On a very cold night, a devoted crowd came out for what they loved best -- the music -- at opening night for Artpark's Tuesday in the Park.
Artpark Director George Osborne said the crowd of about 2,500 was far less than what was expected for the double bill of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southern rock group Molly Hatchet and opening act Blackfoot.
Officials from the park and from Lewiston have worked to make the popular weekly event a better fit for residents of neighboring streets, who have complained about disruptions in their lives. Tuesday provided a glimpse of what the summer will bring.
"If it was a steamy night it might have been a lot different, but tonight is a chance to see how things are working," said Maureen Kellick, Artpark's director of marketing.
Jim Rath said he has followed the two bands since he lived in Jacksonville and had worked security for the band in the past.
"There's nothing better than Southern rock 'n' roll to getcha movin'. It's the music I grew up with," Rath said.
Nora Osmon of Newfane said it was her first time at Artpark but said she was a huge fan of Southern rock and came Tuesday despite the cold weather. Her friend, Sanborn resident Brooke Hall, said she "grew up with the music."
Karen and Rick McAvoy of the City of Tonawanda said they have been coming since the concerts started seven years ago.
"It's OK," Karen McAvoy said of Molly Hatchet. "But I prefer regular country."
"But you can't get a better setting," her husband said of the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the Niagara Gorge.
Mark Thomas, the new Western New York District director for State Parks, said this is the first time he had been to Artpark in the past 25 years. He was impressed.
"This is a great venue. It's great to see people come and use our parks. The crowds they get here are very serious. It's a good value for people, $6 for a carload of people. They come and have a good time and that's what it's all about," he said.
Cindy Mount Pleasant of Lewiston worked on making a craft in one of the children's booths with her 8-year-old daughter, Sienna. She said her husband was a big fan and was out listening to the bands, while the kids played.
"Artpark's always been perfect for these guys. Although for a minute there we felt like we were at a football game," she said.
Kellick said the season already is a success, with more sponsors than ever before, offering special seating and parking for sponsors.
Janelle Pedulla, co-owner of S&S Lawn Service of Niagara Falls, had her VIP sponsors box filled with employees Tuesday and plans to fill the box every Tuesday.
"We all came anyways and always had to sit in the back, but I signed up to be a sponsor in August and gave my employees special passes for a Christmas bonus," Pedulla said.
State Parks Police Lt. Patrick Moriarty said police will be present at every concert.
"This year we will absolutely not tolerate any nonsense. We put up signs warning people not to drink and drive, and there will be DWI checkpoints intermittently. When people leave they will not even be allowed to walk away with beer," he said.
Streets around the concert were deserted as Lewiston police enforced new rules not to park on side streets near Artpark and passers-by watched as three volunteer Niagara County mounted horse patrols walked up and down the quiet streets.
The 6:30 p.m. concerts continue through August.
Performances include Blue Rodeo, Tuesday; Little River Band, June 19; John Kay and Steppenwolf, June 26; Hootie and the Blowfish, July 3; Dave Mason, July 10; Coco Montoya and Walter Trout, July 17; Average White Band, July 24; Eric Burden and the Animals, July 31; Kenny Loggins, Aug. 7; Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo, Aug. 14; Dickey Betts, Aug. 21; and America, Aug. 28.