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A critic’s guide to our concert venues

Buffalo is a music town.

I find proof of this fact every summer, when I routinely run into familiar faces at venues across the region. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know so many fellow music lovers, simply by virtue of running into them everywhere from downtown to Darien Lake. As concertgoing “lifers,” we recognize each other, and occasionally commiserate about what we’ve learned about concert venues over the decades of our devotion to live music.

Here, I share some of my accrued concert venue knowledge.


How does one avoid feeling conflicted about this site? On the one hand, it’s a gorgeous setting, the majority of the shows held there offer free general admission, the benefits to the city and region are many and obvious, and this year’s lineup is outstanding and pleasingly diverse. On the other, because admission is free – and surely because we all want to celebrate the fact that our waterfront is accessible to us, and to wring every last drop of joy from our too-brief summers – the concerts are usually jam-packed, with at least a portion of the audience seemingly more concerned with overpartying than with watching and listening to the band. I love seeing shows at Canalside, particularly if I can claim a little postage stamp of ground somewhere near the stage. But I also find myself getting annoyed by concertgoers treating the whole affair like a frat party. My advice: Go to the happy Zen place, whatever that means for you, and try to keep a chilled out attitude. Let the music do the work.


Unless you live in Lewiston, getting in and out of Artpark can try the nerves a bit. In my experience, leaving early is the only way to go. The Tuesday and Wednesday shows start at 6:30 p.m., so try to beat rush-hour traffic, park your car and enjoy Lewiston for a while before the concert. The other option is to take an alternate route that will allow you to avoid the traffic bottleneck that inevitably slows things down as you descend into the gorge along the main thoroughfare into Lewiston. Once you’re in, Artpark is pretty delightful, particularly if you’ve grabbed yourself a VIP ticket in front of the stage, which I try to do whenever possible. The sound is generally very good, and if you find yourself far from the stage, there are extra PA cabinets and video screens spread around the grounds.

Darien Lake PAC

One road in, one road out, and all the traffic bottlenecks at the entrance to the park – this can make for high-stress and in my experience, can detract from the Darien Lake concert experience. You can take alternate routes, but they all eventually spill out at the same place, so the traffic is just a part of the deal. Don’t cut it too close – leave early, park and go inside. You’re not supposed to tailgate at Darien, though people do it anyway. If you like a beer or two at a show, you already know that a cold can is pricey at Darien, just as it is at First Niagara Center. I’m not a lawn guy, because I want to see and hear the band and feel like I’m part of the show. When I have a good seat in the PAC, I always have a good time at Darien. My recommendation: If you care about the artist, buy a seat inside the shed. In my experience, it’s always worth it.

First Niagara Center

I generally don’t have problems at First Niagara Center. If you plan accordingly, get down here early, enjoy a pregame meal or drink at one of the many bars and restaurants within walking distance of the arena, and avoid waiting until the last minute to head downtown, things go pretty smoothly. The sound is never particularly great, but that’s because it’s a hockey arena, and hockey arenas are designed for hockey, not loud music, necessarily. However, I place FNC above similar venues in Rochester, Toronto, Syracuse and Albany, in terms of sound quality.

UB Center for the Arts

Superior sound quality and great sightlines make this venue one of the very best in the region. Sometimes the atmosphere feels a little bit stiff – no one really stands up and dances, which is sometimes appropriate, depending on the artist, and sometimes not. But the lack of party atmosphere, while possibly a deterrent for some, is quite likely something that belongs in the plus column for many patrons. This place is all about the music.

Shea’s Performing Arts Center

You don’t need me to tell you that Shea’s is a breathtakingly beautiful place. The theater is one of our city’s true treasures, and sound quality, sightlines and general ambiance get the highest possible marks. That said, I’ve been to too many shows where ushers and security spend what seems like excessive energy making sure everyone stays seated. For theater productions and musicals, this makes sense. For rock and R&B shows, this makes none.