Shutdown Showcase Connects Artists and Audiences

| Music

For most Buffalo musicians, performing is more than a hobby. 

It’s not something they do just for free beers, phone numbers or supplemental income. Playing live is a communal experience, best shared with friends and fans in barrooms and clubs. It’s an amplified exhale that validates late nights of lonely creation; and for most, provides a spiritual connection that makes each feel whole.    

But as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and keeps musicians off shuttered city stages, this connection has been truncated, leaving artists feeling fractured as performers—and as people.

Credit: Band Together Buffalo

“As a person, it’s been very difficult,” says Sara Elizabeth, the indie singer/songwriter behind such full-length releases as Be Well and 2017’s Twenty Something. “I’ve been performing consistently since I was 13 years old, and having that missing from my life [has been] a huge adjustment.”    

Band Together Buffalo was born to fill this void for musicians and fans alike. Started last March by the local music scene loyalists at Buffalo.fm, the live music series gave artists like Elizabeth and fellow area singer/songwriter Zak Ward an outlet to reach those staying safe at home, streaming shows weekly throughout the spring and summer months. 

“There was a huge audience response to my livestream shows, with many people reaching out to let me know how much those shows meant to them,” says Ward, who’s last solo release, Monologues debuted in 2018. “It felt great to make that connection, and get introduced to new fans.”

But as the ongoing health crisis worsened in the late fall to signal no relief in sight for the local music community, the people behind BTB began to think beyond the livestream series. They reached out to several businesses and other entities across Western New York to build a coalition to collaborate on something singular that could benefit the community not only in the short-term, but in the post-COVID world as well. 

Credit: Band Together Buffalo

Enter its virtual Shutdown Showcase, a multi-round online music performance contest due to kick off its first live episodes on February 9.

Sponsored by such concert backdrops as Mohawk Place, Sportsmen’s Tavern, and a host of other venues, businesses and locally focused initiatives, the competition started with fans narrowing a field of more than 120 entrants down to 60 (including Elizabeth and Ward) before February 1. With that roster now finalized, the Showcase will proceed to its first batch of 15 episodes—consisting of performance content from individual acts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and set to run live through March 31 on YouTube and Facebook—then transition to an additional six episodes to determine a final four for its Grand Finale. 

“Our goal has remained the same throughout: to support the local music community in Western New York,” says André Pilette, bassist for local soul outfit Farrow, and spokesperson for the event. “Ultimately, our long-term goal is to foster enduring, tangible results from which the artists, venues, producers, sponsors and viewers all benefit from this undertaking.” 

Scores will be tallied from a combination of online fan voting and points from a panel of industry judges, and can be enhanced by tipping the band via monetary donations through Venmo and PayPal. The artists who proceed into the later rounds will be rewarded with perks such as produced video content, studio time, and guaranteed bookings at local venues and festivals once in-person performances resume. The Showcase will also feature other local Buffalo artists that will not be part of the competition—including the Goo Goo Dolls’ Robby Takac, jam maestros Aqueous and metalcore dynamos Every Time I Die—but are still a vital part of the region’s thriving music scene.

Credit: Band Together Buffalo

It’s an ambitious event, one that hopes to connect artists and audiences online in sonic celebration, and satiate those awaiting the day we can sing, strum and sway—together again. 

“We really hope that the contest element of this works to get the general public to engage with us,” says Pilette. “Once things return to normal, we’re hopeful that the local music industry will come back strong—and with the support [of WNY] behind us, it will thrive. Buffalo is a music city, and we’re ready to show that to our local community and beyond.”

To learn more about Band Together Buffalo and its Shutdown Showcase, visit bandtogetherbuffalo.com.

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