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Pure musical savvy on display

This summer, the Tuesday free concert series at Artpark has brought in its share of interesting boomer-oriented groups, building upon a solid record established by the venue during the past few years. People know about it and generally show up in significant numbers to enjoy the music and the physical beauty of the Niagara Gorge.

Wednesday's free concert series at Artpark hasn't generated quite the public response of its Tuesday sibling despite showcasing quite a few decent groups. So far this year, relatively small audiences have come to see Wednesday shows featuring Richie Havens, Lucinda Williams and, this week, country-rock pioneers Pure Prairie League.

While this does allow for a certain amount of elbow room that doesn't necessarily exist on Tuesdays, it doesn't necessarily make sense, given the quality of the entertainment that shows up for the Wednesday concerts.

Wednesday's Pure Prairie League show is a case in point. Folks who managed to wend their way to Artpark for this band's gig saw an ensemble whose musicianship and instrumental savvy have only improved over time.

Craig Fuller handled the majority of lead vocal chores in addition to playing guitar, although Curtis Wright, who also seemed to fulfill the role of designated guitar hero, chimed in with some strong lead singing of his own. The other principal singer in the group was drummer Rick Schell, whose take on "Two Lane Highway" was reminiscent of the Eagles.

Despite Wright's sterling guitar leads, the instrumental highlights for this listener were generally provided by Fats Kap-lin, the erroneously named pedal steel player and fiddler. While he didn't take any really outrageous solos, Kaplin's steady, melodic playing and brief, to-the-point solos were marvels of construction and virtually cried out for a big showcase number.

Mike Reilly, the longest-term member other than Fuller, joined this tour recently after a stint recovering from complications he had with a liver transplant and a heart procedure from last year. Reilly was normally the bassist, but for this concert he played guitar, mandolin and, for the most part, sang backup vocals. His replacement anchoring down the bass lines was Jeff "Stick" Davis, formerly with the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

The group did their old hits like "Amie," "Love You Tonight" and "Falling In and Out of Love," but the tunes whose life-span began with the release of the group's latest album ("All In Good Time") were just about as strong as anything the band has done in the past 30 years.

"Don't Go Confessing Your Love," a song written by Fuller and Gary Scruggs, had plenty of vocal and instrumental hooks worthy of attention. Ditto for "Getting' Over You" and "If You Could Say What I'm Thinking." They even tossed in their Merle Haggard tribute, "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle," for good measure.

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