Best of NYS Music 2017: Best Music Towns

We’re proud to know that New York is one of the greatest states in the country, if not THE greatest state, for producing musicians and second to none live music experiences. All throughout The Empire State, venues across the state in villages, towns and cities are filled each night with up and coming and established musicians, with something new right around the corner. Your new favorite band might be playing in town tonight, and a few towns over tomorrow, and these are the artists that you can catch early and often, before they rise to stardom. We asked NYS Music’s staff and contributors, along with our readers, what they considered to be the Music Town in New York for 2017, and the winners both come from Western New York, Rochester and Buffalo.

The venues are not the only reason why New York is such a great place for music. With the amount of national, regional and local acts touring through the state, we get the chance see bands and artists rise from their infancy playing bars and small clubs to playing larger theaters and arenas. In addition to the best music towns, we also asked our staff and readers for what they think are the acts to which we should pay the most attention.

Best Music Town – Staff Pick

Rochester

Western New York had a dominant winner in Rochester as our staff pick of Best Music Town in the state. Rochester’s overall music scene might be one of the most complete in the state, with music legends teaching at the Eastman and Hochstein Schools of Music, the legendary House of Guitars which attracts musicians from around the world, plus venues that cater to a wide variety of music, aiding in the building of a strong scene. The Flour City’s proximity to Buffalo and Toronto also makes it a popular stomping ground for indie bands just starting out, and right off I-90 they bring in touring bands criss-crossing the state. Then there are the talented musicians in obscure bands that are just getting their start, leading to a great deal of artist collaboration, supporting each other as they rise in their respective parts of the overall scene.

Between cafes, bars, theaters, and parks, live music is prominent throughout the Greater Rochester area. Events like Rochester Fringe, Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest, Lilac Festival, Park Ave Fest, and Corn Hill Festival keep the city alive from the spring through the autumn, touching on every genre. Funk n Waffles Music Hall opened earlier this year in the former Water Street Music Hall, serving up live music with a side of waffles. The Dome Arena also re-opened this year, providing a larger venue for national acts. Three Heads Brewing has attracted a consistent slate of bands that pair well with any of the brewery’s tasty offerings. The Main Street Armory, Flour City Station, The Bug Jar, Photo City Improv, and Montage Music Hall are a regular spots for catching touring bands passing through town as well as local bands providing support. The Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, home of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, offers a range of world-class events in one of the most beautiful venues in the state.
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

Rochester is a breeding ground for talent. Rochester has a surprisingly large metal scene, one that is #4 in the country for metal bands, including punk band Primitive Screwheads, death metal band Gutted Alive, and hardcore band REPS. It is a point of pride for Rochester metal fans that Metallica came here to record there first album in 1983. Then there are some lesser-known and up-and-coming acts like Lost Wax Collective, Such Gold, Maybird, St Phillip’s Escalator, Total Yuppies, Tart Vandelay, Area Natives, The Medicinals, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, The Crooked North, Dirty Blanket, Periodic Table of Elephants, The Demos, The Dirty Pennies, So Last Year, Nerds In Denial, Carpool, Druse, Taking Meds, and Talking Under Water. Top notch music education has cultivated phenomenal young talent, such as Pilot the Universe, a band whose members are still in high school but already making waves, and 12-year-old Jack West, who recently had an opportunity to sing on stage with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Rochester bands are also getting national and international exposure. Rochester’s King Buffalo toured North America and Europe this summer with Elder. Following the release of their second album, Content, Joywave crossed the country twice this year – playing in support of Young The Giant and then again on a headlining tour. And Bon Iver chose local singer/songwriter/harpist Mikaela Davis to provide support on their European jaunt this year.

Many famous musicians have called the 585 home, including Lou Gramm (a founding member of Foreigner), Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis & The Playboys, The Chesterfield Kings, composer Samuel Adler, Jazz Brothers Chuck and Gap Mangione, bluesman Joe Beard, and acclaimed drummer Steve Gadd. The roots of Rochester’s music scene can be traced back over a hundred years, to artists like blues legend Son House and jazz musician Cab Calloway. The Rochester Hall of Fame has inducted Beard, Adler, Lewis, and Gramm, House and Calloway, as well as Lew Soloff, who taught at the Eastman School of Music after his many years in Earth, Wind and Fire.

There’s something for every musical taste in Rochester, whether you’re a lucky resident or visitor.

Best Music Town – Reader’s Pick

Buffalo

Buffalo, being the second largest city in the state and one of the largest in their region of the country, sees a lot of music come through its various venues, ranging from small clubs and bars to the large New Era Field. Buffablog organizes an annual event Herd Fest, a SXSW-style multi-venue showcase featuring some of the best musicians in the region. This year’s WLKK holiday music festival stretched out over three days. Then there are numerous venues including Nietzche’s, Tralf Music Hall, Shea’s Buffalo, Canalside, Kleinhans Music Hall, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Mohawk Place, Town Ballroom, Buffalo Iron Works, Sugar City, Key Bank Center, and first year fest Cobblestone Live.

Many popular music acts got their start in Buffalo including the Goo Goo Dolls and Spyro Gyra. One of the current popular bands, Aqueous, whose latest EP, Best in Show, was our staff pick for album of the year and named once again to be a Band on the Rise by our readers. And a wide variety of artists having gained or gaining a fan base from the Queen City. NYS Music 87/90 artists Intrepid Travelers and Folkfaces, folk rock icon Ani DiFranco, Rick James, Cannibal Corpse, Cute Is What We Aim For, Every Time I Die, On The Cinder, Del Paxton, Green Jelly, moe., Willie Nile, Billy Sheehan, and Wyatt Coin.

Grammy Award-winning Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has shared their stage at the landmark Kleinhan’s Music Hall with such greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aaron Copland, and Yo-Yo Ma. With venues catering to a young adult audience, from the all-ages Sugar City to shows on the SUNY Fredonia campus, Buffalo is a fertile market for twenty-something alternative bands like Head North, Super American, MAGS, Previous Love, Ugly Sun, Made Violent, and Mason-Jar.)

Buffalo is also home to recording studios who help regional artists lay down their work, but are talented enough to attract major recording artists. GCR Audio is a state of the art recording studio which attracts local as well as big-name artists, with a list of clients which includes A-listers like James Taylor, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Lil Wayne. Outer Limits Recording Studio has been serving regional and national artists for more than two decades, and its client list includes Eminem.

But more than just the brick and mortar venues and studios, it’s the sense of community that makes the Buffalo music scene great. Artists are supportive of each other, cross-promote, and join in collaborative efforts between musicians to help each other create and grow. Overall, the bands, venues, and industry professionals are conscientious of the needs of audience members to not only have fun but also to provide a safe environment.