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Iron Works, winner of Best Bar for Live Music (City)
Best Summer Concert Series
Wednesdays at Larkinville
The reasons: a consistently solid lineup of artists associated with our region, a beautifully thought out venue (folks who are just there to drink can do so without bugging the ones who are mainly there for the music), ample parking, food trucks galore, and several nearby options for post-concert drinks or dinner. Value added: Nanogolf!
Best Bar For Live Music (City)
Buffalo Iron Works
49 Illinois St., Buffalo; 200-1893 or buffaloironworks.com
In the relatively short time this venue has been open, it has quickly established itself as a centerpiece of the still-evolving Cobblestone District, serving as the anchor for a number of outdoor beer-and-blues block parties every summer. It’s got everything adventurous music lovers could want: inviting atmosphere, convenient location, a solid beer selection, and a size and layout that offer just the right degree of intimacy. The music itself is skillfully curated, and two of last season’s shows—the US. debut of British drum-and-bass DJ Stinkahbell and local favorites Lazlo Hollyfeld covering Radiohead—ranked among the best concerts of the year.
Best Bar For Live Music (North)
1711 Main St., Niagara Falls; 205-8925 or rapidstheatre.com
The progamming at this resuscitated movie theater just gets better and better, with marquee names including the Pixies, the 1975, Queens of the Stone Age, the Shins, and—in the months ahead—an enticing double bill of Flaming Lips and newcomer Mac deMarco. Sight lines are good, bar service is friendly and efficient, and the building itself is worth a trip. Here's hoping its success is a signal of further rebirth in the Falls.
Best New Hangout
228 Allen St., Buffalo; 331-3047 or billyclubbuffalo.com
The intimate, well-designed bar/restaurant offers a needed upscale environment for Allentown revelers to dine and drink. Billy Club serves a small but well-crafted brunch and dinner menu featuring local ingredients and fun twists on traditional American cuisine. The real draw to this charming spot is its ever-changing innovative cocktail menu, which always employs the freshest seasonal ingredients.
Best Innovative Theater Production (2016-2017)
Torn Space, 612 Fillmore Ave., Buffalo; 812-5733 or tornspacetheater.com
The earliest Torn Space events at Silo City, American Grain (2012) and Motion Picture (2013), were very little more than disconnected spectacles, but, with each year, these productions have become tighter and more infused with continuity of—if not meaning—purpose. These progressive tableaux ask audiences to take a literal journey through ongoing performances, but they also ask the audiences to think—about conflict, prejudice, beauty, and love. Last summer’s production, Burden, was the most pointed example. It was part of Torn Space’s first Response performance festival, which returns this month, August 18–20.
Best Production Of A Contemporary Show
The Shakespeare Stealer
Theatre of Youth, 203 Allen St., Buffalo, 884-4400 or theatreofyouth.org
So often, “fun for the whole family” is little more than code for “kids’ show; parents welcome, too.” Not so for The Shakespeare Stealer, smartly adapted for the stage by Gary L. Blackwood, author of the novel of the same name—it was tops among enjoyable shows of the season for patrons of any age. A cast of Buffalo stars led by perennial award-winning director Chris Kelly found the perfect balance among hijinks, humor, and heartfelt moments, punctuated by choreographed swordplay that raised the stakes in entertaining fashion. Perhaps most compelling was the nuanced plot, which had good guys, bad guys, and even guys in between, involved in an intriguing attempt to steal the Bard’s words for personal gain. What theater lover wouldn’t love that?
Motherfucker with the Hat
Road Less Traveled Productions, 500 Pearl St., Buffalo; 629-3069 or roadlesstraveledproductions.org
From the years-in-the-making cast to the keen direction of Victoria Perez, Road Less Traveled gave Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Tony-nominated play—it lost to War Horse—everything it needed to succeed, and did it ever. Anthony Alcocer, in his 2017 Artie-winning Best Actor performance, dug deep to deliver gut truth unlike anything he’s ever done on a Buffalo stage, and fellow nominee Greg Howze was a chilling counterpoint in their conflict over moral relativism; 2016 Artie Award winner Melinda Capeles Rowe was frenetically caught between them. Fast-paced, funny, and familiar, Perez made sure The Motherfucker with the Hat fired on all cylinders until both cast and audience were spent: that’s theater at its best.
Best Production Of A Classic Show
Paul Robeson Theatre, 350 Masten Ave., Buffalo; 884-2013 or aaccbuffalo.org
This past year, with August Wilson’s Fences hitting the big screen and Jitney making its Broadway debut—it had previously been the only one of Wilson’s ten American Century Cycle plays that hadn’t—the timing of Paul Robeson’s production was spot on. And so was the show. Director Willie Judson helmed an ensemble of some of Buffalo’s finest—including himself—in depicting the ins and outs of the lives of unlicensed Pittsburgh cabbies in the 1970s. The result was a full evening of theater punctuated by moments that stick in the heart. Every cast member had one, but the one-named actor, Fisher, gets special attention for the kind of acting that made them all land; his entire body was present in every scene—a master class within a masterful production.
It’s Only A Play
Buffalo United Artists; 886-9239 or buffalobua.org
The great thing about putting up a summer show is that there’s far less competition for talent, which increases the probability of spot-on casting for each and every role. Such was the case with Buffalo United Artists’ It’s Only A Play; even before the show opened, buzz about Adam Hayes as the Coat Check Guy, Anthony Alcocer as the Genius Director, Michael Seitz as the Panicked Playwright, Mary Kate O’Connell (and dog Rosie) as the Novice Producer, Lisa Ludwig as the Doped-Up Diva, Anthony Chase as the Lethal Critic, and Jimmy Janowski as the Playwright’s “Best Friend” was that this was a show not to be missed. And if there were any doubts that this cast delivered as promised, the sold-out run put them definitively to rest.
Must-See Art Exhibition, Large Gallery (2016-2017)
Picasso: The artist and his models
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.; 882-8700 or albrightknox.org
You have to hand it to the folks at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; they know how to make lemonade. Touring blockbuster exhibitions are costly, but the museum has one of the best collections of modern art in the world, with too little gallery space (soon to be rectified). So the curators have lately made their own blockbuster exhibitions by borrowing a handful of notable works from other museums, and building a show around them with work from the museum vault. Picasso: The Artist and His Models was perhaps the best one yet. Several spectacular works from different museums around the globe were accompanied by thoughtfully selected works from the collection that illustrate the artist’s “models,” here meaning both people and influences. And it looked good! It was well organized, thoughtfully installed, dramatically lit, and had instructive wall text. And, of course, the hottest marquee name in art made this a must see.
Must-See Art Exhibition, Small Gallery (2016-2017)
Mille Chen Prototypes at BT&C Gallery
1250 Niagara St., Buffalo; btandcgallery.com
Commercial gallerists have two ambitious pinnacles to aim for when presenting exhibitions. The first is to sell out the show. The second is to sell a piece or two to a museum for its permanent collection. A testament to the brilliance and importance of Millie Chen’s recent exhibition Prototypes at BT&C Gallery is that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery purchased every single piece from the show. This vibrant and compelling exhibition features small gouache paintings, each created to be used as wallpaper patterns. The ten paintings each capture a turbulent event from the 1970s, Chen’s formative years. In one corner of the exhibition, gallery director Anna Kaplan printed one of the paintings onto rolls of wall paper, which were then used as a backdrop for a “room” filled with period furniture. Both the artist’s work and the layout of the show created a compelling, unforgettable atmosphere.
Best Small Concert (2016-2017)
Robert Glasper Experiment
Buffalo State Performing Arts Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 878-3005 or buffalostatepac.org
Genre-defying jazz pianist Robert Glasper has been at the forefront of the movement to integrate twenty-first century influences—hip-hop, rap, modern R&B—with traditional jazz forms. While many of those current influences are computer-driven studio creations, the Experiment does it all live (the drummer playing lightning fast electronic-like beats with dizzying precision). Glasper’s relaxed and humorous persona gives his performances the air of a work in progress—creating the vibe that the audience is in on the experiment. As with any experiment, it doesn’t always click. But when it does, which with Glasper at the helm is often, the results are exhilarating. At Rockwell Hall, a playful encore of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” laid down a satisfying soul groove and then exploded into a wall of prog sound directly from Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. The audience wasn’t dissecting the ingredients—they were just digging the brew.
Best Large Concert (2016-2017)
Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; 852-3835 or babevillebuffalo.com
Joan Baez has always been the real deal: an authentically engaged person with a great voice and great taste in material. Her voice remains lovely—she has lost some upper range, but this is compensated by a depth and warmth that makes her singing less show-offy. Asbury Hall is just about the perfect room for Baez, who could probably fill it without amplification. The audience for this performance was pleasingly diverse: older women with gray braids, young hippies with blond dreadlocks, entire families, up to four generations of Joan Baez fans. Bernie Sanders supporters mixed with Hillary Clinton voters, serene and happy in the knowledge that they could agree on this one thing. “Diamonds and Rust” is as mean a kiss-off song as anybody ever wrote, and, when you consider that she wrote it about Bob Dylan, the master of the genre, it is even more remarkable. We should all age as gracefully as she has.
Bob Dylan/Mavis Staples
Artpark, 450 S. 5th St., Lewiston; 754-4375 or artpark.net
In his mid-seventies, Bob Dylan continues to confound audiences—most recently by being one of the few artists of his generation who eschews a pat “greatest hits” show. For that reason alone, his performances stand out in a sea of knee-jerk nostalgia. This particular concert was uplifted by opening act Mavis Staples, well into her sixth decade as a performer and the voice of the gospel soul group The Staple Singers. Hitting the stage with a compact combo that captured the essence of her family’s musical legacy, Staples wasted no time spreading genuine musical joy through the rapt audience. Closing her set with rousing classic “I’ll Take You There,” Mavis needn’t have worried: we already were.
Best Outdoor Concert (2016-2017)
Ray LaMontagne at Artpark
Artpark, 450 S. 5th St., Lewiston; 754-4375 or artpark.net
First there was LaMontagne, playing an acoustic set with his usual gentle melancholy. That was nice. But the moment many in the audience were waitng for came when he brought out his band—My Morning Jacket, minus singer Jim James. At this point, the concert became the stuff that summer dreams are made of. It was trippy, lush, and rapturous, and left its audience in a profoundly happy daze.
Best Fundraiser (Longstanding)
Squeaky Wheel’s Dysfunctional Holiday Party
617 Main St., Buffalo; 884-7172 or squeaky.org
After a few years in the wilderness, the media access center’s annual anti-holiday holiday party found its groove again in 2016 with a mix of locally sourced films, live performances, brews, snacks, and the best budget-conscious gift basket raffle in town.
Best Fundraiser (New)
Blizzard Ball Revival
Allentown Association, 61 College St.; 881-1024 or Allentown.org
The first Blizzard Ball was held in 1978, to celebrate the fellowship and community spirit that helped Buffalonians get through the Blizzard of ’77. Organized by Allentown residents Carole Holcberg, Bruce Eaton, and Alison Fleischmann, the black tie party was a big hit and went on for several years, with the final two events celebrating the ten- and twenty-year anniversaries of the storm. On February 25, 2017, the warmest night of the winter, the Allentown Association rang in the blizzard’s fortieth anniversary by bringing the ball back after a twenty-year absence. The old-school black-tie gala trappings were discarded in favor of a hipster-oriented marketing campaign and participation from local restaurants, distilleries, and breweries. We say, welcome back! Buffalo’s notoriety for blizzards and resilience (the theme of the new BB) deserve to be celebrated.
Most Unusual Cultural Event
Road Less Traveled Productions, 500 Pearl St., Buffalo, 629-3069 or roadlesstraveledproductions.org
In the past year, Road Less Traveled Productions has produced two new musicals: if you blinked, you missed them, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth seeing—especially for the select spectators to whom they played. The subjects of the musicals, part of RLTP’s new Buffalo Stories series, were former Buffalo mayor Anthony Masiello and ex-Bills running back Thurman Thomas; audiences were friends, family, and curiosity seekers willing to pay fundraiser prices for a chance to see original biographical theater full of heart and humor, as well as mingle with the celebrity subjects afterwards. RLTP has another Buffalo Stories planned for December: stay tuned to see whose life will next be put to music!
Fundraiser With Best Food And Drink
Buffalo Without Borders
International Institute, 864 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; 883-1900 or iibuff.org
There are plenty of reasons to love an event that celebrates Buffalo’s newest residents, even without critiquing the refreshments. Buffalo Without Borders underlines the culinary riches that immigrants and refugees from countries like Burma, Somalia, Iraq, Bhutan, and others have brought to our region by featuring cuisine from as many as a dozen different countries. No rubber chicken here!
Best Outdoor Programming For Kids
Beaver Meadow Audubon Center
1610 Welch Rd., Java Center; 585-457-3228 or buffaloaudubon.org/beavermeadow.php
Year-round programming to teach children (and their handlers) to appreciate nature is the hallmark of Beaver Meadow, located on 324 acres in North Java, New York. North Java is a short distance from East Aurora and thirty-five miles from Buffalo. There are miles of trails (some wooded) to hike, ponds to see, and wetlands to traverse on rugged boardwalks. The park is an accredited site of National Audubon Society, an active organization promoting wildlife education and conservation. Beaver Meadow features hands-on displays in its education center that teach species of flora and fauna native to WNY. Activities for children include demonstrations (and tastes) of a working sugar shack that makes maple syrup in spring, guided nature walks with trained volunteers, summer camps for boys and girls, and other seasonal events. Past events include “Enchanted Forest” with adults in animal suits stationed in the woods to interact with children to do Q&A about animals. The full calendar of Beaver Meadow events can be viewed on its website.
Buffalo Zoo, winner of Best Best Family Fun (Summer)
Photo by kc kratt
Best Family Fun (Summer)
300 Parkside Ave., Buffalo; 837-3900 or buffalozoo.org
"Family fun" often just means great stuff for kids that adults can tolerate. That's not the case here. Not only are the zoo's inhabitants fascinating to all age groups, the organization takes care to create programming and events carefully aimed at different constituencies. For the parents, just one example among many is Wines in the Wild, one of the summer's best fundraisers. For kids, there is so much: camps, workshops, tours, badge programs, and much more. The zoo does it all, all year round.
Best Family Fun (Winter)
When two city blocks worth of parents and offspring are happy to wait patiently in winter weather for a chance to skate, somebody must have done something right. The crowds at Canalside are impressive in any season, but the site's ability to draw thousands when the temperatures are in the single digits is a ringing tribute to those who built it, maintain it, and program it.
Best Event (Winter)
East Aurora’s Carolcade
Main St., East Aurora; facebook.com/EACarolcade
Started in 1972 by a group of caroling Girl Scouts singing merrily in front of famed Vidler’s 5 & 10, East Aurora’s Carolcade has grown into a festive town-wide tradition. Nearly 2,000 people mosey and mingle along East Aurora’s Main Street, blocked from vehicular traffic. Ice skating at nearby Healthy Zone Rink on Riley Street, dinner at one of the many restaurants in town, and open houses at businesses and galleries make Carolcade even more festive. All shops stay open on this evening so it’s a great time to holiday shop. At the appointed time, 7 p.m. sharp, and from the stage near Vidler’s, musicians and emcee lead the crowd in a series of traditional Christmas carols. Carolcade is held the third Saturday of December, and is highly recommended for groups of friends, couples, and families.
Best Event (Summer)
Buffalo Infringement Festival
Amazingly, every summer, there are people who admit to never having heard of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, an all-volunteer-run event that spans eleven days, from the last Thursday in July through the first Sunday in August (this year, July 27-August 5). It offers an eclectic assortment of performance art—musicians, actors, artists, puppeteers, poets, playwrights, and more—presented in various venues around the city from dedicated spaces to street corners. Events are all free or very low cost (Infringement prohibits admission prices over ten dollars), and most run more than once, so you don’t have to miss anything. Visit infringebuffalo.org, and use the detailed, cross-referenced schedule to plan your day.
Best Event (Indoor)
The World’s Largest Disco
In 1993, businessman philanthropist Dave Pietrowski, after noting the dearth of downtown activities on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, founded the World’s Largest Disco. Based on the 1979 Guinness Book of World Records event of same name held at Buffalo’s Convention Center with 13,000 attendees, Pietrowski expected 600 at his first WLD, held at the same venue. Approximately 1,800 revelers showed up and several hundred were turned away. These days, WLD attendance is capped at 7,000. Attendees dress in flamboyant outfits that may or may not include sky-high platform shoes/boots, faux ’fros, and ensembles of vivid polyester. WLD has a VIP section on the lower level of Buffalo Niagara Convention Center with its own dance floor, bars, buffet, and huge lounge area outfitted with seventies-style sofas, lamps, and signage from notorious Buffalo nightclubs of the era. The World’s Largest Disco is a charity event; to date, it has raised nearly two million dollars for the beneficiary, Camp Good Days and Special Times, a sleepaway camp for children with cancer. WLD tickets sell out quickly, and this night of dance fun also means a run on downtown hotel rooms, limousines, and vintage tux rentals.
Pride, winner of Best Festival (City)
PHOTO BY nancy j. parisi
Best Festival (City)
Pride festivals can be controversial, although, at this point, the controversy is largely confined to members of the LGBTQ community. Have they become too mainstream? Are they too far out on the fringe? Is it too political? Not political enough? These are important conversations for the members of the community, but if you are an ally, Pride is a glorious explosion of diversity and acceptance; a celebration of our entire community. Church groups march and so do banks. Drag queens and politicians, high schools and hospitals. Cops. Car dealers. It is easy to get caught up in political pessimism in the Age of Trump, but, during Pride, we have a glorious moment to realize that social progress is possible, and that maybe our differences are what unite us.
Best Festival (Suburbs)
Suburban Taste of Buffalo offshoots
Taste of Buffalo is the largest two-day food festival in the country, and, as such, crowds are part of the eclectic culinary experience. But the size, plus the sixty-plus vendors to choose from, means going to TOB isn’t a quick bite; it’s the better part of a day. It stood to reason, then, that local versions of the concept—Taste of the Tonawandas, Taste of Williamsville, Taste of Cheektowaga, etc.—have cropped up over the past two decades. These events not only allow festivalgoers a more relaxed meal, but foster community as they familiarize residents with gastronomic offerings closer to home.
Best Summer Concert Series Wednesdays at Larkinville larkinsquare.com/live-at-larkin
Best Bar For Live Music (City) Ironworks buffaloironworks.com
Best Bar For Live Music (North) The Rapids rapidstheatre.com
Best New Hangout Billy Club billyclubbuffalo.com
Best Innovative Theater Production (2016-2017) Burden tornspacetheater.com
Best Production Of A Classic Show Jitney aaccbuffalo.org
Best Ensemble It’s Only A Play buffalobua.org
Must-See Art Exhibition, Large Gallery (2016-2017) Picasso: The artist and his models albrightknox.org
Must-See Art Exhibition, Small Gallery (2016-2017) Mille Chen Prototypes at BT&C Gallery btandcgallery.com
Best Small Concert (2016-2017) Robert Glasper Experiment buffalostatepac.org
Best Outdoor Concert (2016-2017) Ray LaMontagne at Artpark artpark.net
Best Fundraiser (Longstanding) Squeaky Wheel’s Dysfunctional Holiday Party squeaky.org
Best Fundraiser (New) Blizzard Ball revival Allentown.org
Most Unusual Cultural Event Buffalo Stories roadlesstraveledproductions.org
Fundraiser With Best Food And Drink Buffalo without Borders iibuff.org
Best Outdoor Programming For Kids Beaver Meadow Audubon Center buffaloaudubon.org/beavermeadow.php
Best Family Fun (Summer) Buffalo Zoo buffalozoo.org
Best Family Fun (Winter) Canalside canalsidebuffalo.com
Best Event (Winter) East Aurora’s Carolcade facebook.com/EACarolcade
Best Event (Summer) Buffalo Infringement Festival infringebuffalo.org
Best Event (Indoor) The World’s Largest Disco theworldslargestdisco.com
Best Festival (City) Pride buffalopridefestival.com
Best Festival (Suburbs) Suburban Taste of Buffalo offshoots
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