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Our summer concert season: So far, not so good

There’s a meme being tossed around on Facebook that parodies the preponderance of music festivals filling the summer months. The meme takes the form of a mock poster for an event known as “Yet Another (expletive) Music Festival,” slated to take place during “the hottest three days of the summer” at a “really inconvenient location,” with headliners That Band All Over the Radio, 80’s Band with 1 Member Left, Generic Folk Band, 2 Dudes & A Macbook, That White Rapper, and a host of others.

It’s cynical and nasty, but it’s also hilarious and on point, not just concerning music festivals, but in relationship to the current state of live popular music itself. And it got me thinking about what we might expect to at least partly fill our own summer concert season.

So far, what’s come trickling in – the days of the entire summer lineup for a particular venue being announced in one grandiose gesture are officially part of the past at this point – sketches the outline of a seasonal roster that fills many of the snarky slots in the mock festival poster mentioned above. It’s not particularly encouraging, it must be said. But these are still early days...

We’ve got 21 Pilots (“That Band All Over the Radio”) slated for Canalside in June; REO Speedwagon (“ ’80s Band With 1 Member Left”) playing Darien Lake in late summer; the Zac Brown Band (“Generic Folk/Country/Rock Band”) returning to Darien Lake in July; Somo (“You Tube Star”) coming to the Town Ballroom in the spring; Rogue Wave (“Bros w/Beards”) filling the indie quotient at the Tralf Music Hall in May; and if electronic music is your thing, you can catch Datsik’s “Spring Loaded Tour” at the Town Ballroom in April (“1 Dude and a Macbook”).

The season so far features repeat offenders and familiar faces, unexpected blasts from the past – Whitesnake at Artpark, anyone? - and the usual litany of multi-act country bills. (Alas, Florida Georgia Line is still lingering around like a bad idea.)

We’ve got big mainstream pop stars, many of them former Disney kids (Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Rihanna); We’ve got classic rock galore; (Journey, Doobie Brothers, Heart, forming what’s likely to be the tip of the oldies-but-occasionally-goodies iceberg); and we’ve got a dash of contemporary alternative/indie, though you’d think with all the shameless pandering to millennials and endless blather about the “New Buffalo” going on, we’d see nothing but beards and skinny jeans from the Skyway to Lewiston and back by this point.

What we don’t have is much of an identity as a music scene. One gets the feeling the concert-booking powers that be are sticking with a few “sure things” and then just throwing artists at us, to see what will stick. This might not be just a Buffalo problem – popular music is in a strange place these days, what with many of the old guard passing away or retiring, and no singular musical force emerging to fill in the gap. Promoters can only book the artists available to them, after all.

This grab-bag approach is quite clearly a spill-over from the sort of summer festivals parodied in the “Yet Another (expletive) Music Festival” meme. Take a little bit of everything that’s successful, throw it together, and hope for the best. For better or worse, that approach seems to be working – according to Billboard, domestic grosses for live music have been showing between 3 percent and 5 percent increases over the past few years. So, it seems, someone is happy with what’s on offer.

Here are a few of the big, pressing questions that the area summer concert season, as it stands so far, might be able to answer.

  • Will Phil Collen of Def Leppard (“You Loved Them in 8th Grade”) keep his shirt on for at least one tune during the band’s Darien Lake show, or will he arrive on stage bare-chested and slathered in body oil, as per usual?
  • Will 21 Pilots (“Silly Word Combination”) live up to the hype generated by its multiplatinum release “Blurryface”?
  • Will Howard Jones and O.M.D. (“You Know Their One Song”) seem like silly old men playing hopelessly dated electro-pop? Or will their Artpark show reveal them to be what they are – musicians reduced to playing package tours while a whole generation of hipsters plunder their back catalogs and pass of their interpretations as “new” music to unaware millennials?
  • Why does Darius Rucker (“The Singer From That Band Doing A Solo Thing”) keep coming back, year after year? And who are his fans? Are they Hootie & the Blowfish–heads who grew up and went country? Or has Rucker’s sordid past been somehow erased from the public record?
  • Is it better to burn out than it is to rust? (Whoa, now, don’t get excited - Neil Young is not currently slated to play in our area this summer. But his question still seems relevant, somehow.)

If you feel like we are getting a lot of the same old stuff this summer, take heart in the fact that there’s a lot more to come, announcement-wise. But if you want to go to one of the big catch-all festivals, you’ll still have to leave town. For now, at least. Though it’s entirely possible that, by the time Buffalo gets a major festival of its own, social media memes will be parodying “That Aging Band of Millennials With That One Hit Song From 2016.”

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