Tonawanda News — I stood at the second performance of In Good Company Productions’ “Back to the ‘80s” on Tuesday at Niawanda Park, watching as the 100 young cast members (yes, 100) took their bows at the end of the show to resounding applause and the sound of an ‘80s music medley. (I’m going to have “I Gonna Be (500 Miles)” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” stuck in my head for weeks.)
The couple sitting beside me clapped and cheered and whistled with particular vigor. It made me smile, actually, their enthusiasm, and when the accolades died down a bit, I asked if they were there for any of the young stars in particular.
The answer: Nope. They were from North Buffalo, saw an item in a newspaper and decided to come check out the show. And isn’t it neat how you can do something almost every evening during a Western New York summer for free?
I agree, but it wasn’t until later that I started thinking about it. And they’re right. Oh, there’s plenty you can pay for, from the inexpensive to the sell-your-car-for-ticket-money varieties, but if you look, there’s a lot out there that doesn’t require a cent. (Except, perhaps, for gas money.)
Here’s a few of my personal favorite free things to do during a Western New York summer. Bear in mind that they tilt heavily toward the kid-friendly and Tonawanda-centric because that’s sort of my life; your mileage may vary.
• The Kenmore Children’s Concert Series. There are a lot of free concerts around here, but these are a Keppeler staple. We’ve been to two of the five this year, including the Knewz and John & Mary & The Valkyries on successive weeks. The boys rarely sit down, dance happily for nearly an hour and go home worn out. What’s not to love?
We missed Dr. Jazz & the Jazzbugs this week, to our disappointment, but hope to resume with Sol y Sambra at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday and Skiffle Minstrels Aug. 13. Concerts are on the lawn of Kenmore Middle School, Delaware Road, Kenmore. I recommend taking chairs or a blanket ... and getting there early if you want a spot near the sidewalk that tends to be the dance floor.
• Old Falls Street, Niagara Falls. After catching a chance-heard radio commercial, we decided to take the kids to this corner of Niagara Falls for one event in particular: A Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert of the works of the esteemed John Williams on July 20. It was the first time we’d visited the area since the winter market there in 2011, an unfortunately destined event that apparently only the Keppeler clan loved. (My 5-year-old brightened when he saw the area: “Mommy, this is where I went ice-skating!)
I’m going to admit I had no idea what else was happening there ... but there are concerts (Fridays and Sundays mostly), Encounter Niagara re-enactors, larger-than-life “Backyard Board Games,” free outdoor movies on Thursday nights (tonight is “The Muppets”) and other things. Among them: The free Touch-A-Truck family event Aug. 10.
• Art NT -- Summer Art Walk. I shouldn’t call this a favorite yet, but it’s coming up, it’s free and it’s sort of neat. Four galleries in North Tonawanda — Project 308, Carnegie Art Center, Partners in Art Gallery and River Art Gallery — will be hosting concurrent art exhibit openings this Saturday evening. Visit all four and get a “passport” punched for a free (there’s that word again) treat at Webster’s Bistro & Bar.
• NT Art Festival (and art festivals in general). Perhaps I shouldn’t call them “free” — heaven knows I rarely make it out of the Allentown or Lewiston incarnation without spending money — but admission and some activities are free, and that’s good enough for now. The Lewiston Art Festival is coming up Aug. 10 and 11, followed by the new North Tonawanda Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 17 on Oliver Street between Schenck and Robinson streets.
• Canalside in Buffalo. Usually our visits to this area are part of a trip to the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park (which is not free), but we often end up over at Canalside, listening to music, browsing the Artisan Market (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the first and third Saturdays each month) and sometimes partaking in kids’ activities from stories to games to science.
• Back to the ‘80s. I can’t skip this. Shows are, as mentioned, free, and the culmination of months of practice and work by 100 Western New York kids and teens and the good folks at In Good Company Productions. They continue at 7 p.m. today, Monday, Tuesday and Aug. 8 at the bandshell at Niawanda Park, Niagara Street, City of Tonawanda.
What are your favorite free things to do during the summer in Western New York? Email or tweet me at the addresses below.Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.