Artpark's outdoor amphitheater offers a beautiful summer setting -- high along the banks of the lower Niagara River, with tree-lined cliffs on the other side where Gen. Brock's Monument looking down on all, the sun setting beyond stage left -- and a free concert series featuring many artists who refuse to let the sun set on their careers.
The '70s chart-topping band America has thrived in this setting and returned for the fifth consecutive year on Tuesday night to a crowd that organizers estimated at more than 15,000. The occasion was well-timed, as the band of brats that formed on a U.S. Air Force base in England was greeted with Artpark's annual salute to the Niagara Falls Air Base and the 914th Airlift Wing, including a performance of the national anthem aided by a color guard and flyover.
Performing first was Grand Island native and current L.A.-area resident Stacy Clark, who as a high-schooler cut her teeth at local places like Nietzsche's. She has since gotten her music on national and international TV shows and commercials. Her saccharine style suits those settings.
In tune with loved ones in the crowd, she called out to friends and family, including her war veteran grandfather, and delivered a set on the sedate side of teenage angst, whispering her high notes and softly strumming an acoustic guitar while flanked by two guys with bass/guitar and keys/laptop beats.
A drummer surely would have kicked up the energy onstage and among the crowd that had filled in on the lawn but not yet in the lower bowl, but her style works well when mellow. What didn't work was the booming Mac book bass that bellowed on almost every song. As she sang the song "Unusual," picking a funky folk rhythm, the club-beat bass did seem unusual, as if one was listening to a chill tune in the car only to have another car with a rattling bass pull up beside and drown it out. Here's to her figuring out her sound soon, as she has a mountain of potential.
The headliners took the stage with the 1975 hit "Tin Man," led by Dewey Bunnell, still the strongest voice in the group. Gerry Beckley took over on "You Can Do Magic," with both playing acoustic guitar and bassist Richard Campbell providing the third harmony part once provided by long-gone original member Dan Peek. Guitar/keyboard player Michael Woods often provided an extra layer of vocals for what still is the group's bread and butter.
The harmonies shined especially during a seated session of selections from the band's debut album, during which they noted that this year marks their 40th anniversary. Drummer Willie Leacox stayed strong on the kit as Beckley rotated between six and 12-string guitars, the band recalling their days as an acoustic group in London with early cuts such as "Riverside," "Three Roses" and the sappy hit "I Need You."
They stood up to deliver the crowd-pleaser "Ventura Highway," and like the other big hits the crowd perked up and sang along. Otherwise the amphitheater was a buzzin' social scene befitting a summertime party in the park.
Ain't that America.
With Stacy Clark. Tuesday night as part of Tuesday in the Park at Artpark, Lewiston.