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Rockin' the Harbor Downtown's free Thursday night concert series returns with a new name, location

Bye bye, Thursday at the Square. You served us well, and we had some incredible times together. But let's face it -- it's time for us both to move on.

Summer 2012 will mark the maiden voyage of the newly renamed Thursday at the Harbor, officially completing the shift of the free Thursday concert series from Lafayette Square to the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf, which tentatively began last year when a few shows were moved from the Square to the Central Wharf.

But only the name and location has changed: Thursday at the Harbor is still produced by Buffalo Place and booked by the same team responsible for Thursday at the Square, and it's still free. In fact, you'll get even more gratis music this year -- the Thursday shows will now run 30 minutes longer, starting at 5 p.m. and carrying on until 9:30 p.m.

The Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf -- yup, it's a mouthful, but get used to it! -- will host the free Thursday concerts from June 7 through Aug. 23. The same site will continue to be home to the ticketed Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor concert series, which pairs a variety of high-profile artists across three weekends scattered throughout the summer.

"We had great feedback from concertgoers in 2011 regarding the location change," says Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael T. Schmand. "The Central Wharf serves as a beautiful space to present these large-scale events and assist with showcasing the Buffalo waterfront."

Could we be one step closer to the arrival of a full-scale, permanent amphitheater on the Central Wharf site? No one is saying for sure, but only a devout naysayer would oppose such a development on what, it must be said, is a prime piece of downtown real estate.

This year's roster reveals a desire on the part of those involved -- Buffalo Place and promoters FunTime Presents -- to lure younger people to the party, as well as longtime devotees of the concert series. Newer artists such as Fritz and the Tantrums, Young the Giant, Arkells, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, and Matt Nathanson court a younger audience than the more classic rock-oriented bookings of summer concerts at Artpark, the Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls and Ulrich City Centre in Lockport.

The move to the Central Wharf should be viewed as a positive one for several reasons. The popularity of the Thursday shows ensured that the Lafayette Square location was starting to feel cramped. Simply put, there were too many people showing up for the site to remain viable. The Central Wharf is much more ample and abundantly more accommodating, in terms of sightlines for concertgoers.

There is also the obvious natural beauty of the site. Seated right on the waterfront, the Central Wharf location beams a positive light on Buffalo -- a matter of civic pride to the locals, but also an aesthetically pleasing welcome to the increasing number of out-of-towners eager to make these shows part of their summer travel plans.

The fact that the Thursday shows will remain free should not be taken particularly lightly, considering Artpark's move to $5 admission charges for most of its own summer season. The Rocks the Harbor events retain the same price tag they have sported for several years -- advance tickets are $10, rising to $20 on the day of the event. (Concertgoers can avoid service charges associated with buying through Tickets.com by visiting the Buffalo Place box office at 671 Main St. or purchasing them on-site during the Thursday concerts.)

Of course, it's never difficult to quibble, and surely there will be some grumbling about the lineup in certain quarters. But it should be noted that the schedule offers a vital cross-section of the available summer touring talent. There is classic alternative represented by series opener the Cult and the August arrival of the Jesus and Mary Chain; R&B and hip-hop will be well-represented by Arrested Development, LL Cool J and Salt 'N' Pepa; power-pop lovers will surely dig Fountains of Wayne and the Arkells shows.

And the J. Geils Band performing outdoors on the Buffalo Waterfront for 10 bucks? Anyone with a pulse should rejoice!

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

> THE LINEUP

Both concert series take place at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf. For more information, visit www.buffaloplace.com.

Thursday at the Harbor

Time: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays; free.

June 7: The Cult, Against Me!, the Icarus Line

June 14: Fitz & the Tantrums, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, ZZ Ward.

June 21: Built to Spill, Matthew Sweet, Hey Rosetta!

June 28: Fountains of Wayne

July 5: Arrested Development

July 12: Seether

July 19: Young the Giant, Bahamas and the Ruby Spirit

July 26: Arkells, Gomez and Elliott Brood

Aug. 2: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Wild Life

Aug. 9: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Ron Hawkins and the Do-Good Assassins

Aug. 16: Salt-N-Pepa

Aug. 23: Matt Nathanson, Lights

Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor

Time: 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $10 advance, $20 day-of-show (Tickets.com, Buffalo Place box office and during Thursday at the Harbor concerts).

June 29: Sam Roberts Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

June 30: moe., Conspirator

July 15: Feist

Aug. 31: The J. Geils Band

Sept. 1: LL Cool J featuring DJ Z-Trip