Tonawanda News

August 2, 2013

Riding into the past, on lawn furniture

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I thought a radio was playing. Then it occurred to me no one plays the radio outdoors on summer evenings in Kenmore, at least not that loudly. Must be something else. 

It was the Beatles’ blast from the past (1964), “All My Loving.” Ah, yes. A concert on the Village Green, by a Beatles tribute band. It was audible, and enjoyable, from my backyard six blocks away, and after further review, I learned those in the audience not in my backyard, but parked in lawn chairs and packed into that triangular slice of lawn in front of the Municipal Building, enjoyed it as well. There was even a beer tent on closed-off Delaware Road.

Five nights later, a part of Kenmore just north of that scene was buzzing with little kids and moms and dads with strollers and those fold-up portable chairs. (Note to anyone eager to offer me a grant to research the matter: older adults prefer those rectilinear aluminum folding chairs with plaid plastic straps forming the seat and back. The younger, hipper ones carry their chairs, which unfold like bagpipes, in cloth bags).

Ah, the kids’ concert on the lawn of Kenmore Middle School. We parked two blocks away on Myron Avenue, walked down McKinley Avenue, a street whose front lawns look bikini-waxed, and there we were for the breathtaking sight of hundreds of kids, dancing on the school grass, dancing on the pavement, dancing with mom, stepping out of chauffeured strollers and eager to do some dancing. No beer tent here, put a thriving pizza-by-the-slice operation and all the soda the clientele could stand.

The Kenmore Village Improvement Society, impresarios of this production, this week invited local musical treasure Brian Bauer, he of the saxophone, the clarinet, the severely old-school playlist and the Studebaker he drives around Kenmore, as its guest artist. Billed as President Hoover’s favorite band, his ensemble, Dr. Jazz and the Jazz Bugs, offered the dancing tots material unheard since 1935 anywhere but in Betty Boop cartoons, in that anachronistic style eventually killed off by Big Band music (itself a casualty of rock and roll).

And the patter. Dr. Jazz knows his place in the world, and it’s evidently sometime during the Depression. Between-tunes comments about local mayors from the ‘30s, references to the air-conditioned and nearby-but-not-lately Kenmore Theater and that olive drab Studebaker, parked near the stage with “We Like Ike” regalia in the rear window, flew over most celebrants’ heads. Oh, and he brought wire-suspended microphones of the type that once graced Bing Crosby movies, and said things like “Yowzah, yowzah” a lot.

I expected the scene to be drained of color and to turn black and white at any moment. 

Like the Beatles’ tribute band, these guys knew what they were doing. Oh boy, do they know what they’re doing.

The takeaway might be that the Village of Kenmore has designed the summer entertainment of its residents as something of a Renaissance Faire, one oldies act after another until it reaches into repertoire so deliciously bizarre you think you’re watching a Turner Classic Movies newsreel or were taken to a planet on which Flash Gordon will show up at any moment with the Cab Calloway Orchestra in tow.

Not quite. A soul review will play the Village Green next month, and the kid concerts will feature a Latin band next week, a skiffle band the week after that.

It’s that the evening gloaming in the village these days is filled with music, bought and paid for by volunteers for the enjoyment of the citizenry. In a neighborhood not far away the rumble of trucks is the music of the night. Elsewhere it’s loud cars with thumping bass speakers. Maybe gunfire and the shrieks of ambulances and police cars.

Here we open our windows, or wander down the street carrying lawn furniture, and hear luscious live music. I’ve been told New Orleans is like this. Maybe the Manhattan neighborhood around the Juilliard School is like this. I’ll skip a homily about getting a history lesson by merely venturing outdoors in Kenmore these days. (It pains me to observe it but the Beatles are many people’s idea of history. Of Dr. Jazz and his catalog, you can almost hear the scratches on great-grandfather’s 78 rpm recordings).

When you get immersed in something and forget what time it is, what year it is, someone is definitely doing something right. Even if you do not have a lawn chair, or a kid with the urge to dance, you should wander over and hear this.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at