Although Buffalonians are spoiled by having over a dozen free concert series to choose from every summer, it’s easy to enjoy music without paying a cover charge year-round. During the school year, for instance, the University at Buffalo runs a popular Brown Bag Concert Series at Lippes Concert Hall (slee.buffalo.edu), featuring classical ensembles and soloists. Performances start at 12:05 p.m., and while patrons have to bring their own lunch, admission gets them a free coffee as well as a pair of tickets to a UB Music Department concert—no small bonus. St. Paul’s Cathedral, located at the corner of Pearl and Church Streets, also runs a Friday recital, beginning at around 12:30 p.m., following noontime Eucharist. For complete details, check out St. Paul’s website (www.stpaulscathedral.org) and Facebook page (“Friends of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral”). Many of the other universities and churches in the area present free classical and jazz concerts on a less regular basis as well.
If noonday string quartets aren’t your thing, we suggest the workingman’s recital: the open mic night. On Mondays at 9 p.m. at the Sportsmens Tavern (326 Amherst St., www.sportsmenstavern.com), singer/songwriter Dee Adams holds sway over the mic, bringing in an eclectic group of variously skilled performers who dabble in folk, country, and Americana. Nietzsche’s (248 Allen St., www.nietzsches.com) also runs an open mic on Mondays, but the into-the-early-morning sets have felt a little different ever since longtime host and beloved local musician Michael Meldrum passed away earlier this year. Chances are, Meldrum is smiling down, knowing that Buffalo’s longest-running open mic goes on, continuing to bring to the stage a ragtag bunch of old friends, nervous student-musicians, traveling troubadours, barroom howlers, rockers, and any decent folk musician who’s ever set foot in that Allentown bar.
Come next May through September, of course, you can expect another round of outdoor series. There are the biggies, like Thursday at the Square and Artpark’s free concerts—both of which feature dynamite national touring acts—but, the thing is, if you don’t happen to be a fan of the band, then hunkering down shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of screaming strangers could actually ruin a perfectly fine summer evening. One antidote to the packed shows is the Elmwood Village Association’s Picnic in the Parkway Series (www.elmwoodvillage.org), which takes place on Bidwell Avenue on Tuesday nights during the summer, and favors a more family-friendly atmosphere. Bring the kids along in the wagon, pack a cooler, meet up with friends, wander the neighborhood, or just hang out on the patio of Caffé Aroma, listening in. The Parkway Series showcases some of Western New York’s best homegrown musical talent. This past summer, marquee performers included the BPO and the gypsy jazz band Babik. Finally, any survey of free live performances would be incomplete without mentioning in particular the M&T Bank Plaza Event Series (www.buffaloplace.com), which just finished its astonishing forty-second season as a summer tradition. Forty-two years is a long time for any series, let alone a lunchtime one, but the truth is, the downtown lunch crowd tends to have an ear for music. And we’ve all got a taste for free stuff.
James Walkowiak writes frequently for Spree.