The Kootsie Ball is back this year, December 8th, where it all started: The Hotel Lafayette. In December of 1976, some college guys decided that their North Buffalo apartment might be in danger with friends coming home for the holidaze, looking for a party.
Organizer, Bill Rupp, first stopped at the Statler Hotel, which had been home to Buffalo's venerable Snowball for decades. He was told by the caterering manager "You're kicking a dead horse - nobody does big "fancy" parties anymore." In fact, Rupp was rejected by every downtown catering manager he visited.
Then he wandered into the lowly Lafayette Hotel, a halfway house eager for business. He fell in love with the Crystal Ballroom, in spite of its stained curtains, rugs and peeling paint. In fact the room itself gave birth to the concept of big band, tuxedos and gowns, which in the age of disco and denim, felt counter culture. The Kootsie Ball has never strayed from its staple of formal wear over its 36 year history, but started adding some of the best local dance bands to the mix: Outer Circle Orchestra, Lance Diamond, the Legendary Dukes, Satallites, Dave Schulz's C.O. Jones, Billy McEwen, Strictly Riddim and Orengue all became part of the mix. Other variety acts were included such as Grammy Award winners, the DynaTones, touring Beatlemania Live, The World Famous Pontani Sisters and future burlesque superstar, Dita Von Teese.
As the event grew, the venues changed. The parties were held every other year with the next stop being the Shea's Theater in 1978. It too was facing an uncertain future as the retail business around it died a slow, painful death with the construction of the Metro Rail. The feel of Main Street at that time gave the Kootsie its tagline "Decadence With Dignity". In the 1980s, the event moved into the brand spanking new ECC downtown campus atrium, showing off Buffalo's historic old central Post Office. In the 1990s the ball called the Connecticut Street Armory home, including the Millennium party, drawing 2,200 New Years Eve revelers.
The last party was at the Statler Towers eight years ago, before shuttered following the Bashir al-Issa era. With the reopening of the Lafayette, Rupp decided it was time to get back to it's roots in celebration of Rocco Termini's exquisite restoration.
This year's Kootsie Ball features the Buffalo Swing Big Band, The Rockaz, J.J. Swing and a special edition of the Unity Band, that is expanding to 12 pieces for the night with an emphasis on Funk. Other performers include The Future Dance Center, Fleuron Rouge, performance artists Franklin LaVoie and Lenny Ziolkowski and singer Gino Canzone. Another new twist this year is a live, multi camera webcast of the party, organized by Buffalo Webinar
, (a collaboration between Nickel City Graphics and Martin McGee Productions.)