“Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.” – Aretha Franklin
54 days have passed since an 18-year-old white supremacist allegedly entered a grocery store on Buffalo’s East Side and murdered 10 people before being apprehended. While the city and those immediately impacted by the tragedy may never truly heal, there are moments, however fleeting, where we see how transcendent American life can be when everything is firing on all cylinders.
Willie Nile’s 90-minute set at Fountain Plaza last Thursday evening was the latest example of that, as people of varying backgrounds gathered together to celebrate the return of one of our own at a time when his music is desperately needed. Songs like “Children of Paradise, “The Innocent Ones,” and “Heaven Help the Lonely” were amplified by a sense of urgency that made every word feel as if Nile was delivering his message of hope directly to us. The band was on fire, the weather was perfect, and the crowd was able to decompress in a way that people are seldom able to anymore.
Despite relocating to New York City in 1972, Nile’s heart is still very much attached to the Queen City, so, when he dedicated the aforementioned “Innocent Ones” to the victims of the shooting, it wasn’t just another artist offering up platitudes in times of trouble. His words and music mattered, because we know that he gives a shit.
Other highlights included “Lost and Lonely World,” “House of a Thousand Guitars,” and a spirited take on “Sweet Jane” that saw Nile venture out into the audience to greet some family members who had come to see him perform. Even my six-year-old son got in on the action when bassist Johnny Pisano let him strum a few bars at the end of a song, which couldn’t have been cooler given that it was his first concert.
As a parent in 2022, I’m finding it increasingly important to not allow my children to live in fear of every single thing that could possibly go awry, because that’s exactly how the powers that be want you to behave. Every issue is a wedge issue and every media outlet perpetuates the idea that our differences are insurmountable, so whatever we can do to counteract that mindset is beneficial to digging out of the hole that we find ourselves in.
Aretha Franklin was right when she said that music is encouraging and strengthening, because that’s exactly how I felt while tucked in between the buildings of Downtown Buffalo last Thursday. I was encouraged by how peacefully everyone came together and strengthened by the fact that I clearly wasn’t the only one feeling that way.