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ROCKING BY THE RIVER
FREE TUESDAY NIGHT CONCERTS HIGHLIGHT ARTPARK'S SUMMER SEASON OF CLASSIC ROCK, JAZZ, BPO, BROADWAY AND BIG BAND MUSIC

The free Tuesday evening concerts that started six years ago in the Artpark amphitheater gain momentum from one sultry summer to the next.

The band lineup gets a little bit more famous. (Foreigner comes Aug. 9.)

The crowds get a little bigger. (As many as 12,000 have been known to scatter with blankets along the hillside under the Niagara gorge.)

This year's Tuesday in the Park at Artpark season will begin June 7 with a Celtic Festival featuring bag pipes, fiddles and dancing. Southern rockers, blues players, Louisiana zydeco and Beatles imitators will follow.

"We hope this year will be even bigger," said George Osborne, president of Artpark, who launched the free series soon after he took the job six years ago. "A lot of folks like these bands because they're making comebacks."

In addition to the free Tuesday series, also announced this week were Artpark's Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts (seven concert programs throughout July, including "The Lord of the Rings Symphony" July 15 and 16); two nights of jazz in August featuring Diane Schuur and Spyro Gyra; two Broadway musical revues directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato; family activities; and the always popular Big Band Series, three evenings, highlighted by the Glenn Miller Orchestra on July 28.

Last summer, the biggest crowds Tuesday night came out for the R&B sounds of Blood, Sweat and Tears. This summer's soft-rock headliners might just make people who are parents -- or old enough to be -- bring the whole family out for evenings of nostalgia radio hits from the Marshall Tucker Band, Firefall and Poco.

While it costs nothing to get in, parking is $6. "That's still pretty cheap if you put four people in a car," said Osborne.

Beatles and soft rock cover band Switch, the season finale, is the only local band to again make the cut for the summer. It is an honor lead singer John Connelly appreciates.

"It's nice to be on the bill with the other acts," Connelly said. His favorite on the schedule for July 19 is Michael McDonald, former singer with the Doobie Brothers. "I will be there to see him," said Connelly.

Last year, Connelly's favorite part of his show came as the sun was setting and the audience was at its most relaxed and happy. He enjoyed seeing young kids in the crowd singing all the words to Beatles classics such as "She Loves You" and "Eight Days a Week."

"That would be the thing that knocks me out the most," said Connelly.

At 6:30 p.m. June 7, the season starts off with Canadian Celic band the Glengarry Bhoys -- a band that considers enthusiastic Buffalo audiences (100 were on the waiting list for their last gig in the Tralf) to be among their best.

"It's becoming a nice feeling," said Graham Wright, singer and guitarist for the Glengarry Bhoys. "Each year it's getting better and better."

The Ottawa group travels from Maine to Florida to Texas to Kentucky. Yet, Artpark, where they also played last summer, is among the nicest spots. "You can see the cliffs going into the river," Wright remembered.

The Artpark stage is just right -- not too big or too small, Wright said. And the crowd loved it when the fiddler set her fiddle on the stage to step dance. When Wright told the audience to jump up and scream for another song, they jumped up and screamed.

In the end nobody was left sitting on the ground.

"That was just amazing," he said. "I think it's an honor to kick off the year for Artpark."

The summer schedule
Tuesday in the Park at Artpark

The family-oriented evenings start at 6:30 p.m.

June 7, Celtic Festival with Glengarry Bhoys, Kilbrannan, McCarthy School of Irish Dance

June 14, Asleep at the Wheel

June 21, Kelley Hunt

June 28, Classic Rock All-Stars

July 5, Marshall Tucker Band

July 12, Shemekia Copeland

July 19, Michael McDonald

July 26, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Steve Riely & the Mamou Playboys

Aug. 2, Firefall, Poco

Aug. 9, Foreigner

Aug. 16, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers

Aug. 23 Tower of Power

Aug. 30 Switch

Big Band Series

All events take place at both 2 and 8 p.m. Evening performances are preceded by live music in the theater plaza.

June 27, "My Sinatra," Cary Hoffman's interpretation of Sinatra's hits

July 28, Glenn Miller Orchestra

Aug. 15, "Big Band's Greatest Hits"

Broadway musical revues

Both productions are directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato.

Aug. 5-11, "Cole: A Musical Tribute to Cole Porter"

Aug. 18-24, "World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb"
Jazz concerts

Both start at 8 p.m.

Aug. 25, Diane Schuur, Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project

Aug. 26, Spyro Gyra

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

July 9, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture

July 10, "Gershwin Crazy!"

July 15-16, "The Lord of the Rings" Symphony

July 22-23, Three Broaday Tenors

July 24, Ravel's Bolero

July 29-30, Rossini's "Barber of Seville"

July 31, "Bravo Beethoven"

Special events

June 17, WNED's Great Guitar Festival headliner concert

June 29, United States Army Field Band and Soldier's Chorus

Oct. 8-9, Niagara International Kite Festival

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com