For live music, hard to beat Artpark's amphitheater 

The Whirlpool Jet Boat heads down the Niagara River as Hootie & the Blowfish perform in 2014 at the Artpark Amphitheater. (Dennis Stierer/file photo)

Memorial Day weekend marked the start of concerts at Artpark’s Amphitheater. The first time I saw a show at the venue was on July 1, 2003 when Rik Emmett headlined. I had all three of my sons in attendance and I immediately fell in love with the venue.

Over the years, the amphitheater portion of the park has undergone many changes. In 2003, the Art-El, a 40 x 500-foot covered wooden boardwalk, was still the focal point of that section of the park. It has long-since been demolished. The stage also used to be much lower, and not as wide.

Occasionally a show would be a huge draw, and the venue was filled with excitement, and for many years Artpark’s lineup leaned heavily on classic rockers.

This past weekend featured two first-time headliners, Modest Mouse on Friday and Lake Street Dive on Sunday. I attended both shows, and as I sat back and looked over the venue, I began to feel a bit nostalgic, and suddenly realized why I fell in love with the venue many years ago. It's a great place to see a show with the right crowd.

While there is a degree of excitement that comes with being part of a sold-out event, there are plenty of hassles as well. A recent Paul McCartney concert had to be delayed because of traffic jams in an area not prepared for the large influx of fans.

While I hate to single out another local venue, Darien Lake serves as an example of a place that is a nightmare to get in and out of when you attend a show that has sold well. It’s not a comfortable venue either, but they will always have fans attend shows there because they book the biggest names in music. My impression of Darien Lake is that it is often more about the overall scene than the music.

Artpark had years where many of the shows faced similar issues. There were traffic snafus, and bad behavior — not all the time, but enough of the time.

When they increased ticket prices it was met with some ire, but the reality is that Artpark has become a better place to see a show. It’s comfortable, it’s accommodating and you don’t have to miss twenty 20 of a show to get a drink or go to the restroom.

I always enjoy a good live show, and this weekend’s crowds for Modest Mouse and Lake Street Dive were some of the best concert attendees I have seen in years. They cheered, they danced, they smiled and people weren’t bumping into each other, they were there to enjoy the music.

Most venues lose energy when the place isn’t packed, but Artpark’s Amphitheater is actually better when it’s not packed, and in thinking back, most of the best shows I have seen over the years were not sold out.

So while some may pine for the good old days when Skynyrd and ZZ Top packed the place, this weekend reminded me of the venue I went to back in 2003, with a crowd that was lively, spread out and there to enjoy an evening of music on a beautiful night.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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