Summer Nights and Solar Eclipse Mania

Well, the summer is winding down, but not before a blitz of activity. I have two important public health topics to discuss in the coming weeks, but today I want to celebrate the end of summer with a bang, as I am in the midst of a 12-day streak of what my sister's friend Karla refers to as "living it up." In my view, I might as well take full advantage of Buffalo's abundant free or cheap concerts and plentiful festivals because at this stage of my life, I don't leave the house much between late September and April, not necessarily due to bad weather, but because I am content for the majority of the year to receive entertainment from the cozy confines of home by way of TV (including sporting events), renting movies on DVD and listening to CDs. So here is a thumbnail sketch of my daily doings for the past week and future plans for next few days:

Friday, August 18: attended the Buffalo Bisons final Friday Night Bash of the season. After purchasing a ticket for the home opener in April, which was rained out, I kept it for the whole season until finally exchanging it to last Friday's contest. I really did not care if the Bisons won because a horrible losing streak in June and July knocked them out of playoff contention early, so my main motivation was to just enjoy the sights and sounds of the stadium, have a couple beers and some ballpark peanuts, and especially, watch the post-game fireworks. All was well as the Bisons even pulled out the game- after blowing a 3-1 lead, Dan Jansen won it with a solo home run off the left-field foul pole, just a few dozen yards from where I was sitting down the third base sideline.

Saturday: I drove up to Niagara Falls, NY to listen to the KISS concert outside the Seneca Niagara Casino. Notice I did not say watch. I saw KISS at Darien Lake a few years ago- the first time I experienced live my favorite band of early childhood more than 35 years after I initially fell in love with them- and just last week attended a free concert at the Erie County Fair by Mr. Speed, a premiere nationally touring KISS tribute band- so I did not feel like spending $55, the cheapest ticket available, to see KISS up close. Instead, I stood back on Niagara Street, off the Seneca Casino property, about 200 yards from the stage, but where I could still hear the thunderous music clearly. Before the concert, I did walk through the casino where plenty of KISS fans with painted faces were gathering, including some young children, just like I did when I was 6 and would go to my best friend's house where his mom would paint our faces like KISS and we'd then blast KISS records, sing and play air guitar/bass/drums.

Sunday: I made the 40 minute drive south of Buffalo to Mickey Ratts/Captain Kidds beach bar in Angola. It was a gorgeous summer day- not a cloud in the sky and temps in the mid-70s- and I made the trek to possibly say a final goodbye to the legendary Lake Erie establishment. Several months ago, the property had been sold by the bar owner to a developer, who issued a preliminary plan to tear down Mickey Ratts and replace it with a several-story condo or apartment building with perhaps a restaurant/bar on the first floor. But there has been no official plan announced since then, and when I asked a Mickey Ratts' employee if this was indeed its last summer season and was closing for good next month, she merely stated, "They have not told us anything specific." Just in case it is the last time, I basked in the sun on the beach for a couple hours, then watched the regular Sunday Funday band, Ultraviolet, featuring Amy Zielinski, an attractive and talented lead singer, play two sets of pop and rock covers, including their unique and entertaining mash-up of Queen with David Bowie's "Under Pressure" and Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby" which "borrows" (steals?) its bassline from "Under Pressure."

Monday: I along with my sister Tracy and her friend Theresa went to Wilkeson Pointe at Buffalo's Outer Harbor to experience the solar eclipse. Theresa had two viewing glasses, which we shared, plus members of the Buffalo Astronomical Society were present with two telescopes set up with filters so the public could attain a safe, up-close look at the cosmic phenomena. In Buffalo, the eclipse only covered about 72% of the sun's surface, so it was not nearly as dramatic as those places fortunate to experience totality, when the moon covered the sun's entire surface, turning day instantly into night and exposing the corona, the solar flares extending outward from the sun's atmosphere. However, Buffalo will be directly in the path of totality of the next solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, which we will be able to experience the full effect, unless of course it is cloudy/rainy/snowy that day (or the earth's atmosphere is still blocked with fallout from a nuclear war triggered by President Trump or Kim Jung Un's madman impulsivity and miscalculation). The three of us also decided to go to Remington Tavern in North Tonawanda for its weekly Burgers, Brews and Beatles event. However, when we got there, the place was so packed that the wait for a table was 50-60 minutes. We did not want to wait that long to eat, and besides the Beatles' act was just two guys with acoustic guitars. Its just not The Beatles without electric guitars, bass and drums. That is sort of like in the mid-'70s when Lorne Michaels offered The Beatles a check if they reunited to play on Saturday Night Live, with the condition that all four members show up and the joke that they can split the money any want they want, if Ringo gets paid less, that's fine. So we went to another North Tonawanda establishment, Crazy Jakes, instead and all three of us had burgers and fries since that was what we had planned to eat at the Remington, sans any wait time for a table and acoustic versions of Beatles' tunes.

Tuesday: Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson was the penultimate show in Artpark's summer concert series, but the weather was so bad that day, I wished I could have my ticket refunded and avoid the drive up to Lewiston. However, all Artpark shows are "rain or shine, no refunds." There was a tornado watch for all of Western New York that after-noon, and two waves of heavy rain passed through the region around noon and again in mid-afternoon. Though the tornado watch was canceled at 5 pm, radar indicated a third wave of heavy rain was coming down from Canada. I reluctantly made the trip north into Niagara County with a tuna sub in tow and the first sprinkles fell by the time I reached the Lewiston exit on Route 104. A steady shower was in progress when I hit the booth at the entrance of the parking lot, which strengthened into a downpour by the time I parked the car, where I waited out the torrent by eating my sub and reading the newspaper. At 7:05, just ten minutes before the band hit the stage, the rain stopped and I got out of the car, walked to the park entrance, passed through security and found a spot to plant my lawn chair in time for the start of the show. Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull's lead singer/flutist/songwriter and lone original member, led the band through a version of "Living in the Past." The song sounded appropriate for while Anderson can still play a mean flute, his voice sounded dreadful- he often seemed out-of-breath from blowing his instrument and barely understandable. I swear the second song, I could not tell if he was actually singing in English or it may have been Welsh or Gaelic for to my ears he was incomprehensible. Well, the music itself was decent, especially "Thick as a Brick" and a modern take on a Johann Sebastian Bach instrumental, as long as Mr. Anderson was not singing- although he still has a very witty sense of humor as the between-song-banter showed, and I cut him some slack as he revealed that he is 71-years-old. But I left early both to beat the traffic and to avoid his excruciating vocals- and went home to watch old Jethro Tull concert footage from the "70s on YouTube when Anderson was in his prime.

Wednesday: I went to see Widow Maker, which includes my cousin Michelle Insalaco's long-time boyfriend/fiance Mike on bass, at North Tonawanda's Gateway Park. I had planned to see them back on July 13th at Gratwick Park, but that show was rained out. The band features Michael Hund, one of the Buffalo area's best electric guitarists, and a female lead singer. They play mostly classic rock covers by popular bands such as The Who, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner and Boston. Michelle was there with her son Joe, who is autistic but loves music. I enjoyed the band and would have stayed longer, but I left after about an hour because I was pretty worn out from the past week's events.

Thursday: I was not planning on going out at all that day. I was even looking forward to staying home and relaxing, to recuperate and recharge for the weekend, but then I saw in the newspaper that a local band was going to reenact The Beatles' famous final 1969 performance on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. They were going to play on the roof of Hydraulic Hearth restaurant in the Larkinville District. I just could not miss that spectacle so I headed down to south Buffalo to enjoy the show. The police closed off the intersection of Swan and Seneca streets, and Larkin Square directly across the road from Hydraulic Hearth was open for beer sales and more space for the spillover crowd. The only member of the band that I recognized was Geno McManus, the legendary Buffalo guitarist who has played in several local bands, including The Ifs that play 1960s British Invasion music, and has developed a loyal following in Japan, touring there annually, for several years. He also was one of the two guys playing acoustic guitar and singing at the Remington Tavern on Monday, so I got to see him play after all- except this time in a proper setting as he was playing electric guitar along with a second guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a keyboardist (a saxophone player even joined in on a couple songs). The band played right on the edge of the roof facing west toward downtown and it was a great time. Hundreds of people stood or sat on Hydraulic Hearth's patio, the sprawled grounds of Larkin Square or in the closed-off street, and the band obviously was stoked to be playing such fine music in such a cool, unique setting. They performed songs from every era of The Beatles' career, opening with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" and then playing everything from early tunes like "Eight Days a Week" and "Can't Buy Me Love" through their entire catalog, such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, "Come Together" and "Don't Let Me Down." It was a fantastic show, and after a short break, they were going to play a second set, but I left because I was pretty exhausted and did not plan on going out at all, but I was sure glad I did not miss that performance.

Yesterday: I attended the Buffalo Irish Festival at Buffalo's Outer Harbor. I just had to imbibe an imported Harp lager along with a corned beef sandwich and salt potatoes. After checking out all the merchandise vendors, I decided to buy an Irish Buffalo Sabres T-shirt: it is solid green with "Sabres" in solid white block letters and a white shamrock on the left sleeve. I was there for the parade of counties- a procession led by bagpipers followed by young girl Irish dancers and each of the county flags, including Mayo where my grandparents were born, but did not stay for the many Celtic music bands.

Today: the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. I will go back to my old neighborhood to enjoy the annual end-of-summer celebration of all types of art in Buffalo's historic E

lmwood Village. In particular, looking forward to seeing two local blues/R&B bands- Freightrain and Critt's Juke Joint.

Tomorrow: the Dave Constantino Band at Tonawanda's venerable Old Man River hot dog stand. Dave is the lead singer and guitarist for a trio that plays original songs and blues covers, but he is most well-known for being the guitarist in the legendary local heavy metal band Talas that rocked the area in the late '70s and early '80s, including a tour with Van Halen that led to bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan joining David Lee Roth's band after he left Van Halen.

Monday: my sister and I plan to see the documentary "Diamond in the Buff: The Lance Diamond Story" at the gorgeously restored North Park Theater on the life and career of the beloved Buffalo R&B/soul singer and supreme showman who died two years ago after more than 30 years performing at so many venues in the area that he loved so much he never left- choosing to stay in his hometown rather than pursuing stardom in Vegas.

Tuesday: Steppenwolf at Artpark. Looking forward to seeing the classic rock band that recorded such vintage songs as "Born to be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride" and "The Pusher" for the first time.

Wednesday: much needed rest.

#summer #BuffaloBisons #KISS #MickeyRatts #Ultraviolet #solareclipse #TheBeatles #JethroTull #IanAnderson #WidowMaker #HydraulicHearth #GenoMcManus #BuffaloIrishFestival #BuffaloSabres #CountyMayo #ElmwoodAvenueFestivaloftheArts #DaveConstantinoBand #VanHalen #LanceDiamond #BillySheehan #Talas #Steppenwolf

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© 2017 by Peter McNeela.