The return of the Lockport Molson Canal Concert Series is about a month away and the promoters released the schedule and lineup of entertainers on Wednesday.

As usual, there is a lot of fuss about the headliners, and has brought in a bunch of top-name acts that will undoubtedly have the square behind Ulrich City Center packed again. You’ve probably already heard the names and most of them were no surprise; they were almost all leaked/announced on the individual bands websites and show schedules.

But, unlike most of the local free summer concert series, they have also released the local or regional performers who will be opening for the headline acts. I think this is great as it gives the fans of the local bands some notice, give the bands themselves time to promote their appearance and in the end, brings even more people to the shows. Since the openers play first, this means more people get there early and probably stay longer which translates to more business for the vendors and surrounding businesses. It’s such a no-brainer, that I don’t understand why venues like Artpark and Thursday at the Square don’t put more emphasis on this.

So, let’s look at a few of the local bands:

Steve Johnson – Opening for Rusted Root June 26th.

Steve Johnson was the leader of the popular band from Jamestown, Big Leg Emma. I’m assuming that they mean the Steve Johnson Band is appearing, because that’s how he’s been playing gigs lately. Also in the band are Amanda Barton and Steve Davis, also Big Leg Emma members. This gig will be coming about a week before their appearance at the Great Blue Heron Festival, an event they have been supporting for what seems like forever.

SJB follows in the same vein that BLE created, songs with a soulful, haunting, groove style of rhythmic folk that easy to listen to and easier to dance to. It’s good music for the soul and a great kickoff to the concert series.

Bearhunter – also opening for Rusted Root

I don’t know much about Bearhunter, but their MySpace page says they are a relatively new band out of the Harvest Sum records stable. That to me, is enough to tell me they are worth watching. Harvest Sum is sort of a cooperative effort among a bunch of underrated Buffalo area bands and is home to bands like Roger Bryan (Old Sweethearts), Johnny Nobody, BESNYO and My Bloody Valentine.

New Clear Fusion – also opening for Rusted Root

New Clear Fusion is a Buffalo-area 8-piece jam-fusion band that always seem to be playing somewhere locally. Their style, as well as that of the other openers will be a good fit for Rusted Root.

Jeremy Hoyle Band – opening for Kim Mitchell, July 17.

Jeremy Hoyle and his band is probably WNY’s hardest working band. You might not recognize the name, but you’ve probably seem them play either as Strictly Hip, the Tragically Hip cover group or as Toby Live, doing their Country/Western Toby Keith cover thing. No, they’re not schizophrenic, they just know that to make a living in music around here, you have to be able to play the covers that are the staple of the bar scene.

But Jeremy is also a very talented songwriter and has his own songs as well. Whether they draw from the covers side of things, or dip into the original stuff, they will entertain. I hope to hear more of the original material than we usually get to hear in the bar shows at this event.

Flyin’ Blind Blues Band – opening for Lita Ford and Sass Jordan, July 24.

Lockport’s own Flyin’ Blind Blues Band is one of the best original blues bands from WNY. Led by Damian Brady on vocals, whose antics on stage alone is worth the trip, they are a great opener for this night of blues. This is the only return from last year’s concerts, where they were supposed to play the middle spot, right before the opener, but got bumped to the early spot due to a cancellation and last minute substitute band. A lot of their fans missed their show completely, or came in during it, but it was still a wild time.

Dave Constantino Band – opening for Queensryche, July 31.

I’ve been wanting to catch this band for a while, but haven’t crossed paths with them yet, but I’ve heard their music and know Dave’s a great guitar player and songwriter. His band has a pretty full schedule, judging by their MySpace page, so there shouldn’t be any problem finding a chance to hear them this summer if you want.

[edit: In case you don’t recognize the name, Dave has been a member of a number of well-known bands – Shyboy, Willie and the Reinhardts, The Tweeds and Talas. Dave is an original Inductee to the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.]

Johnny Nobody – opens for Eddie Money, August 7.

Another Harvest Sum band, Johnny Nobody is a local band with ties to Lockport as well as being another offshoot of the band The Old Sweethearts. They are a frequent name in the Buffalo music scene often with Handsome Jack, who played last year’s series. Their gritty Rock to Blues-Rock sound is a natural to open for Eddie Money.

Alison Pipitone – opening for Randy Bachman, August 21.

I can’t say enough about Alison Pipitone. I think she’s probably the best female rocker in Buffalo. Her lyrics are great, but it’s the fact that she and her band really rock that does it for me. No newcomer to the Molson Series, they opened for Joan Jett a few years ago in NT.

Son of the Sun – also opening for Randy Bachman, August 21.

Local favorite solo artist, Zak Ward is part of this five-piece described as “a grandiose love letter to the driving heart of Kinks style harmonies and Velvet Underground guitars.”

Scott Celani – also opening for Randy Bachman, August 21.

Scott Celani and his band seems like they are everywhere. If there is a benefit in the Buffalo area, it always seems like Scott is there. A singer-songwriter, who is just as at home in a solo acoustic show, with the band has a powerful rock to pop sound. Also in the band, is Jack Prybylski, one of the area’s finest sax players.

That’s about it for the local bands I’m familiar with. The others, I know less about, but don’t let that hold you back. Some of the most enjoyable music is the fresh, new kind that you just ‘discover.’ Whether you like the headline act, or not, come early and hear some great music before the crowd arrives. Then when the headliners are playing, you can drop back, chat with friends, listen from afar, or just go home and put on their CD. That’s how I plan on doing it this year.