During the pandemic, a little music series sprouted up at Soldiers Circle (part of the Olmsted Parks system). The series began a s way for people to safely social distance, while enjoying listening to some of the best bands that the city has to offer. The initiative was undertaken by Therese “Tee” Forton-Barnes and her husband Tom Barnes, who live at the circle.
What started off as a grassroots effort, with bands playing on the Barnes’s front porch, began to take on a life of its own. As more people heard about the live music (at a time when live music was pretty much shelved), they began to grab their picnic blankets and baskets, chairs, and along with friends and family they sat down to enjoy the weekly performances, held on Wednesday evenings.
After the pandemic began to ease up (this summer), Tee and Tom figured that they would bring the concerts back, due to high demand from the bands and the music lovers. They filed a permit with the City, to have live music every other week.
“The music series at Soldiers Circle was created in 2020 to help unemployed musicians and the community have a night of live music to help bring up spirits,” said Therese. “In 2021, we continued as we were encouraged to do it again because of the community camaraderie that it ignited. The series turned into a beautiful gathering of children dancing, neighbors socializing, and musicians entertaining with music from jazz to reggae. It is gratifying to see babies, and nonagenarians – including my 91-year-old dad – enjoy the incredible talent on our porch each week. Some of the bands that we have featured include Neville Francis, Jelly Jar, Anne Phillipone, Robert Parker, Pointless Brothers, and Organ Fairchild.”
Along with Therese and Tom, musician George F. Olmsted helped to steward the musical undertaking. George agreed that it was a grassroots effort that led to the formation of the series, from humble beginnings.
“About the beginning of June, 2020, as we were in the throes of the pandemic and social unrest, I felt the need for musical expression, particularly live performance, was the tonic we all needed,” said George, who is a distant relative of Frederick Law Olmsted, befittingly. “My band, Olmsted Dub System, held an impromptu socially distanced performance at my home. Neighbors gathered safely and we all enjoyed the experience. One neighbor, Therese Forton Barnes, heard about it and contacted me regarding putting a similar performance on her porch at Soldiers Place. We both agreed that her special property, at the center of the circle, was an ideal ‘venue’ for a live performance. The bands could be isolated from the crowd, and the park and trees offered a naturally ‘socially distanced’ area.
“Our ensuing discussion centered on our community, the power of music to unite us all, and the fact that many musicians in our community were also out of their usual, reliable gig work, at both big and small venues in town. In an attempt to help everyone out, musicians and the community, we decided to put on a weekly event on Wednesday evenings. I agreed to contact the bands and book them for the opportunity to play in front of a real live audience (streaming performances was difficult and awkward for many of us), and that the bands could earn some much needed revenue from appreciative attendees via tips, Venmo, etc. We also were very concerned with the spread of the covid-19 virus, so measures were taken every week to ensure that we were having a safe, socially distanced event. Signs were posted, masks were available, hand sanitizing stations, etc. were present every week.
“And so we began, with a line up of a variety of local talent, and the concerts were incredibly successful for all involved. Many people, musicians and community members, remarked how these weekly concerts ‘saved them.’ Attendees from Rochester and Syracuse areas also came weekly because their communities had nothing like this happening. That was all the validation anyone needed. Every musician who performed was amazed at the turnout and love from the community. We had 14 consecutive concerts in 2020. We are continuing with bi-weekly concerts in 2021.
“I am proud and humbled to a member of a community that values each other, values creative expression, values our wonderful Olmsted parks, and comes together to support each other. I have witnessed this countless times in the 716 and believe this to be one of the best communities to live, anywhere.”
Needless to say, this second season of live music on Soldiers Circle has now become ‘a way of life’ for everyone participating. The hope is to continue the series in years to come. That said, there is one last concert to look forward to on August 25. It’s the 2021 grand finale, featuring the band Flashback. All proceeds raised on that night (from donations) will be directed towards the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Formed in 2015, Flashback is a band from Buffalo, NY that specializes in straight-up Rock & Roll tunes from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s, and beyond. Let Flashback take you back to the music of The Animals, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Who, Steppenwolf, CCR, Bob Seger, Warren Zevon, Jethro Tull, Tom Petty, REM, The Tragically Hip, 54-40, Radiohead, Cracker, and much more. The band is led by Buffalo attorney and judge Joe O’Donnell. Joe played in bands during college and law school and returned to music more than a decade ago at the request of Eugene Fahey. Fahey, a fellow musician, found out that O’Donnell was a vocalist and rhythm guitar player and sought him out to play in his band. O’Donnell has been back at it ever since, and his love of performing has only gotten stronger.