Summer Outdoor Music
Wednesday on the Canal at Tonawandas Gateway Harbor Park
Photo by Bob Blazin
In Western New York, we experience all four seasons, and people enjoy each one for its unique qualities. During the summer, many outdoor activities are scheduled. In WNY, we try to pack a full year of events into the months of June, July, and August. There is something to do almost every day of the summer. The hard part is deciding which events to attend.
During the 1950s to 1970s, the outdoor events were primarily church lawn fetes, fireman’s picnics, and special town celebrations. At these events, you would find ethnic bands, food vendors, beer tents, amusement park rides, carnival games, and gambling tents. Many lawn fetes continue today with oldies or classic rock bands, beer tents, 5K or 10K runs or walks, car shows, bounce houses, and face painting, along with other activities.
Beginning in 1987, Thursday at the Square expanded upon the lawn fete concept by offering concerts in Lafayette Square in Downtown Buffalo. It began as a casual showcase of local talent and progressed to concerts featuring both national and local acts, catering primarily to the Baby Boomer generation. Over time, the event began offering an eclectic lineup of artists, covering all styles of music and, in 2011, it moved to the Central Wharf at Canalside. The fete now caters to all age groups and offers diverse activities almost every day of the summer.
The Thursday in the Square concept of live bands once a week, with concert style PA systems, food, and beverages was replicated by other locations. Tonawanda’s Gateway Park, which is now the western terminus of the Erie Canal, started Wednesday on the Canal in 2002. This event features two bands every week, retaining the early Thursday at the Square local music format. Molson’s Canal Concerts Series provided a national band, with local opening bands, every Saturday at Gateway Park. That event moved to Friday nights in Lockport in 2008, back to North Tonawanda’s Gratwick Park in 2013, and last year to Batavia Downs.
Artpark began offering free Tuesday in the Park national band concerts in 2003. The size of the crowds at Artpark continued to grow and production costs continued to increase, so Artpark began charging a nominal fee to enter the events in 2011. Canalside and Batavia Downs have also instituted a low-price admission policy, but the costs are minimal compared to regular concert ticket prices. Some special events like the Erie County Fair, Italian Festival, Irish Festival, and Greek Festival also have an admission fee.
The longest running free concert series is not an evening concert, but the noon time shows presented by M&T Bank. These daily downtown shows on the steps at One M&T Plaza began in 1970. Some of the town concert events also go back several decades, but these shows may not include concert style production, and alcohol is usually not served.
Following are several large scale weekly outdoor events:
Music Mania Mondays, Town of Niagara Veterans Memorial Park, 7000 Lockport Road
Tuesday in the Park, Artpark in Lewiston
Food Truck Tuesdays, Larkinville, 745 Seneca Street in Buffalo
Wednesday on the Canal, Gateway Harbor Park, Sweeney St. in North Tonawanda
Live at Larkin, Larkinville, 745 Seneca Street in Buffalo
River Fest Park, 249 Ohio Street in Buffalo
Canalside Concert Series, Inner Harbor Central Wharf on the Buffalo waterfront
Dunkirk City Pier, Central Avenue in Dunkirk
Food Truck Thursdays, Gateway Harbor Park, Sweeney Street in Tonawanda
Rockin’ the Downs, Batavia Downs, 8315 Park Road in Batavia
Concerts also take place on a regular basis at town parks in Orchard Park, Amherst, East Aurora, Williamsville, Boston, West Seneca, Cheektowaga, Hamburg, Blasdell, Lewiston, Youngstown, and other municipalities. In addition, there are various Food Truck Nights, Car Cruises with live music, and many restaurant/bars feature outdoor bands.
On weekends, there are numerous lawn fetes, ethnic festivals or music festivals; special events like Taste of Buffalo, Elmwood Art Festival, Old Home Days or Juneteenth; weeklong events like Canal Fest and county fairs; and concerts on the floating stage on Lake Chautauqua in Bemus Point.
Almost all these events feature music for the Baby Boom Generation, with bands playing ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s music, so check web page guides like buffalospree.com, stepoutbuffalo.com, buffalonews.com/event and others for more info and who is performing. A guide just listing outdoor shows is at bestofWNY.com/concerts_festivals.
In addition to events that feature live music, there are many other outdoor activities in the WNY area taking place all summer long. You can only blame yourself if you say you have nothing to do in Buffalo during the summer. Enjoy the good weather and great music.
Rick Falkowski is author of History of Buffalo Music & Entertainment and is cofounder of The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org