The year 2016 was one of contrasts in our arts and culture scene. We celebrated a band on the rise and a band saying goodbye. A retro form of entertainment caused traffic jams while the push to retrofit an aging performance space got jammed up – temporarily – in a contentious battle.
Aging structures offered an old-time look that attracted Hollywood's A-list. Other spaces may not end up on the big screen, but were instead adorned with big, splashy murals and, in one instance, larger-than-life sculptures of intestinal bacterial.
One of the dreamiest projects ever in Western New York – a $50 million National Comedy Center in tiny Jamestown – gained the right kind of laughable credibility with an assist from the estate of George Carlin. And a Peter Pan-inspired story started its national flight right here.
And an institution that has been a part of the region's fabric for generations had its future assured thanks to a donation that left the community asking: "How much?"
Here's our look at Buffalo's biggest culture stories of 2016.
Twenty One Pilots brings musical spectacle to Canalside
We used to camp out to buy tickets for big-name shows.
Technology changed that, but it hasn't wiped away the lines. Now, for the most special of shows, fans will camp out just to be among the first in, the closest to the stage, the most likely to absorb the energy of the spectacle. Which is why fans started lining up outside Canalside a full 36 hours before Twenty One Pilots' general admission, standing-only show at the outdoor venue.
By the time the gates opened for the soldout June 21 show, the line stretched around Canalside, behind the adjacent KeyBank Center, and across the Ohio Street bridge that arched over the Buffalo River.
Now, if you weren't one of those people in line, and don't know anyone who was, you might be wondering this: What's the big deal about a band called Twenty One Pilots?
Fair question. It's not Springsteen, the Stones or McCartney. It's not even One Direction. But the band has an intensely devoted fan base.
Twenty One Pilots is comprised of two 20-somethings, frontman Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, from Columbus, Ohio. They have radio hits, like the ubiquitous "Stressed Out" and "Heathens." But what draws the crowds is their authenticity and diversity: Their music meshes genres. Their message is angsty yet hopeful.
And their show? In a single night at Canalside, Joseph climbed atop the roof of the stage, raced across the lawn and scaled a tractor trailer and crowd surfed inside a human-sized hamster ball.
It's worth seeing up close.
Since that show, Twenty One Pilots has ascended to the level of arena act. Call it a solid reinforcement to the thousands of fans who can call their long day(s) in line worth the wait.
Fans say goodbye to Tragically Hip
Area fans came out by the thousands at various events to celebrate the music of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.
The legendary Canadian rock band was likely playing its final show on Aug. 20 in Kingston, Ont. Frontman Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; this show was largely believed to be his public farewell.
The Canadian network CBC was broadcasting the show live and it was shown locally at the Riviera Theatre and Larkin Square where more than 3,500 Tragically Hip fans packed into Larkinville's outdoor performance space to watch the historic show.
Although technical difficulties with the jumbo screen and sound drove many of the fans in Larkinville to leave and watch elsewhere, the poignancy of the moment wasn't lost.
“I’m not ready to say goodbye,” a tearful Karin Pierce, a 48-year-old teacher from Niagara Falls, told News reporter Jillian Deutsch. Pierce had seen the Hip at least 10 times, including four consecutive nights in 2009 at Artpark.
Nobody inside Larkville was ready to let go.
News music critic Jeff Miers captured the essence:
Even with the poor sound and challenging sight lines, a fair amount of people walked the tightrope between jubilation and heartbreak at Larkin Square on Saturday.
Of course they did. We’re all of us flesh and blood, an elaborately wired mechanism of instinct and impulse and clockwork precision, and beings that cling to hope despite the evidence that the universe is a random one – we are at once a man, a machine and a poem.
Transit Drive-In's expansion defies trends
You probably thought drive-ins had gone the way of soda shops. Driven out by sleeker, higher tech options. Relegated to to the realm of nostalgia.
That may be so nationally, but in Lockport, the Transit Drive-In remained so popular that it was causing traffic back-ups. In fact, the state Department of Transportation asked the drive-in's owners to install a longer entrance road to lighten the load of lined-up cars on heavily trafficked Transit Road.
In June, a few weeks before the drive-in opened a fifth screen, it sold out of spaces for the animated movie "Finding Dory" with thousands left waiting.
“We sold out ‘Finding Dory,’ showing it on three screens, 1,000 parking spaces, by 9,” owner Rick Cohen told News reporter Thomas Prohaska. “By the time it sold out, there was probably a two-mile line stretching down Transit Road all the way to Millersport (Highway). In the other direction, it was back to Rapids Road. All those cars in the line, they’re not getting in. We told people on the shoulder of the road it was sold out. We sent another person with a megaphone to talk to people on the median."
The drive-in isn't dead. Far from it. Shout that from your megaphone.
"Finding Neverland" tour takes off in Buffalo
The Peter Pan-inspired musical "Finding Neverland" launched its national tour in September at Shea's Performing Arts Center, thanks in large part to a New York state tax credit that entices Broadway productions to come to upstate theaters.
The 141-person cast and crew's four-week stay, which included both rehearsals and performances, had an estimated economic impact of $1.2 million on the region.
The "Finding Neverland" stint in Buffalo was a homecoming for sorts for the show's producer, Harvey Weinstein. The entertainment mogul, who attended the University at Buffalo, started a concert promotion business here in the 1970s, Harvey & Corky Productions.
He later co-founded the film studio Miramax.
“I have deep affection for the community," Weinstein told News arts critic Colin Dabkowski. "I am so proud of the renaissance that’s going on and it’s just a great city. I travel all over the world, and the people in Buffalo are amazing, just really, truly great.”
Perhaps great enough for more Broadway tour launches. Without naming the show, a Shea's official indicated another production will launch here in the fall.
Buffalo becomes a beacon for public art
Long derided for crumbling, old buildings, Buffalo turned brick into canvas in 2016 with a series of public art displays. That includes murals on the sides of buildings and sculptures in open spaces.
Among the highlights were Roberley Bell sculptures at Tifft Nature Preserve and, on the side of 710 Main Theatre, a splashy, neon mural that is the largest ever created by the Baltimore art duo of Katey Truhn and Jessie Unterhalter.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery was the driving force behind three projects: A mural celebrating Buffalo's renaissance on the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology building on Main Street; a mural of Buffalo landmarks on a Jewett Avenue industrial building; and sculptures inspired by – get this – intestinal bacteria at the Metro Rail station under construction on Allen and Main streets.
Don't squirm over that last one. The bacteria sculpture, called "Gut Flora," will be located at the rail station that is part of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The sculptor, Shasti O’Leary Soudant, ingeniously linked the medical inspiration to the function of the city's Metro Rail system.
“If you’re look at the city as a body, its transportation pathways are basically the veins and digestive systems of that body,” Soudant told News arts critic Colin Dabkowski. “A city is an entity. It has a personality. It is energized and it is affected exactly the same way as human bodies.”
George Carlin's archives find a home in Jamestown
The team who runs the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown has been working on a massive goal for many years: They want to build the National Comedy Center in the Southern Tier city where Lucy grew up.
The price tag itself – $50 million – is daunting. But they've raised most of the money and the center is under construction.
More intangible, and even tougher to secure than millions of dollars, is comedic street cred.
That came in May courtesy of George Carlin's heirs. The late, legendary comedian's daughter, Kelly Carlin, agreed to donate her dad's archives to the National Comedy Center. The Carlin trove includes his performance notes, letters, clothing, videos and more.
“We knew from the start that doing this with credibility and authenticity would be key, even if we raised all of the money and hired all the best designers," said NCC Executive Director Journey Gunderson, who also runs the Lucy Desi Center. "This Carlin donation really helps solidify our legitimacy for the role we want to play in comedy.”
Carlin had been looking for a home for her father's "stuff," as she calls it, since his death in 2008. Talking to The News, she described several meetings with people proposing comedy halls of fame in glitzier locales like Los Angeles, New York or Florida.
But she chose Jamestown.
“I saw there were some serious people involved,” Carlin said. “I met Journey and got to look her in the eye and really understand who she is and her amazing vision, and tenacity with all of this, and understood the commitment of New York State and the philanthropy in the region, and saw it was a real viable thing.”
Hollywood comes to town — again
Tax credits, enticing architecture and varied urban-to-waterfront landscape have proven to be a catchy lure for Hollywood. Several filmmakers set up in Buffalo in 2016.
The most significant among them, factoring in time spent and star power, was the film "Marshall." The movie, which tells the story of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, was filmed over a six-week span from May to July. Stars including Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson came to town for the filming, which included several locations from Buffalo to Niagara Falls to Batavia.
Explaining the decision to film in Buffalo during an interview with News reporter Mark Sommer, director Reginald Hudlin pointed to the carved details on the outside of the art deco City Hall.
“There is literally no way we can have this kind of production value – I mean, you just look at City Hall here, and this incredible work,” Hudlin said. “And there are so many places like this. And not just the public buildings. Even when we go to private homes, there are so many people here who are really into preservation.”
The stars enjoyed their time, too. In a wrap-up press conference, Gad joked about eating so many chicken wings that his character put on "an average of five pounds a day."
Hudson applauded Buffalo's lack of traffic. Several cast members said they enjoyed Canalside and Niagara Falls.
“Everybody loves Buffalo,” Hudson said. “Buffalove.”
"Scary Lucy" is retired, replaced
One year after images of a toothy, platter-eyed Lucille Ball went viral, the "Scary Lucy" statue in the actress' birthplace of Celoron was replaced. The new statue, sculpted by artist Carolyn Palmer, was unveiled in August in Lucille Ball Memorial Park in the small Chautauqua County village.
After the original statue receive international attention – and derision – a contest was held to pick the sculptor of a new statue. Palmer was chosen from among 65 entrants.
Her Lucy is outfitted in a polka-dot dress, smiling persona accented by a pearl necklace, purse hanging from her left wrist, and standing on her Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater demolished
After nearly two years of controversy, including court proceedings, the 123-year-old amphitheater at the Chautauqua Institution was demolished in September.
The demolition made way for a $41.5 million replacement amphitheater that will significantly expanding seating, performance space and accessibility. The amphitheater is used for concerts, lectures and readings throughout Chautauqua's annual summer season.
When news broke two years ago of the Institution's plan to tear down rather than retrofit the circa-1893 amphitheater, opponents mobilized regionally and nationally. They challenged the Institution in State Supreme Court, contending that the existing amphitheater could be preserved and retrofitted to meet the organization's needs.
Ultimately, however, the opponents lost. The new amphitheater, currently under construction, is expected to open by late June in time for the 2017 season.
Albright-Knox raises $100 million — and gets a new name
It took less than three months for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to raise $100 million for its expansion project — and get a new name.
That wildly successful campaign was driven by a $42.5 million donation, announced in September. It came from Jeffrey Gundlach, an Amherst High School graduate who went on to become one of the richest people in America.
The billionaire bond trader, who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., structured his gift in a way that enticed others to give, too: If gallery officials could raise $30 million from private sources (a goal they exceeded), Gundlach would give $30 million. If they could secure $20 million in public funding – also accomplished – he'd kick in another $12.5 million.
“I said to Janne (Sirén, the gallery's executive director), this campaign cannot be another missed wide right. It just can’t. It can’t be that we end up failing at this,” Gundlach told News art critic Colin Dabkowski. “This is Buffalo flexing its muscle and its civic pride, and it did a fantastic job.”
The successful campaign will enable the gallery to build new facilities that double its exhibition space and expand its educational and public-art offerings. And the facility will have a new name: the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum.
Broadcast legend Irv Weinstein has Lou Gehrig's disease
Irv Weinstein left his post as lead anchor at WKBW 17 years ago. But he's a much a legend now as he was during his television heyday alongside weatherman Tom Jolls and sports director Rick Azar.
That was never more apparent than when news broke in October that Weinsten has been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the progressive neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Weinstein, who is 86, talked to News television critic Alan Pergament about the diagnosis during a telephone interview from his home in Mission Viejo, Calif.
“My plans are to do everything I can to maintain a semblance of a normal life,” said Weinstein, who lives with his wife, Elaine. Their daughter, Beth, and son, Marc, both live in Southern California. Their daughter Rachel lives near Pittsburgh.
Weinstein said doctors told him he could live five or six years with the disease. Though his voice was affected by the disease and he lost his ability to walk, Weinstein was jovial and laughed at times during the interview.
“I can use all the laughs I can get,” he said. “Having said that ... I have had a great life due to in no small part to my radio and television fans and the fact that I have a wonderful wife and family who are so supportive.”