My friend Bruce Eaton, producer of the Art of Jazz series at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, was poking fun at me in a good-natured way when he sent me an email with a link to a story claiming Buffalo as one of the most concert-rich populations in the country. He wrote: "Hi Jeff – Interesting, given the widespread belief that Buffalo often gets bypassed by tours (translation: Radiohead)." Implicit in my friend's message was a poke at me for whining all but incessantly about Radiohead skipping Buffalo for the past 20 years.
The "Radiohead factor" is something I bring up every time the prose surrounding Buffalo's supposed Renaissance gets a bit too purple for my comfort l. I employ it to let a little air out of the balloon, and to remind readers that many of the most interesting touring acts doesn't come any closer to us than Toronto. Also, if I'm being honest, I'm a huge Radiohead fan, and I'm annoyed that they never play my city.
SeatGeek.com, a prominent event ticket search engine, recently "decided to dive into its trove of concert data to find out where the biggest (and smallest) concert markets are, and how these markets vary across genre," according to a piece released beneath the headline "Which U.S. Cities get the Most Concerts." Of the cities with the most major market concerts per capita, Buffalo placed fourth behind Las Vegas, Nashville and Hartford/New Haven.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown was one of many area Twitter users to claim this as a victory. "A world-class music market! Buffalo is once again in the national spotlight, ranked as one of the top concert destinations in the nation! Check out the article below & RT to show your pride in Buffalo!" read the Mayor's Tweet.
A world-class music market! Buffalo is once again in the national spotlight, ranked as one of the top concert destinations in the nation! Check out the article below & RT to show your pride in Buffalo!https://t.co/AILykiHqPx
— Byron W. Brown (@MayorByronBrown) March 8, 2018
I appreciate the Mayor's civic pride, and he's correct that Buffalo is a "world-class music market." However, defining "world-class" is personal. For many of us, it's not simply claiming a tour stop from the most commercially successful artists. "Prestige acts" - artists that might not have top-tier commercial cache, but whose work is significant in ways that transcend cash flow - need to be a part of the mix for the "world-class" title to be authentically claimed.
If we pick through the SeatGeek data, we see that things haven’t changed as much as we might like to believe.
The study is limited to data concerning the 100 most populous markets and the top 100 grossing artists per 100,000 residents, between 2013 and 2018. That means it includes such top grossing pop stars as Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift and not necessarily a band like Radiohead that does limited touring usually in major markets. Unfortunately, this makes the study's results much less earth-shattering. We've long gotten the major pop tours around here, just as we've long gotten the country and classic rock package shows.
It's the medium-sized gigs and the "big, but not necessarily household name" shows that have largely passed us by. (There are definitely exceptions to this, and props are due to local promoters including Fun Time Presents, After Dark including shows at Buffalo RiverWorks, Dan Smalls and Babeville, For the Music Productions, Empire State Concerts and Buffalo Iron Works for the good work they've been doing in this area.)
Interestingly, in a time when it has been widely suggested that hip-hop has the most commercial cache of any genre – a recent Nielsen music report, for example, concluded that eight of the 10 biggest albums of 2017 were hip-hop-based efforts – the SeatGeek study found that "across the 100 biggest markets, rock is the most popular genre (2.3 concerts per 100k residents), followed by country (1.7), and pop (1.4)."
Our local scene mirrors this trend, as I found when I did a search via Pollstar.com, and tallied the major area concerts between May 15 and September 15 of this year. Rock crushed the other genres, with 25 shows during this period. Country followed with 10 shows, mainstream pop with six, and then the steep drop-off began, with hip-hop represented only four times - five times, if you count Beyonce/Jay-Z at New Era Field. which I folded under the pop umbrella. Blues/roots/Americana is boldly under-represented on major summer stages. For this, you've gotta hit the clubs, as has long been the case 'round here.
"I think for years we felt bypassed largely because of Paul McCartney, who was playing tertiary markets (but not ours, until the legendary October, 2015 stop), and Radiohead. I'm not sure why Radiohead bypasses us, but they don't do really extensive dates in North America - it's not like they're playing Fargo, North Dakota, like McCartney does and still bypassing us. But we - or at least WNY, if you include CMAC in Canandaigua - do pretty well overall, I think."
So are we a major concert destination? Or are we simply mirroring national trends? The truth lies somewhere in the middle.