Over the past two weeks, the level of drama surrounding the Buffalo music scene has reached a fever pitch. And social media commentary has urged along the formation of an ugly thunderhead of negativity that serves none of us well, and speaks ill of our ability to continue to endure and expand, culturally speaking, in the coming years.
It’s no secret that we’re growing, not just in Buffalo, but gradually, in the surrounding environs as well. With growth – this is not exactly a “stop the presses” moment – comes a significant amount of discomfort born of the need to adapt. Growing pains, in other words. We will not be offered the chance to leap from the bottom of the heap straight to the top without having to conquer a few hurdles and dodge the occasional obstacle.
Intimations of the ugliness lurking beneath what is ostensibly a good and neighborly city became apparent at Larkin Square on Aug. 20, when a planned multiscreen simulcast of the Tragically Hip’s reported final show from its hometown of Kingston, Ont., went horribly wrong. If you were there, you already know this: The crowd of some 3,500 people made concession lines excessive in length, and the venue was not prepared for what was, in essence, a full-blown concert event demanding concert-level amplification.
All of this made an already emotionally charged event – an intensification of significance due to the recent revelation that Hip frontman Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer – more of a disaster for the folks who had purchased tickets for the craft beer festival and Gord Downie Fund for Cancer Research fundraiser. The level of disappointment was palpable during the event.
Why did it all go wrong? There is enough blame to go around. Would it change anything if we could narrow the bulk of the blame down to a single person? No.
Fans’ disappointment with how it all turned out was understandable. But – and once again, thank you, social media, for the “bravery of being out of range” you provide – the way that disappointment was expressed was wholly unwarranted, and said absolutely nothing good about us as a city and a scene.
Foul language was just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the organizers of the event were called out in a sometimes threatening manner. Calls to boycott all Larkin Square events in the future were abundant. This was all more than a little disheartening.
A few days later, another social media frenzy erupted when it was revealed that the two local ensembles (Randle & the Late Night Scandals and Kickstart Rumble) that had won the Public’s Battle of the Bands and were slated to open for the Claypool Lennon Delirium on Aug. 25 were struck from the bill at the last minute due to the headliner’s staging demands.
Obviously, this was upsetting for the bands, their friends and fans. But many social media commentators with little or no understanding of the details once again started spewing venomous bile all over the joint – calling for boycotts, trashing Sean Lennon and Les Claypool in a vicious and personal matter, even “praying” for the event to be rained out.
And guess what? As it turns out, the two bands had been offered to perform on a less glamorous stage on the Canalside grounds during their appointed times, and had turned down the offer. Perhaps this was understandable. Perhaps not. Having spent more than a decade in an independent band in Buffalo, I’ve experienced these kinds of disappointments first-hand on many occasions. My take was always “something is better than nothing.”
The trashing of Lennon and Claypool was the most damaging to our reputation as a city filled at least partly with kind and generous and decent people. Because, as a cooler head might have expected, Lennon and Claypool never knew about the opening band snafu. When they did find out, they insisted that room be made to accommodate the local bands on the main stage. Claypool even thanked them and explained the situation during the Delirium’s performance that evening.
Some have claimed this as a victory for the local scene, insisting that the social media maelstrom is what changed the course of the event. Maybe it did. But it also made us look petty, foolish, vindictive and mean-spirited as a people.
We’re growing. That’s good. But we need to acknowledge that sometimes well-meaning people make mistakes, or are inexperienced or unprepared, or maybe even have bitten off a little bit more than they can reasonably chew. Should they really be vilified for this? Why are some of us so eager to rush to judgment, to condemn, to act like the lowest form of internet trolls, and then to pat themselves on the back, as if our pettiness and negativity have somehow made Buffalo great again?
Take a breath, people. Think. Indulge in some empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of others.
And then, if you’re still feeling self-righteous, go ahead – cast the first stone. But know that you’re doing your city and your scene a serious disservice. And please, lose my phone number and “unfriend” me.