Buffalo: A Big City Music Scene With A Small Town Touch

Buffalo and surrounding regions host an eclectic array of live music options.

By Team JamBase Jun 5, 2023 2:45 pm PDT

Buffalo has long been known as the home of devout sports fans, chicken wings and winter weather, but a deeper look reveals a city and surrounding regions that are 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 city took the No. 10 spot in a recent study conducted by the real estate company Clever ranking the 50 most populous metro areas in the U.S. from “best to worst” cities for music lovers and working musicians. Buffalo came in ahead of such cities steeped in deep musical traditions as Los Angeles, Boston, Memphis and Philadelphia.

Clever’s survey revealed Buffalo has more career musicians and residents that support its live music scene than several municipalities that are primary concert markets. Additionally, the findings determined the city has more career musicians per 1,000 residents than 90% of the other cities surveyed.

Buffalo’s History

While moe., Aqueous, Ani Difranco and the Goo Goo Dolls might be the Buffalo-based artists most familiar to JamBase readers, they are far from the only acts from the city who’ve gone on to national and international prominence. 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 and Cannibal Corpse are also among those who’ve achieved success on a broad scale. The list of names shows off the dizzying diversity of the musical melting pot that is Buffalo.

Marquee jazz artists made Buffalo a favored tour stop during the late ’50s and ’60s. Rock came to the city in a big way throughout the ’70s and ’80s. The former Rich Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, hosted the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Van Halen, The Clash, Iron Maiden and many other major acts. Meanwhile, a who’s who of legendary rockers played the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium including Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Police and Prince, as well as a number of aforementioned artists who grew in stature to start filling Rich Stadium. Currently, the city’s hockey arena — now known as KeyBank Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres — continues the tradition of the Aud as a regular stop for top-tier acts.

Buffalo’s Vibe

Buffalo’s nickname of “The City of Good Neighbors” stretches into its live music scene. Residents rally around their own and also serve as hosts and ambassadors for Buffalo’s ever-thickening musical and cultural gumbo. Concerts take place at a diverse array of venues ranging from the intimate Mohawk Place to the mid-sized Town Ballroom and elegant theatres, namely Shea’s Performing Arts Center or Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The one thing each space has in common is a lack of pretense and a tendency of attendees toward genuine neighborliness.

Buffalo’s Future

Independent concert promoters and musicians have united over the past decade to push Buffalo’s live music scene forward. New festivals such as Cobblestone Live and The Borderland Music & Arts Festival have attracted fans from around the Northeast and beyond, while long-running annual events like the Music is Art Festival, the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo, the June in Buffalo Festival & Conference for New Music and the annual Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Festival prosper. Summer concert series at Canalside, the Buffalo Outer Harbor, and Artpark are also major success stories.

Many neighborhoods in Buffalo have been expanding their live music offerings. Not only has the long-standing hub of the music scene in the Allentown District grown, live music-suffused neighborhoods in the Larkinville District, the historic industrial and shipping area around Silo City, the Elmwood Village, Black Rock and the Chandler Street District continue to evolve.

Buffalo may still be considered a tertiary concert market, but the city refuses to behave like one.

[Sponsored content: Visit Buffalo Niagara is a JamBase partner.]

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