You already probably know I enjoy music and that the kind I like best is live, and even better free or at least cheap!

So it’s been a topic of conversation several times recently with people I know. The new Molson Canal/City Center series in Lockport, the North Tonawanda series that replaces the one moved to Lockport and the old standbys, Thursday at the Square in Buffalo and the Artpark shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

I made a comment recently to a local supporter of the Lockport concerts that they were okay, but I wished they weren’t acts that we’ve already seen play in summer concert shows around here in the recent past. His point of view was that it’s Lockport – anything we have is better than nothing which is what we had had before. But does that mean we should settle for anything?

I don’t want to sound negative. I like the concerts and I’ll probably be at them. The sky will probably be blue, too. No, I’ll be at as many as possible, just because they are so close to home. But my observation stands. Not only that, it applies to almost all the local shows. They only seem to pick, safe, time-tested acts that we’ve all seen before and it’s turning into the oldies-but-goodies circuit.

Now, there are always fans who will show up to see Band X because they are Band X fans and will go see Band X every time Band X plays locally no matter what because they are Band X fans. Isn’t that repetitive though? Aren’t you tired of Band X by now, I am.

Some say, “Who cares, as long as it brings people in?” (and as a collateral, their money.) To those running things, apparently, that’s all that matters. That’s how they judge the success of the concerts.

But other friends I’ve discussed this with, especially those who live outside of Lockport, say the lineup isn’t worth making the trip. They go to the three or four acts each summer that they really want to see and choose between the Buffalo, Tonawanda and Lewiston shows. Almost universally, they cite the popularity of these concerts making them less enjoyable because of crowding and parking issues. These big name acts are drawing so many people they are killing the party for everyone.

The promoters all seem to be dead set on turning these concert series into the concert equivalent of a Classic Rock radio station. Why not dig a little deeper and bring in some bands we haven’t seen before? Maybe they aren’t as well known. Maybe the crowds would be a bit more manageable. Maybe they would cost less so that wouldn’t matter. Maybe we’d find out we like some other music?

Oh, and local acts. These shows are a great opportunity to see some local openers that deserve your support. We have some great musicians here, but why do they treat them like an afterthought? It’s like pulling teeth to find out who is on the bill with the openers.

Here’s my take on the Lockport series:

  • Lou Gramm – Foreigner frontman has played the summer concert circuit here in the past. Ho-hum. Great showman, I’m sure. Rochester’s Uncle Plum and Buffalo’s 53 Days are the local openers.
  • Blood Sweat & Tears – I can’t remember if they have played the area recently. I’ve never seen them live, so I’m looking forward to them. But realistically, what have they done new recently? They probably will disappoint me. On the other hand, the openers are names I’ve never heard of and will therefore probably exceed my expectations!
  • Nazareth – I’ve never been a fan of Nazareth. That means, they will probably be either fresh and new or boring to me. On the other hand, Lockport’s own Flyin’ Blind Blues Band is opening and never fails to entertain.
  • Kenny Wayne Shepard – An artist I have only recently discovered. I’ll say this may be one of the best picks for the series. Local openers are The Brotherhood (I know nothing about) and local favs Wanted By The FBI.
  • Robert Randolph Family Band – Played last year at the Square in Buffalo and rocked the house. I’ve never seen them live, except on TV, but am looking forward to a live show. If you are not familiar with their brand of Sacred Steel music, check their MySpace or something. Once you hear them, you’ll want to make this show. They’re a tough act to match up openers for, but multi-instrumentalist Eric Solomon and Lockport’s own Handsome Jack should be up to the task.
  • Riders On The Storm – This is Robby Kreiger and Ray Manzarek’s latest incarnation of The Doors. They’ve added ex-Fuel frontman Brett Scallions, so this will be an exciting show! No word on openers, but this show doesn’t need any more enticement for me. This is my top pick for the 2008 Lockport series for me, with Robert Randolph and probably Kenny Wayne Sheperd 2nd and 3rd.
  • REO Speedwagon – Another band that’s been around forever. Again, probably a great show and enjoyable to most people, but still lacks the “What’s New” edge. The real act to see at this show is Tres Bien, the band from the FOX TV reality show “The Next Great American Band” with Lockport native Mike Crowe. Also Buffalo’s The Common Kings are hot on their CD Release and by then will have played a Thursday at the Square the prior month.
  • Jeff Martin – former Tea Party frontman returns yet again to the area. I think he’s competing with Sam Roberts to see who can wear out their audience in Buffalo first. But again, the local bands to the rescue. This time it’s Mother Red an exciting new band from Buffalo along with Johnny Nobody, another band with strong Lockport ties.

It’s really hard to find anything really bad to say about the lineup, except that it’s so predictable and safe. It’s all blues-rock or some variant. No stretching our musical tastes here and if your taste lies elsewhere, you’ll either need to adapt or stay home. I happen to like the sytyles of music represented, but wouldn’t mind some variety. How about some Bluegrass. Some good Country music (you know, NOT what you hear on CMT, but more what you hear at the Sportsmans’ Tavern.) How about one night of Jam Bands, or a night of some folk or ethnic music? Celtic, World Beat, Gypsy, it’s all good, just open your minds to it.

I’d say the lineup isn’t so bad. It’s more like an 80% grade on a test. Passes, doesn’t get your parents mad at you, but doesn’t hit the Honor Roll, either. And it’s just the first year. The real test is whether people from outside Lockport will come to it and make it economically succesful, because we know that’s what the promoters look at, not the music.