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Photo: kc kratt
Best small music venue
334 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; 853-5483 or waitingroombuffalo.com
Two floors of cutting-edge programming. Miss the glory days of the Continental (but secretly wish it had better beer)? The spirit of that punk landmark lives on here, both in the bookings and in the decor, which is stocked with posters of classic Buffalo concerts that took place before most of the crowd was born.
Best large music venue
University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage
UB Amherst Campus; 645-2787 or ubcfa.org
The bookings at this now-venerable hall remain as reliable and eclectic as ever. Last season, it once again offered WNY the chance to see and hear old favorites (Bonnie Raitt, Colm Wilkinson, Brian Setzer) and some of the major indie acts of this moment in time (Sufjan Stevens, Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox), along with spoken-word (actor/comedian David Cross and NPR podcast pioneer Sarah Koenig) and inventive pairings (Los Lobos with a Mexican folk ballet company), all with good sightlines and acoustics.
Best bar for live music (Northtowns)
26 Webster St., North Tonawanda;
693-9309 or crazyjakesnt.com
Crazy Jake's is a great party bar destination in North Tonawanda. Located a stone's throw from historic Riviera Theatre, Crazy Jake's is a restaurant, bar, patio spot, and live music venue. Bands perform year-round on Friday and Saturday nights and the place never charges a cover. Speaking of covers, do expect a fair share of local cover bands specializing in rock and classic party tunes from several decades. Music starts at 9:30 p.m. and goes until 1:30 a.m. Between sets, listen to the deejay on duty, socialize around a firepit, and marvel at the size of this rambling, good-time establishment. Check the monthly calendar for upcoming shows.
Best bar for live music (City)
326 Amherst St., Buffalo; 874-7734 or sportsmensbuffalo.com
Owner and musician Dwane Hall has accomplished what few could have dreamed: this Black Rock honky-tonk is a national-level destination for Americana music (country/western/bluegrass/blues). The touring musicians—Dale Watson, Rosie Flores, Asleep at the Wheel—who visit always want to come back. Locally, Hall provides gigs (and audiences) for a range of groups and players; he recently launched a foundation to support music awareness and education.
PHOTO: KC kratt
Best bar for live music (Southtowns)
189 Public House
189 Main St., East Aurora; 652-8189 or oneeightynine.com
Sure, it won last year, too—but the more we see what's up at 189, the more we love this cozy, quirky two-floor-with-a-hole-in-the-middle roadhouse with the friendly music-centered vibe of a neighborhood nightclub in New Orleans. The shows—a surprising number of which are free—feature some of the best acoustic players in WNY, along with a few jaw-dropping touring acts (Iris Dement! Greg Brown!). As a bonus, it's even got a nanobrewery on the premises.
PHOTO: KC KRATT
Best new hangout
716 Swan St., Buffalo; 248-2216 or hydraulichearth.com
Just across the street from Larkinville, this brewpub features an excellent wine, cocktail, and beer menu (much of the beer courtesy of a partnership with Community Beer Works), innovative pizzas, and the city's smallest art gallery (located inside a vintage phone booth). Calm and cozy in winter, it's a more crowded affair in the summer, when you can play shuffleboard and enjoy live music under the stars.
PHOTO: KC KRATT
Best movie theater
Dipson Amherst Theatre
North Park Theatre
1428 Main St., Buffalo; 836-7411; www.northparktheatre.org
It is no exaggeration to say that Buffalonians are lucky to have movie theaters like the Dipson Amherst Theater and the North Park Theatre. In recent months, in addition to major releases like Spotlight, The Revenant, and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, the Amherst screened Kurosawa and Spike Lee as part of the long-running Buffalo Film Seminars, mounted an ambitious Wim Wenders series, and simulcast productions from the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera de Paris. The theater also underwent an extensive renovation, resulting in the most comfortable seats in WNY. Meanwhile, the North Park continued to program a wildly diverse lineup of films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, and Labyrinth, that much-loved David Bowie-Jim Henson collaboration. Plus, new films like the delightful Sally Field vehicle Hello, My Name Is Doris and the Buffalo-shot film The American Side keep drawing large crowds to this Hertel Avenue gem. The future for the Amherst and the North Park is marquee-bright.
Most innovative theater production (2015-2016)
The Yeats Project (ICTC/Torn Space/LehrerDance)
625 Main St., Buffalo; irishclassical.com
Best known for the poetry that won him the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature, William Butler Yeats also wrote twenty-six plays. Indeed, he once wrote: "We hope to find in Ireland ... that freedom to experiment which is not found in the theatres of England, and without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed." To this end, his plays sought to combine movement, song, and symbolic abstraction, and Irish Classical Theatre Company's production of two of these—1894's The Land of Heart's Desire and 1916's At the Hawk's Well—sought to give them the multidisciplinary treatment that would properly unleash their intended dramatic potential. This three-way collaboration allowed these two rarely produced one-acts a fresh presentation for WNY audiences, but also one that would surely have pleased Yeats himself.
PHOTO: cheryl gorski
Best production of a contemporary show
Daniel’s Husband (Buffalo United Artists)
Even though Road Less Traveled’s Appropriate and Kavinoky’s City of Conversation were top contenders for this category, Buffalo United Artists’ Daniel’s Husband—a case for marriage between any two people—eked out the title for delivering that rare night of theater that had audiences leaping to their feet in sincere standing ovations night after night. BUA recognized the power and potential of this brand new work—theirs was only the second performance after a South Florida (not New York City) world premiere—and put together a cast to realize its promise. Eric Rawski, Michael Seitz, Anne Hartley Pfohl, Timothy Patrick Finnegan, and Tyler Brown proved that honesty of performance and a symbiotic relationship between cast and audience can create something that moves hearts and minds, and goes beyond either the page or the stage—a best production.
Best production of a classic show
Of Mice and Men (New Phoenix)
95 Johnson Park, Buffalo; 853-1334 or www.newphoenixtheatre.org
When a show has been around the block a time or two, its audiences are going to be a mix of those new to the story, those who love it no matter what, and those who want to see something in it they’ve never seen before; this production delivered handily to all three groups. From Paul Bostaph’s seemingly sepia-toned Depression Era set to Chris Cavanagh’s lighting, the tragic show had the right feel, and, under New Phoenix artistic director Kelli Bocock-Natale’s direction, the ensemble cast was a seamless melding of distinct characters. But it was the two stars—Artie winners John Fredo and Greg Natale as George and Lenny—who, older than typically cast in these roles, were tasked with convincing audiences that these guys had traveled together for a long time, even when most guys don’t. Their ability to do so—Fredo by delivering equal parts frustration and humanity, and Natale by creating a difficult but lovable character who inspires nurturing—sells the show and brings the final moment home with resounding clarity.
Must-see art exhibition (Large gallery)
University at Buffalo Art Gallery’s The Visitors
201 Center for the Arts, Buffalo; 645-6913 or ubartgalleries.buffalo.edu
Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Monet and the Impressionist Revolution, 1860–1910
1285 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; albrightknox.org
It’s rare when an art exhibition receives universal praise from critics and the public alike, but The Visitors, by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, managed to do just that. If you didn’t see it, you might imagine that a nine-channel video work documenting a real-time sixty-minute seven-musician performance of a single repetitive melody sounds anything but thrilling. But the mesmerizingly languid presentation and strikingly beautiful video work was captivating. The ingenious installation had viewers walking throughout two adjoining galleries as if they were moving from room to room in the two-hundred year old Hudson River mansion in which the video was shot. Every viewer got a slightly different performance. Credit goes to curator Rachael Adams for bringing this innovative work to Buffalo.
At the Albright-Knox, equally savvy curating once again flexed the muscles of the museum’s formidable permanent collection by combining appropriate selections from it with a small (but exquisite) group of borrowed Monets. Supposedly, the Monets were the stars, but the collection pieces, many seldom seen, were equally impressive. And as if that weren’t enough, a jaw-dropping group of Panza donations upstairs provided a look at what happened after the Impressionists, as Modernism took a daring cliff dive of conceptual innovation. Exhilarating and enlightening.
Must-see art exhibition (Small gallery)
Hollis Frampton at CEPA
617 Main St., Buffalo; cepagallery.org
Named after the late pioneer of new media, art theorist, and cofounder of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Media Study, this “small venue” exhibition was actually more of an art world event. The comprehensive survey marked the first time a large collection of the artist’s photographic work had ever been exhibited in a gallery. The work paralleled the development of photographic art in the mid twentieth century, from documentary photography—including shots of other notable artists—to images Frampton used in his landmark films, to early utilization of Xerox as an art medium. Frampton’s decidedly postmodern humor was on full display in such series as Sixteen Studies From Vegetable Locomotion, in which produce was anything but still life. Something of a landmark show.
Best small concert (2015–2016)
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber at Nietzsches (presented by Hallwalls)
Super-freaking along to the Rick James' punk-funk playbook, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber was, for every soul-loving, booty-shaking person in attendance, one of the year's most energized smaller gigs. The improvisational soul-jazz-hip-hop ensemble hit the compact Nietzsche's stage on January 29. Fun(k) Fact: Burnt Sugar was artist at residence during Hallwalls' 2014 season. The dozen NYC-based musicians on stage played to a packed room; the previous night the ensemble had performed at Lincoln Center in the Big Apple. Burnt Sugar played two sets of mad music that melted all the snow in Allentown.
Best large concert (2015–2016)
Stevie Wonder at First Niagara
1 Seymour H. Knox III Plaza, Buffalo; firstniagaracenter.com
It was the Songs in the Key of Life tour and so much more. Wonder gave us four hours of perfection. His huge ensemble included a full choir, string section, three back-up vocalists, as well as other masterful instrumental support. The concert defined musicianship, but it wasn’t just about technique. There was heart, soul, beauty, and peace in Wonder’s powerful performance.
Best outdoor concert (2015)
My Morning Jacket at Artpark
450 S. 4th St., Lewiston; artpark.net
The boys from Tennessee made thrilling use of this venue, playing every fan's dream set of old favorites and new material that slowly grew in intensity as the sun set on the Niagara Escarpment, at which point the band's mind-warpingly psychedelic stage lighting reached its full glory. One for the record books.
Best fundraiser - long-standing
Art of Beer/Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, Niagara Falls
1201 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls; thenacc.org
Music is Art
One of the first beer-themed fundraisers in the area keeps getting bigger and better, as the former Niagara Falls High School turned community arts center plays host to twenty brewers and restaurants around the region every March.
This September will see the fourteenth annual Music is Art, a festival that started out as an outpost of another festival but has since come into its own as a fun, free mashup of concert/street fair/art show. It's got something for everyone and benefits the essential cause of music education.
Best fundraiser (New)
Arctic White Out
Buffalo Zoo, 300 Parkside Ave., Buffalo, NY; 837-3900 or buffalozoo.org
To replace its signature Polar Bites fundraiser, a massive event based on tastings from many area restaurants, the Zoo rejiggered the concept. Still hosted in the Convention Center, guests are invited to dress in all white and “come out of hibernation” enjoying a Tom & Jerry station, visits from zoo animals, auctions, dancing, and an indoor snowfall experience. We look forward to seeing how this event develops.
Most unusual cultural event
Edible Book Fest/Western New York Book Arts Center
468 Washington St., Buffalo; 348-1430 or wnybookarts.org
This nonprofit has long enjoyed uniting the literary and culinary. Fueled by dreams of winning in one of three categories (most book-like, looks and functions like an actual book; best tasting; most creative use of materials) in each division (professional, amateur, youth), contestants impress and inspire us every year.
Fundraiser with best food and drink
Taste of Paradise/Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo;
827-1584 or buffalogardens .com
Recent parties at the Gardens have seen the venerable institution up its refreshment game to new heights. This reasonably priced spring fundraiser offered fun, colorful Captain Morgan drinks, top shelf champagne, and multiple tables filled with hearty food from a wide range of local caterers. And, with rows of hyacinths and narcissus, it all smelled wonderful.
Best outdoor programming for kids
44 Prime St.; canalsidebuffalo.com or 328-0320
Activities for kids at Canalside are too numerous to name here, but for starters, planned programming includes Seuss Summer, Farmer Tom Walsh, Literacy NY, Explore and More Museum, a youth acting camp, and many other kid-friendly activities like scavenger hunts, an outdoor movie series, beach sand play area, a full collection of lawn and table games available free, including ping pong, billiards, foosball, bean bag toss, giant Connect Four, ladder toss, and much more. Bonus: parents can watch their kids play from the comfort of the nearby beer and wine garden.
Best family fun (Summer)
44 Prime St.; canalsidebuffalo.com or 328-0320
Families could spend all day at Canalside and still not partake of everything that’s offered. From free scheduled events nearly every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day to daily rentals and tours on land and sea (well, canal), kids and adults will be kept busy from dawn ‘til dusk. Activities include games, kayaking, water bikes, the Naval Park, and, of course, stands and restaurants selling ice cream and other tasty treats. At the end of the day, take a rest in a Buffalo sunset chair under The Poets. You’ll need it.
Best family fun (Winter)
With more runs than the competition (ranging from easiest to double black diamond), cross country and snowshoeing trails, tubing, and terrain parks, there are multiple ways for all family members to interact sportily and mightily with snow. Young skiers are referred to as "snow monsters" here, and there are quad chairs for the whole family to get to the top of the hills. Holiday Valley becomes an overnight or weekend destination with lodging at the Inn at Holiday Valley or The Tamarack Club–the latter a condo/hotel with plenty of room for families. There is après-ski fare served at three cafeterias in the onsight base lodges and the resort is minutes from several family-friendly restaurants in nearby Ellicottville.
Best event (Winter)
Labatt Blue buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament @ Riverworks
This annual amateur tournament has grown so popular that scores of potential teams now get turned away. For the past couple of years, the friendly competition has found an ideal home at Riverworks' spectator-savvy facility in the shadow of the Blue-draped grain elevators, giving many Western New Yorkers a reason to look forward to mid-February.
PHOTO: jim bush
Best event (Summer)
Gardens Buffalo Niagara
This annual event has become a national garden tourism destination, a community-driven juggernaut that has no equal. Now known by its umbrella name, Gardens Buffalo Niagara, satellite events include a garden art sale, Open Gardens, and dozens of additional local garden tours. The main event is heralded by lawn signs throughout Elmwood Village—it’s pretty darn impressive seeing throngs of people strolling about with maps in their hands. Oh, and the gardens are nice, too.
Best event (Indoor)
Midwinter Drawing Rally
It’s the middle of the cold, cold winter and you are stir-crazy. You want to get out of the house for an enjoyable evening of enlightening entertainment. That’s where Hallwalls’ Midwinter’s Night Draw comes in. Held at Asbury Hall at Babeville and costing only five dollars, thirty of the most interesting artists in Western New York produce works of art live with a forty-five minute time limit. Attendees then bid on the works in a silent auction as a second batch of artists sidle up to the drawing tables. The concept is so simple and pure, it’s amazing no one thought of it before Hallwalls curator John Massier. A great fundraiser for a worthy organization, and a groovy way to spend a winter’s eve drinking, mingling, enjoying, and supporting art.
Best festival (City)
National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival
275 Washington St., Buffalo;
Wing Fest puts one of Buffalo's culinary icons front and center. The vibe at this event is very county fair-ish and mellow, and the two-day fest is indeed all about the mighty wing: baked, fried, fruited—and devoured. This year's Wing Fest is September 3–4 at Coca-Cola Field. Eating contests, a Kids Zone, beer tent, and vendors round out the attractions. Competition among just over two dozen local and national wing purveyors is fierce, with ribbons awarded for various sauce categories such as Creative BBQ, Traditional Hot, and Craft. Other competitions include The Baby Wing Contest, the Little Miss Wing Pageant, and Miss Buffalo Wing Pageant.
Best festival (Suburbs and beyond)
Lewiston Jazz Festival
Center St., Lewiston; lewistonjazz.com or 754-9005
Where else can 40,000 jazz fans go to hear more than 150 world-class musicians perform on five stages—for free? Center Street in historic Lewiston is closed off for the event where festivalgoers can listen to every type of jazz imaginable, from bebop and bossa nova to funk and fusion. This massive street party is a three-day affair that also features a classic car show, wine trail tastings, a jewelry show, and dozens of offerings from restaurants and food trucks. But the jazz is and will always be the major draw.
Best small music venue Waiting Room waitingroombuffalo.com
Best large music venue University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage ubcfa.org
Best bar for live music (Northtowns) Crazy Jake's crazyjakesnt.com
Best bar for live music (City) Sportsmen's Tavern sportsmensbuffalo.com
Best bar for live music (Southtowns) 189 Public House oneeightynine.com
Best new hangout Hydraulic Hearth hydraulichearth.com
Most innovative theater production (2015-2016) The Yeats Project (ICTC/Torn Space/LehrerDance) irishclassical.com
Best production of a contemporary show Daniel’s Husband (Buffalo United Artists) buffalobua.org
Must-see art exhibition (Large gallery) TIE University at Buffalo Art Gallery’s The Visitors ubartgalleries.buffalo.edu, Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Monet and the Impressionist Revolution, 1860–1910 albrightknox.org
Must-see art exhibition (Small gallery) Hollis Frampton at CEPA cepagallery.org
Best small concert (2015–2016) Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber at Nietzsches (presented by Hallwalls) www.hallwalls.org
Best large concert (2015–2016) Stevie Wonder at First Niagara firstniagaracenter.com
Best outdoor concert (2015) My Morning Jacket at Artpark artpark.net
Best fundraiser (New) Arctic White Out buffalozoo.org
Most unusual cultural event Edible Book Fest/Western New York Book Arts Center wnybookarts.org
Fundraiser with best food and drink Taste of Paradise/Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens buffalogardens .com
Best outdoor programming for kids Canalside canalsidebuffalo.com
Best family fun (Summer) Canalside canalsidebuffalo.com
Best family fun (Winter) Holiday Valley holidayvalley.com
Best event (Winter) Labatt Blue buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament @ Riverworks labattbluepondhockey.com
Best event (Summer) Gardens Buffalo Niagara gardenwalkbuffalo.com
Best event (Indoor) Midwinter Drawing Rally hallwalls.org
Best festival (City) National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival buffalowing.com
Best festival (Suburbs and beyond) Lewiston Jazz Festival lewistonjazz.com
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