age alongside ’80s metal embrace the moment with unfettered, fist-pumping, head-banging enthusiasm. When Michaels and crew hit the stage running with a rendition of Poison’s (cheesy but fun) anthem “Talk Dirty To Me,” the throng pressed closer to the stage and assumed full-on party mode for the duration of the gig.
That set was comprised almost exclusively of Poison tunes and jet-fueled covers of classic rock ditties. “Sweet Home Alabama” was one of them. Yup. The Lynyrd Skynyrd tune that anyone who has ever listened to classic rock radio has heard more times than might be healthy. This might seem ridiculous, but Michaels wasn’t joking, his band played the song with note-perfect precision, and the crowd screamed along like it was the first time they’d heard the song. The guy clearly knows what his fans are into.
Soon after, Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” was transformed into a metallic boogie. Michaels surprisingly tackled Sublime’s reggae-rock hybrid “What I Got” as well, and somehow, he pulled it off with conviction, despite the fact that the song is not really in his wheelhouse.
The predominantly female crowd saved its most inspired screaming for the Poison ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” for which Michaels donned a cowboy hat and a 12-string acoustic guitar. The tune is a little bit hokey, particularly when its singer is flanked on either side by huge silk-screen tapestries adorned with his own face.
But hey, that’s the point – ’80s hair metal was always a little bit silly. It’s not deep fare, but rather, unabashedly hook-heavy and anthemic party music. And Michaels – as well as his longtime guitarist, Pete Evick, who played with fire throughout the set – owns this stuff.
Braun’s Concert Cove is an impressive venue. It has aspects of a backyard porch party, but also is capable of presenting a full-blown arena experience. On Friday, the sound was surprisingly clear for a high-ceilinged pavilion arrangement, and the sight lines are generally excellent. Most significantly, the venue has found its niche and is serving a portion of the concert-going public that is clearly eager to be served.