I thought 2016 was bad. 2017 came along and taught me a lesson, though. The lesson was, "Things could definitely be worse. Here, let me show you…"
We lost heroes in the music world, most of them far too soon. Mother Nature seemed to be growing increasingly displeased. A consensual reality shared among citizens was apparently too much to expect. Kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion were hijacked as concepts, and spat back at us as if they were somehow character defects. Bon Jovi was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. U2 released a disappointing album.
Surely, the end was near! Or, at the very least, a serious case of the blues had indeed fallen down like rain.
Here in Buffalo, however, it was not impossible to pursue a "business as usual" mindset. Perhaps that's because we always seem to be a few years behind the times, and the horror simply hadn’t caught up with us yet. Or maybe it's because life is actually pretty nice in our little corner of the country. Particularly if you love music so much that it is able to simultaneously distract you and provide you with hope and at least the illusion of fulfillment.
"Count your blessings" feels less like a cliché and more like a command these days, and so that's what I've been trying to do. Looking around, I see much to feel hopeful about. There's good work being done, and much of it is clearly being done for love, not for gold. So bring it on, 2018. Let's see what you've got. I'm ready to greet what's next with some fortitude, some of it provided by a few things I've observed in and around the Buffalo music scene over the past 12 months. Here are a few of them.
The maiden voyage of a two-day festival in the Cobblestone District thrilled me, in no small part because I've watched that area develop from abandoned decrepitude to happening hot spot in the course of only a few years. In 2013, Buffalo developer Sam Savarino took me on a tour of the building at 49 Illinois St. he planned to convert into a fully functioning music club. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I could almost see this then-dilapidated early 20th century building being transformed into a place I'd love to come for gigs. Four years later, Iron Works and Lockhouse Distillery teamed to provide a weekend's worth of live music on three separate stages. Both local and national bands filled the bill, and the very area I'd toured with Savarino was now alive and vital. The festival was a success, and will return during the summer of 2018.
Gord Downie mural
This might seem like a strange choice, since its existence is tied to a devastating loss in the music world. But the Gord Downie mural on Hertel Avenue represents a deep connection between Buffalo music lovers and the Tragically Hip. It celebrates a relationship forged over decades. And with its snippet of Downie lyrics – "No dress rehearsal, this is our life" – the mural serves as a reminder to live every day as if it's our last.
We lost Record Theatre and Spiral Scratch this year, but a few new shops opened, and some of the old stalwarts re-upped their commitment to serving a vinyl-loving Buffalo music cognoscenti. If you can't satisfy your music jones between Black Dots (223 Lafayette Ave.), Revolver Records (1451 Hertel Ave.), Cool Beat Music & Books (2445 William St.), Rick's Record Shack (3348 Lake Shore Road), Record Baron (3048 Delaware Ave.) or Doris Records (286 E. Ferry St.) then there might not be much hope for you.
The d.b.a. for the Greater Buffalo Jazz Society, headed by musician and jazz scholar Tony Zambito, has done much to celebrate the rich tradition of jazz in and around Buffalo. This year, a new generation of incredibly talented jazz musicians made their presence felt on the scene, and JazzBuffalo.org was hip enough to notice and to provide these musicians with a forum. I'm not a big fan of polls, but the annual JazzBuffalo Poll places up and coming players right alongside seasoned vets, and highlights the depth of our talent pool in the process. Zambito teamed with returning promoter Bruce Eaton to create one of the strongest lineups in the history of the Albright-Knox Art of Jazz series. And the organization's web site provided an informational hub for the jazz community.