When it comes to prolific local filmmakers, who actually live in Buffalo, Peter McGennis has not only been a stalwart figure, holding down the cinematic fort, he’s also managed to elevate the film scene in ways that a lot of people might not be aware. I’ve been following McGennis’s film career for a while, and I must say that he is always full of surprises. That’s because he looks at Buffalo in ways that most of us don’t. He sees a side of this city that is, how shall I put this… not just under the radar, it’s under the surface. The characters that McGennis chooses to star in his films are real people, but they have lived lives that would seem imaginary. McGennis has a knack for shining a light on the Queen City in ways that are simply epic. Just take a look at his Buffalo Bushido trailer, or his Queen City trailer. It’s hard to not get sucked up into these pseudo-imaginary worlds, because they tend to play off real instances and real people that have played a part in the filmmakers’ life… slightly embellished of course!
McGennis recently reached out to me to discuss another project that he is unveiling – a one-of-a-kind record, the first of four albums, two of which tell the story of famed and defunct Canadian amusement Crystal Beach. McGennis says that he is starting to roll out original music that he has been writing and recording for years. The upcoming release features music from a studio project band that includes three members from Tedeschi Trucks, legendary sax player Pee Wee Ellis, and Buffalo musicians such as Doug Yeomans. The band is called “Pete & The Amusements”, which, like his films, is a mashup between the real and the surreal.
You will especially feel all of the roots and invoking, coupled with your understanding of the rock opera and rock n’ roll culture.
When I was young, I worked at Crystal Beach – I ran the remote controlled boats. That’s why I can safely say that the amusement park must have had a huge impact on McGennis, who would attend the park each and every summer, numerous times without fail. There was no place quite like Crystal Beach, nor will there ever be a place so magical, so bizarre… it’s easy to see how the park must have imprinted McGennis early on. In fact, the park made such an impact on the filmmaker that traces can be found throughout all of his works. So it’s no wonder that park eventually emerged as a main character in one of his productions.
How long have you been working on this project?
I wrote the first Crystal Beach musical track back in 2016 and recorded twenty-five more tracks throughout the following year. Filming started up after that.
Is this a temporary shift from film to music?
I’d call it a shift in proportion to allow my music to occupy more space and stand upfront. Going full fledge “rock opera” marks a creative milestone for me as a multimedia artist. In this case, creating a double LP concept album and then producing a motion picture to follow. “Tommy” was released in 1969 and I believe the film came out six years later. Original music has always been a part of my work especially giving voice to places dear to me like New Orleans, Crystal Beach, and Buffalo. Since working on “Queen City”, we’ve lost Allen Toussaint, James Cotton, Magic Slim and my dear friend Sharon Jones also worked with me on “Bubble Girl.”
I wanted to keep working in a similar spirit which inspired me to create a studio project band called “Pete & The Amusements” bringing together some of favorite musicians from Buffalo and outside. I’ve worked with Doug Yeomans for many years and love collaborating with him. My friendship with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks introduced me to Kofi Burbridge and their original horn players who joined us. Pee Wee Ellis is one of finest R&B sax players and we had worked together. Keeping to a studio-only band half-life, similar to Steely Dan back in the day, provides a lot of flexibility.
Aside from completing the two plus albums worth of the tracks for “Laff In The Dark”, we’ve already recorded the majority of tracks for another original film/music project taking me back to New Orleans where my mother is from. Sadly we lost Kofi Burbridge earlier this year and I am discovering ways to honor him in the film.
Is it a film, live performance, album launch? What’s going on here? Is it really a rock opera?
Our upcoming “Laff In The Dark” event on September 7th is an Album Release Party timed with the 30th Anniversary of Crystal Beach closing its doors. The record expresses the magical, ill-fated story from someone who lived it and knew the park intimately in its waning years – the feeling, the faces, the rides, and the smells. Everyone at the time had their own connection – their own stories. Crystal Beach found its way into our hearts and minds. On display will be a mix of hand-made movie props and original park artifacts on display for the first time since 1989. The list includes some real gems! We will screen a short musical teaser incorporating a few musical tracks and film footage captured at several of the vintage parks we have been filming our rock opera about Crystal Beach. I’m not sure if time will allow for a short stage reenactment of a musical track but down the road a live performance needs to happen mixing media which is my jam. For now, I’m happy to step into the shoes of rock n’ roll curator.
What can people expect from the event?
A laff in the dark. Admission includes a digital copy of “Pete & The Amusements: Laff In The Dark Original Soundtrack Vol. 1” with a limited vinyl pressing available for record collectors.
Do you have to be familiar with the amusement park to appreciate the event?
To “fully” appreciate the event, I’d say “yes.” But whether you lean more towards history and nostalgia or rock n’ roll fantasy, I think everyone will get a tingle and feel the magical spirit of Crystal Beach come alive at Buffalo’s majestic The North Park Theatre.
What is the greatest takeaway that someone should have?
Remembering what a wild ride and what a gem Crystal Beach Amusement Park was for generations of Americans and Canadians and that the best never last.
Pete & The Amusements – “LAFF IN THE DARK”
Saturday, September 7, 2019
5:30 PM – 7 PM
North Park Theatre | 1428 Hertel Avenue | Buffalo, NY 14216
Tickets $15. Recommended 17yr and up. (General Admission) | Purchase tickets