Grassroots music festival celebrates its 5th anniversary in neighborhood it helped to transform
In 2016, Josh Holtzman was working as road manager for the then up-and-coming Buffalo-based jam band Aqueous, and had recently assumed a management gig at Buffalo Iron Works, a live music venue in Buffalo’s Historic Cobblestone District.
Today, Holtzman is that club’s owner, the CEO of Twenty6 Productions, a full-scale event management and production company, and the co-founder and director of the Cobblestone Live Music & Arts Festival, which takes place annually in the region surrounding Buffalo Iron Works.
It’s been a long trip for Holtzman, but it hasn’t exactly been a strange one – from the moment he entered the music and entertainment industry as an eager twenty-something, Holtzman has been possessed by a singularity of purpose and guided by a clarity of vision.
When the 5th annual Cobblestone Live Festival takes in the Cobblestone District on July 14 and 15, 2023, we’ll see that vision writ large, as a host of regional and national artists perform across two days, on four stages – two outdoor main stages on Illinois and Mississippi Streets, a Kids Village stage, and the indoor Buffalo Iron Works stage.
“The festival really has evolved, and honestly, a lot of those initial game plans and visions have stayed true,” Holtzman says. “We established our roots in 2017, by presenting the first multi-day music festival in downtown Buffalo, and we were learning – how to close down the streets, how to bring the neighborhood together, how to take a district that had been used only by people visiting briefly for a Buffalo Sabres game, and suggesting additional uses for it.”
In the years since that maiden voyage, Cobblestone Live has evolved with the neighborhood, Holtzman says.
“We’ve gotten very close to all the existing businesses, and now, new businesses – Club Marcella, for example – are coming to the Cobblestone District. All of us, together, have been dedicated to establishing the Cobblestone District as one of Buffalo’s premier entertainment districts. And it’s working.”
“Cobblestone Live has been our favorite two days of the summer for the last five years and 2023 is slated to be our best year yet,” says the festival’s co-director, Grace Vesneske. “This festival is a great representation of Buffalo culture and what it has to offer. It’s a family-friendly event that highlights the diversity of our community by featuring our best music, crafters, and local businesses.”
In Holtzman’s view, the Cobblestone District presented an alluring blank slate when he first began to envision an event spread throughout the region adjacent to KeyBank Center.
“When you compare this neighborhood to similar neighborhoods in other cities, you see the many benefits. Here, traffic isn’t really an issue, parking isn’t an issue, accessibility is not an issue. We always wanted Cobblestone Live to be a community-based, inclusive event. And this is the perfect neighborhood to make that happen.”
Through grassroots efforts and word of mouth, Cobblestone Live has become a destination point for musical tourists. Holtzman says that the percentage of visitors from cities around the Northeast has increased every year.
“In 2022, in the area of 20% of our ticket buyers came from out of town,” he says. “They came from Toronto and Southern Ontario, from Pittsburgh, from Cleveland, and throughout this state – Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City. Compare that to our first year, in 2017, when it was 97% ticket-buyers from Buffalo, and you can see that we’re moving in the right direction. Now, we have this bulk of the audience from Buffalo, which is what we want. But with that additional 25% of people traveling here for the festival, we’re able to grow.
“We continue to communicate with the hotels that are in the region, like the Marriott Harborcenter and the Courtyard at Canalside. And both of those are fully booked for the weekend of the festival. That’s a good sign.”
The Cobblestone Live Music & Arts Festival takes place on July 14 and 15, 2023.
Music begins at 5 p.m. on Friday the 14th, and picks up again at 1 p.m. on Saturday the 15th, and will include performances by Andy Grammer, Twiddle, Andy Frasco & the UN, Jukebox the Ghost, Doom Flamingo, the Beaches, Lespecial, Joslyn & the Sweet Compression, Funktional Flow, Start Making Sense, Fernway, Space Junk, Workingman’s Dead, and more.
Full weekend passes are priced $110, individual day passes go for $60, and VIP experiences run from $175 per day to $300 for the full weekend. Tickets are available here: Cobblestone Live 2023