A Music-Lover’s Guide to Buffalo
by Jeff Miers
Buffalo is an ideal destination for the lover of live music.
From elegant concert halls to indie-rock watering holes, we’ve got it all going on, seven days a week. Our city is home to a large population of deeply talented professional musicians working in every imaginable genre, and an even larger population of true music lovers eager to bask in the region’s all-but-limitless live music offerings.
The Music Scene
Our music scene is a deep and varied one, spanning such genres as funk, soul, jazz, rock, R&B, hip-hop, pop, alternative rock, metal, punk, jam-band and indie-folk. Both legendary and up-and-coming artists like Dyke & the Blazers, Grover Washington, Jr., Rick James, Brian McKnight, Talas, Billy Sheehan, Gamalon, Bobby Militello, Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Green Jello, Every Time I Die, Cannibal Corpse, the Goo Goo Dolls, Moe., Aqueous, and Ani DiFranco represent the dizzying diversity of the musical melting pot that is Buffalo.
If you visit our city, you’ll want to start your music-lover’s vacation – or, if you’re a resident of Western New York, your ‘staycation’ – with a few hours sampling the wares at one of our many independent record stores. Revolver Records has stores in the Hertel Avenue neighborhood, the Elmwood Village, and in East Aurora; Hi-Fi Hits serves the first-ring suburbs from its home on Main Street in Williamsville; Apples & Oranges, run by legendary Buffalo musician George Puleo, offers a healthy blend of used and new vinyl in the village of Kenmore; and Doris Records – the very store that funk icon Rick James shopped in as a kid – has been operating on East Ferry Street since 1962. All of these stores represent Buffalo’s independent spirit and resilient attitude, and all act as community hubs for our music scene.
Summer Live Music
If you’re visiting Buffalo during our glorious summer season, you’ll find that our outdoor live music offerings are abundant.
Artpark, located 25 miles north of Buffalo on the Niagara Gorge in Lewiston, boasts an incredible lineup of summer shows on its outdoor amphitheater stage, and fully stocks its indoor MainStage Theatre roster as well. The bucolic setting can make for a transformative live music experience, with bands performing against the backdrop of the Niagara Gorge, with Canada in full view across the river, and often stunning sunsets commingling with the performance to create something akin to magic. It has been suggested that Artpark is our region’s own version of the jaw-droppingly beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, and a visit to the venue underscores such a notion.
From contemporary indie to classic rock, alternative to funk and soul, jazz and classical to modern rock, Artpark’s schedule keeps Buffalo music lover’s busy during the summer months and is a mandatory stop for out-of-towners.
The Buffalo Outer Harbor presents a seasonal lineup of national touring acts ranging from jam band to EDM and classical music to hip-hop on its Great Lawn site and will be expanding its schedule when the new permanent amphitheater project is completed in the summer of 2024.
From the weekly free local music showcase series Thursday & Main, at Fountain Plaza in downtown Buffalo, to the Bidwell Parkway Concert Series in the Elmwood Village, annual festivals like Music is Art, Cobblestone Live and Borderland Music + Arts Festival, and more intimate waterside concerts at Old Man River in Tonawanda and Buffalo Riverworks, our region offers an embarrassment of riches to the discerning lover of outdoor concerts.
And we certainly don’t go into hibernation mode during the colder months. That’s when the action moves indoors, to our abundant clubs, concert halls – like the beautiful acoustic marvel that is Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Grammy Award-winning Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra – theaters like the historic Shea’s Buffalo, and KeyBank Center, our primary downtown arena.
And if you want your live music experience to stretch well into the evening hours, we’ve got you covered, with a host of venues offering any musical idiom your heart might desire.
The Town Ballroom
681 Main St., Buffalo, NY
Since opening in Buffalo’s Theatre District in 2005, the Town Ballroom has become the premier concert venue of its size in the region. Artists like St. Vincent, the Tragically Hip, the Tea Party, Todd Rundgren, Les Claypool, Umphrey’s McGee, Peter Murphy, Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Bob Weir & Ratdog, the Crystal Method, KMFDM, Bad Religion, Clutch, TV On the Radio, Dinosaur Jr., Dark Star Orchestra, the Black Crowes, and hundreds upon hundreds more, have performed at the venue, many of them making the Town Ballroom a regular tour stop. With the recent addition of the Oxford Pennant Stage in the lobby, music lovers have even more opportunity to enjoy national and regional bands and artists in a more intimate setting within the same building.
248 Allen St., Buffalo, NY
This legendary venue is your stop for indie rock, folk, jam bands, singer-songwriters, and jazz. It’s a funky place, and man, if the walls at Nietzsche’s could talk, they’d tell stories of Phish playing to a few hundred people during their early days, or indie icon Ani DiFranco honing her craft while still a teenager.
341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY
Also known as “the house that Ani built,” a nod to Buffalo’s own indie-folk songwriter and independent music icon Ani DiFranco, who teamed with her then manager Scot Fisher to purchase the former house of worship in 1999, Babeville is a stunning venue with a striking ambience. From Pat Metheny to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bruce Cockburn to the Wallflowers, legendary artists and up and comers alike frequent the alt/indie venue. Basement bar/venue-within-a-venue the 9th Ward allows for more intimate shows, making the whole Babeville complex a hub of our live music scene.
Pausa Art House
19 Wadsworth St., Buffalo, NY
Owned and operated by musician and musical curator Lazara Martinez, Pausa Art House is a gem of a venue located in the heart of Buffalo’s Allentown District. The intimate, acoustically inviting space provides the perfect setting for jazz and chamber music, both of which fill Pausa’s well-stocked live music itinerary.
The Sportsmen’s Tavern
321 Amherst St., 71 Military Rd., Buffalo, NY
Since 1985, when Dwane Hall took over the humble watering hole on Amherst Street in Black Rock, the Sportsmen’s Tavern has been Buffalo’s home for Americana music. In recent years, the Hall family has expanded its footprint, creating the Sportsmen’s Park outdoor venue adjacent to the club, and ancillary concert venue The Cave, just around the corner on Military Rd.
Buffalo Iron Works
49 Illinois St., Buffalo, NY
For the past decade, Buffalo Iron Works – located in the heart of the city’s Historic Cobblestone District – has built a regional and national reputation as the prime jam band venue in the region. The laid back, urban vibe and adventurous itinerary make Iron Works a mandatory part of the live music lover’s diet.