Canalside is uniquely ours. Nobody else has anything like it.
Who else has World War II battleships? And that futuristic Skyway? And “Shark Girl” (the historic first stop, by the way, on our 100 Things tour). Not to mention grain elevators that look like something out of “Batman”?
No wonder this is where a crowd around 10,000 people gathers on summer Thursdays, for the super-popular free Thursday concert series. We welcome a diverse group of musical visitors, from En Vogue to the Tragically Hip. And we celebrate our local bands too. As News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers wrote in his review of the first Thursday Canalside concert this year: “Buffalo bands are as good as the bands in any city in this country.”
Buffalo’s Vinnie DeRosa played on this year’s opening concert, with his Vitamin D Band, as an opener for Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires. The venue can be daunting, he said, and he felt lucky to have played at Canalside in 2015, as part of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s tribute to Stevie Wonder.
“If I hadn’t had the experience last year of getting up there with an army of musicians with the BPO, I wouldn’t have been as comfortable,” he said.
As it was, he could savor the majesty of the moment.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “You feel inspired this city is going somewhere. You see a lot of faces of people who are there, and there are those eager eyes you see, people who are looking up at the stage, soaking in the energy.”
The Thursday Canalside tradition traces its roots to Thursday in Lafayette Square, which began in 1987. The old location, among downtown eateries and music clubs, had a homey charm. Canalside, where the concerts moved in 2011, is grander.
The size has come at a price. You’re frisked with wands. They go through your purse. You can’t bring anything in, not even water.
But the concerts are still a great deal. The guards are nice. And if you haven’t been there, don’t be put off by the size of the crowd. It’s a big event, but there’s something small town about it. You may bring your own chairs.
Choose your concert well. They vary wildly. This year’s lineup ranges from Dweezil Zappa (July 7) to Public Enemy (June 23) to the august Preservation Hall Jazz Big Band, performing on July 14 with indie Austin musicians Shakey Graves and Wild Child.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m., at Main and Marine streets and at Main and Commercial streets.
Get there for the opening band, and the scene might seem like a picture book. Children play in the sandbox. Kayaks bob on the water. Folks of all ages stroll among the colorful Adirondack chairs, the hanging flowers.
“It’s beautiful. It’s so peaceful,” Mary Lopez, a New York City visitor, said Thursday. She and her best friend, Christina Abulin of Buffalo, were happy to be at their first Canalside concert, kicked back in their Adirondack chairs, catching up.
When the headliner hits, things turn more into a party scene. But if you don’t like crowds, there is room to roam. Fans of particular bands, take note: Even without one the new VIP reserved seats, which cost money, you can get close to the musicians pretty easily.
Everyone makes new friends at Canalside concerts. The venue boasts convenient ice breakers. The Skyway – love it or hate it? Who gets the better view, the audience, or the musicians?
Finally, who would have predicted our waterfront would be such a success?
As the sun goes down, and the lights start to twinkle, it’s easy to grow emotional. DeRosa confessed that he did, even from stage.
“It’s really inspiring to see that area that I knew personally 10 years ago was no place you wanted to go to,” he said, “and to see what it’s been turned into now.”