Back in the late 1990s, the annual Americanarama Music Festival was a linchpin of the Buffalo area summer concert scene.
Held in the closed-off street on the block housing Mohawk Place, the festival presented a thrillingly diverse assortment of roots music acts of both the local and national variety. It was a time when Americana – shorthand for a blend of traditional and alternative country, blues, rockabilly, primal rock ’n’ roll and folk – was spreading its gospel.
It seemed that every musician and music lover in town was at Americanarama at some point during the weekend-long affair, taking in sets from our own Steam Donkeys or Toronto’s Sadies, and generally embracing the whole roots music redux concept.
Among them was Dwane Hall, country musician and owner of the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Amherst Street in the Black Rock neighborhood.
“I was really just getting my feet wet with the whole Americana thing,” Hall said. “I always loved the name, Americanarama, the shows were always really strong, and the whole thing struck me as a really great idea. When the festival ran out of steam and ended, I chased down Buck Quigley and Charlie Quill (of the Steam Donkeys, founders of Americanarama) and said ‘Let’s do this again some time.’ It was too cool to let it die.”
“Some time,” as it turns out, has finally arrived. Hall and the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation are presenting the Tom Hambridge Americana Music Festival, a two-day affair to be held at Riverside Park Saturday and Sunday.
The Saturday lineup features Tom Hambridge & the Rattlesnakes, Commander Cody Band, Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun, the Willies, Ten Cent Howl. On Sunday, its the return of Americanarama with the Steam Donkeys, Leroy Townes, McCarthyizm, Uncle Ben’s Remedy, Flatbed, the Kensingtons.
The festival takes its name from the multiple Grammy-winning, Buffalo-born multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Tom Hambridge, who will headline Saturday’s bill with his band the Rattlesnakes. Hambridge’s credits include work with Buddy Guy – as both producer and touring drummer – Van Morrison, ZZ Top, BB King, Susan Tedeschi and Johnny Winter, among many others. Though he is a living legend in Nashville, Hambridge, oddly enough, is not a household name here at home. Hall hopes the Hambridge Americana Music Festival, which he plans to make an annual occurrence, will help to change that.
“We want the Hambridge festival to be like the Austin City Limits Festival, or the Americana Music Festival in Nashville. And we know it can be done,” Hall said.
That notion – to make Buffalo a hub for Americana music – is behind the formation of the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation, a nonprofit launched a year back in order to, according to the Foundation’s mission statement, “foster, promote and expand community appreciation for Americana music from Buffalo and Western New York, through the production and sponsorship of performance and broadcast events and presentation of seminars and workshops on Americana music.”
Toward that end, Hall and his team have launched a television series known as “Live from Black Rock,” the debut episode of which airs at 6:30 p.m. June 21 on WBBZ-TV at 6:30 p.m. Hosted by local musician Geno McManus and WGR-550’s Chris “Bulldog” Parker, the show aims to “shine a light on what we’re doing here, and to present us in the same light as music scenes in Austin and Nashville,” according to Hall said. The debut episode “Live from Black Rock” features performances from area Americana artists Leroy Townes and the Skiffle Minstrels. and Hall says said that future episodes will include segments on nationally touring artists who “consider the Sportsmen’s, and Buffalo in general, to be a must-stop venue on their tours.”
This flurry of activity is born of Hall and his team’s desire to “make Buffalo Music City.”
“The thing is, around the country and all across the Americana circuit, everyone knows that we have the best musicians right here in Buffalo, and some of the best audiences, too,” Hall insists.
What: Tom Hambridge Americana Music Festival
When: 3 to 9 p.m. June 25 and 2 to 8 p.m. June 26
Where: Riverside Park, 2607 Niagara St.
Tickets: Saturday is $25 advance (showclix.com, Sportsmen’s), $30 at the park; Sunday is $5; Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation members are admitted free.