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Program celebrates Buffalo's 'minstrel' connection

The music and stories of Christy’s Minstrels of Buffalo, and the variety of early performers and troupes that worked the canal circuit, will be featured in a free concert at 7 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Canalside Ruins.

In a program sponsored by the Friends of the Buffalo Story, State University of New York at Geneseo professor Jim Kimball will be in town with fellow musicians Karen Canning and Dick Bolt to present a look at the 19th century’s minstrel music phenomenon and the role of Buffalo’s waterfront and the Erie Canal in the development and dissemination of this entertainment craze.

“Jim Kimball is a walking encyclopedia of Western New York’s musical heritage,” Dave Ruch, host of a series of Buffalo-related music programs at the Canalside Ruins this summer, said in a release. “Jim has done more research – by a factor of about 40 – than anyone else on the subject, and the stories and music … spill out of him once he gets on stage.”

All the early names associated with the banjo toured Buffalo and along the Erie Canal in the 1840s-’60s, including Joe Sweeney, Tom Briggs, James Buckley and Frank Converse. Kimball’s group has banjo tunes associated with each. They’ll be using banjos and other instruments from that period to play some of these tunes. They’ll also be referencing, via period newspaper reviews, the role of early touring circuses and their inclusion of minstrel acts.

Matt Peel was a significant star of the era who died while on tour in Buffalo, and Kimball’s group will sing Peel’s “Irishman’s Shanty” and “Matt Peel’s Walk Around.” R. N. Sliter’s Empire Minstrels, which started in Buffalo in 1849, will also be featured.

Other popular groups touring by canal a little later included Bryant’s Minstrels and the San Francisco Minstrels. Songs from these groups will include “The Boatman Dance,” “Lucy Long,” “Buffalo Gals” and “Old Dan Tucker.”

Kimball will be joined by folklorist and musician Karen Canning and longtime fiddle player/instructor and trained vocalist Dick Bolt, both of the Rochester area, for this concert. The program will run about 70-75 minutes – about a third will be spent telling or reading early accounts of the tradition, and the rest will be spent playing and singing tunes.

Though the event is free, there is limited seating. Reservations will be accepted at

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