When we look back from a future standpoint on the Western New York summer concert season of 2012, it's likely we'll remember this as the year when critical mass was finally achieved.
Thursday at the Square died and was reborn as Thursday at the Harbor.
Artpark's Tuesday free concert series became a ticketed affair, albeit a soft-ticketed one.
For perhaps the first time, the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center's lineup paled in comparison to ticketed shows slated for Artpark's indoor amphitheater and the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf's free Thursday concerts and ticketed Rocks the Harbor gigs.
And the Labatt Blue Canal Concert Series and the Hard Rock outdoor series, both free, became a fully integrated part of the Western New York concert landscape.
The question we face is this -- how long will the center hold?
Will free concerts remain free? Will the Darien Lake P.A.C. become redundant in the face of the increased momentum and, frankly, more exciting and diverse events on our downtown waterfront? Will other free series experience some of the crowd size issues that affected Artpark last year?
Obviously, only the passage of time will provide answers. What's left to us is a problem of scheduling conflicts. There is simply too much good stuff happening in too many different venues for one mere mortal to be able to take it all in. That's a good problem to have for the present-day area music fan.
The conventional wisdom regarding our summer concert roster suggests that we get nothing but classic rock. Such an attitude -- often delivered in a dismissive tone, and accompanied by the suggestion that we are somehow a culturally backward region -- is at least somewhat understandable. We do get an awful lot of classic rock, perhaps more than necessary.
Many of the performers who fit this description -- let's define them as artists played by classic rock radio -- are making repeat visits to our outdoor summer stages. For example, Peter Frampton, Eddie Money, George Thorogood and The Machine Plays the Music of Pink Floyd -- a classic rock tribute band -- visit the area on a yearly or at least semi-annual basis. The reason for this is simple, though -- they do well here. Turnouts for performers of this ilk are always strong, and if the weather happens to be good, they are downright astronomical.
I'd argue that classic rock is a healthy part of a balanced summer concert diet. You don't want to eat a cheeseburger chased by a cold can of Budweiser every day, but sometimes, it really hits the spot. If we factor in the classic rock show percentage and consider it in a broader picture that includes jam band, electronica, R&B, hip-hop, country, heavy metal, alternative rock from the past 30 years, singer/songwriter fare, reggae and blues -- well, the balance doesn't necessarily tip too far toward the classic rock side of the scale.
A more salient point might be to cite the preponderance of free concert series' competing for the same talent pool and, in some cases, the same consumer dollar. How long can everyone continue to do good business? Furthermore, is it not inevitable that we will see repeat artists year after year, considering the available talent pool? Once an artist plays for free, is the average consumer going to be willing to pay for the same privilege the following year?
Perhaps most significantly, will the success of some of these free and soft-ticketed events serve to artificially inflate the market by paying big-time bucks to artists who, the present-day marketplace might suggest, are worth far less?
In music-business circles, this is referred to as "the casino effect." In this scenario, "Oldies Act X" gets major money thrown at it by "Casino X," which offers live music to gamblers as a sort of loss-leader. "Oldies Act X" gets used to this artificially inflated payday, and starts to demand it. Pretty soon, "Local Promoter X" either can't afford or won't pay these inflated prices. As a result, the available talent pool for summer concert rosters like the ones we have here shrinks. Consumer choice narrows significantly.
Considering all of this, the stylistic and idiomatic variety on offer to the area music lover this summer is still very impressive. I, for one, would rather not dwell on the particularities of the business side of the equation, or worry too much about what the future might hold. After all, there are shows to go to, music to fall in love with or to, bands to see for the first time or the umpteenth.
Could it be better? Yes. But it could also be far, far worse.