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McKnight brings national stardom to hometown stage

Buffalo isn’t lacking in homegrown musicians who have gone on to shine in the national and international spotlight. Rick James, Ani DiFranco, and the Goo Goo Dolls all have roots in the Queen City.

But only one Buffalonian can lay claim to 16 Grammy nominations, and he returned home Saturday night to perform in Niagara Falls.

R&B legend Brian McKnight filled the Events Center at Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino with the smooth sounds that garnered him countless accolades and helped him sell more than 25 million records in a career spanning parts of three decades.

The crooner wasted no time in answering the inevitable question – after 23 years in the spotlight, can he still hit the high notes and carry the enormous range he did in 1992? The answer, confirmed song after song, was a resounding, “Yes!”

From his opening, 2006’s “Find Myself in You,” through his 2001, Grammy-nominated collaboration with Justin Timberlake, “My Kind of Girl,” McKnight melted hearts with his silky-smooth lyrics of love, lust and a bit of heartache.

But as much as his world-renowned voice and million-dollar smile had the ladies in the crowd swooning, McKnight proved to be quite the showman onstage, sharing funny stories, anecdotes about his songs, and assuring the crowd, that even at the age of 46, he is every bit the playboy he was 20 years ago.

At one point, removing his cream-colored sport coat, he dropped an extra button on his white dress shirt and announced, “If you came here alone tonight, I want to be your man,” a sentiment met with a collective scream from his many fans of the fairer sex.

Though he was backed by a talented four-piece band, the highlight of the show came midway through when he sat at the keyboard, the band receded to the background, and he thrilled the crowd with several songs and stories, culminating in one of the biggest hits of his storied career, “One Last Cry.”

In an era when artists are becoming more and more distanced from their fans (save for social media), McKnight seemed to relish his time onstage and took every opportunity to laugh, joke, and flirt with the crowd, making for a night of more than just great R&B – it made for a great experience.

Just when it seemed as though he had hit the high notes of his catalog, McKnight showed he had saved the best for last, bringing the crowd to life and taking it up several notches with “Back at One.”

It was a moment that took his longtime fans on a nostalgic and magical ride back to the late summer of 1999, when it felt impossible to turn on the radio without hearing the lover’s ballad pouring out of the speakers.

It would have been easy for the hometown boy to rely too heavily on Buffalo references to connect with the crowd, but McKnight showed he didn’t need any help in that department. The stories he did share included what he described an emotional day spent in the city that included visiting his childhood home and the graves of his grandparents, and he said he was “humbled” by the support of the near capacity crowd that filled the Events Center to sing along, dance, and enjoy his music.

R&B can definitely be an acquired taste, and Saturday night, McKnight delivered 90 minutes of mouthwatering music that left his fans hungry for more.

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