When it comes to live music venues, Buffalo can be full of surprises.
Founded in 1978 by Bob Stalder and Mike Meldrum (along with Stefanie Brooks Goddard), PeopleArt Coffeehouse has not only become a local institution, it has also become a revered music venue unlike any other, kept alive by the musicians that frequent the establishment. You might say that PeopleArt is a venue for musicians, built by musicians. That said, you can probably guess that there is a devote following of fans that support the (mainly acoustic) musicians appearing on stage.
As PeopleArt readies to open after a long pandemic hiatus, a number of acoustic artists are preparing to take the stage in coming weeks, including one of Buffalo’s finest, John Brady, who says that he is excited to kick off the series on Friday, April 1.
“An artist can get up and play their own music for people that are there to hear original music,” said Brady, when asked about his fondness for the venue. “How many venues like that are there? No amplification, no selling other products, no noise, just the artist, his/her instrument and the music. Direct from the heart and soul.”
Bob Stalder is still directly involved with the production of the music series, to this day.
“He has been a wonder, doing this coffee house since its inception,” said Brady.
Unfortunately Mike Meldrum passed away around ten years ago… but his legacy lives on via this engrained, culturally-rich series that he helped to establish upwards of 45 years ago.
Back in 2006, Ray Kelley wrote about the relatively obscure (yet highly coveted) venue, which perfectly sums up the experience:
Venture into any one of the myriad bars, taverns, cafés or coffeehouses hosting an open mic night in Buffalo and you are likely to find a small crowd of people quietly socializing. Some will be drinking coffee, wine or beer; others will perhaps be writing in a journal, chatting with a friend, or reading a book. If, as you scan the faces of those present, you see a wizened older gentleman with black-frame eyeglasses and a salt-and-pepper Grizzly Adams beard, walk over and say hello. You are in the encyclopedic presence of a true Buffalo institution: meet Bob Stalder.
An aficionado of original music, Stalder spends eight nights a week cruising the local music scene in search of new voices. He has no shortage of venues from which to choose: Nietzsche’s (in Allentown); The Sportsmens Tavern (Amherst near Military); and Central Park Grill (Main Street) are but a few of his favorite haunts.
Although Bob enjoys listening to live music more than anything else, his nearly nightly forays into the Buffalo music scene are not merely about passing an evening with good entertainment. Indeed, he is also continually searching for artists to invite to perform at the PeopleArt Coffeehouse.
“At the time, we thought our informal gatherings might last a few weeks,” Stalder says with a charming mid-western drawl. “[Decades] later, PeopleArt continues to feature both established and new performers. The setting is intimate, and most artists perform acoustically, although a few do use small PA systems. A $5 cover charge helps offset the cost of renting the space; coffee, tea and pastries are sold at reasonable prices.
“All meager profits are handed to the performers: we’re basically a not-for-profit organization,” Stalder wryly muses. “And we’re very good at it.”
The PeopleArt Coffeehouse provides musicians with a good place to play new and original material before an appreciative crowd. An average night has 15-20 attendees, although the number occasionally approaches as many as 50. Universally, the crowd is appreciative and respectful of each artist as they perform.
Although it is a social scene, there is little doubt that the main focus of the evening is the music itself. A young Ani DiFranco played at PeopleArt in her early teens (she was quite good, Stalder reflects) and local legends John & Mary have made a few appearances.
“I like to listen to others do what I can’t,” Stalder drawls. “I’m no kind of musician. I don’t think most people appreciate just how many fine musicians and songwriters live and work here in Buffalo [Stadler reflects]. Some have lived here for years, others come and go, exploring another scene or opportunity, but this community is as talented as just about any you can name. Although PeopleArt’s roster of performers is mostly Buffalo-based, an un-official exchange with like-minded Rochester musicians continues to flourish, providing a fresh breath of new talent in both cities roughly half a dozen times each year. Always an advocate for new musicians looking for an audience, PeopleArt also hosts open mic nights.
So, the next time you find yourself with little money in your pocket on a Friday night and a hankering for some great original live music played in a friendly atmosphere, head on over to the PeopleArt Coffeehouse. If you are a musician who writes your own material, and you are interested in performing for an appreciative crowd… [be sure stop on in and learn more about Buffalo’s dedicated and eclectic music scene].
Basement at Unity Church – 1243 Delaware Avenue (at Auburn)
Every Friday night at 7:30 PM (check Facebook for any blips in schedule)
Admission is (still) $5