Like all great musical ideas in this country, this one started in New Orleans and eventually worked its way north, to New York City, and then west from there. Born of the desire to celebrate rich musical communities, the New Orleans idea morphed into events like the annual Brooklyn Comes Alive festival, where the eclectic musings of the Williamsburg region are celebrated across two days of live music. We're seeing similar concepts being embraced in other cities. And now, we're going to see the same thing in Buffalo.
On July 15 and 16, the inaugural edition of the Cobblestone Live! Festival will take over Illinois and Columbia streets adjacent to KeyBank Center, in an effort to at mark the emergence of a neighborhood community of bars, restaurants and clubs in the district, and to present a roster of acts worthy of similar festivals taking place in cities far larger than ours.
A healthy portion of these acts will share a Buffalo ancestry. And that's what makes this event a significant one in our summer concert season.
"It's important to showcase the local scene," said Josh Holtzman, who manages Buffalo Iron Works, one of the three local businesses involved in the event (Lockhouse Distillery and Sunbeam Productions are the others). "Nationals get a broader reach and they pull people from outside markets, and so we wanted that, too. But this was all put together by people who really care about the city and the talent in the area, so we committed to a festival that would be comprised of more than half local talent. The businesses involved are all local, too, from the vendors to the production staffing – it's all Buffalo."
That many of these local artists, while still calling Buffalo home, are full-fledged professional touring bands – Aqueous, Intrepid Travellers, Funktional Flow and several others – adds to the significance of the event.
Holtzman cites the once-roving circus known as Lollapalooza, which now makes its annual home in Chicago's Grant Park as a model for what he hopes Cobblestone Live! might become. I asked him about the diversity of the lineup he and his partners crafted for their first run – a lineup that runs the gamut from indie-rock to jam-band to funk to EDM and country. Wouldn't a festival with a narrower focus in terms of musical genre guarantee a turnout of that part of the music community?
"It's true that a lot of successful festivals have a very narrow focus, but this festival is particular to Buffalo, it's reflective of the community that is producing it," he said. "And Buffalo has eclectic taste. When we put our heads together, we wanted to come up with a lineup that offers a little something for everyone, that covers a lot of ground."
Holtzman also hit on idea that I'd like to see become a trend during lengthy outdoor shows and fests in our region – attendees of Cobblestone Live! will be allowed re-entry. This strikes me as a dignified approach, one that does away with the feeling of being trapped and forced to pay often high prices for the goods on offer.
"With two days and nights of music spread across three stages, we realize that people might need to take a break, maybe stop back at home, or simply get a change of scenery," he said. "We want people to come for as short or as long of a period of time as they want to and are able to. We just want them to come."