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“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Concert to Benefit the Elmwood Village Association

If you enjoy shopping at the Bidwell Farmers Market, sampling varied musical performances at Porchfest, picnics at the free summer concert series in the gorgeous Olmsted Parkway system, and numerous other special events, you may not be aware it’s all thanks to the efforts of the volunteers of the Elmwood Village Association (EVA).  This holiday season, in addition to the annual tree lighting, which will be held Tuesday, December 6th at 6:00 PM at the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, the EVA will also present a concert featuring the award-winning Ed Croft Trio, featuring the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The concert, presented in collaboration with the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, will take place Sunday, December 11th at 3:00 PM inside the church at 875 Elmwood Avenue at the corner of Lafayette Avenue in Buffalo.  All proceeds benefit the activities and events the EVA presents all year long.

A favorite holiday album featuring original music by the great composer Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas has sold over three million copies and was voted into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress. The trio will perform this family-friendly music as well as other popular holiday favorites.

Multi-award winning bassist Ed Croft has performed with jazz guitar legend Mike Stern, Dave Samuels of Spyro Gyra fame and jazz/rockabilly great, Morgen Stiegler. He is joined by Ivan Docenko on piano and David Wasik on drums. Docenko is one of the region’s best-known accompanists and versatile musicians. He has been the accompanist in Buffalo State College’s Music Department for three decades and also performs with the popular Buffalo Tango Orkestra.  Percussionist “The Waz” Wasik has performed with numerous musical legends including Mose Allison and blues great Poppa Chubby, as well as being in the house band at the Bitter End in New York City.

Rumor has it that a man in the red suit will also make an appearance, with cocoa and cookies for youngsters and additional beverages available for adults.

Tickets are priced from $7.00 (for children 8 and under) to $15 for adults, with discounts available for students 8 – 18 years of age, and EVA members. To buy tickets with a credit card, visit elmwoodvillage.brownpapertickets.com (note that a nominal vendor fee will be applied), or purchase day of show at the door.  

The EVA is also in the midst of a membership drive.  Membership is open to all – you don’t have to live in the Elmwood Village to enjoy the benefits!  Info on membership and the various ways to become involved is available on the EVA website at elmwoodvillage.org/residential-membership.

Lead image: www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=304848&picture=charlie-brown-christmas

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Join Buffalo Rising at The Terrace as Spies & Villains infiltrate this year’s New Years Eve Extravaganza

Join Buffalo Rising and The Terrace at Delaware Park for an adventurous evening featuring elegant views, a gourmet menu, and live entertainment. This New Year’s Eve event will be filled with romance, glamour, and indulgence, and feature the best party experiences from the golden age of spy films.

Champagne will be butlered upon arrival. Guests will enjoy an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, carving station, gourmet food stations, and dessert located throughout the two levels of The Terrace.

The Menu will feature:

Expansive hors d’oeuvre tables with raw barGourmet Dinner Stations to include:Carving Station: Beef Tenderloin au Poivre | Herb Lacquered Turkey | Whipped Potatoes | Haricot VertPasta Station: Lobster & Scallop Campanelle | Chinese Street Noodles with Roast DuckVegetarian Station: Mock Crab Cakes with Lemon Veganaise | Terrace Brussels & Fingerlings with Garlic Yogurt & Fresh DillDessert: Paula’s Donut & Coffee Bar with Cordials

The upstairs will feature a cabaret club featuring Joey Donahue III on piano with guest vocalists. Test your luck at our free mini-casino with Roulette, Blackjack, and Casino War. DJ | VJ Brian Boten of Beloved Entertainment will bring the latest technology and light up the expanded dance floor on the newly enclosed Lower Terrace.

Be on the lookout for go-go dancers, roaming characters, and more throughout the evening.

Don’t forget to step outside the heated enclosed patio with fire pits to soak in the stunning views of Delaware Park and Hoyt Lake.

A limited number of tickets are being offered for this 21+ event. Dress for this action-packed evening is creative attire. There will be tables throughout the venue, but seating is not assigned. We encourage guests to circulate throughout the night.

Valet Parking will be available as well as free parking along Lincoln Parkway.

Get your name on the guest list and grab a ticket soon!

NEW YEAR’S EVE AFFAIR: Spies & Villains
presented by Buffalo Rising and The Terrace at Delaware Park
December 31, 2023, from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
199 Lincoln Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14222
action-packed | elegant views | live entertainment
$135/PERSON // $250/COUPLE

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It’s a gift! BPO annual holiday favorite shows are all back this year. 

Do you remember sneaking downstairs to see what might be under the Christmas tree? Here’s a peek at what the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has for you to anticipate (including some concerts with visits from “the man with the bag”). Every one of these events is a cherished holiday tradition, not only for the audiences but also for the musicians, several of whom spoke with Buffalo Rising.

The Nutcracker

Sat Dec 3, 7:00 pm and Sun Dec 4, 1:00 pm at Shea’s

BPO Violinist Diana Sachs told Buffalo Rising:

I am playing Nutcracker this year for the first time in about 20 years. They usually have Nutcracker on the weekend right after Thanksgiving and I’ve always had that weekend off. This year it’s been delayed by a week so I’m really looking forward to playing it. It’s some of my favorite music and it’s also fun to sneak a peek at the dancers!

BPO English Hornist and Oboist Anna Mattix told Buffalo Rising:

Even though I have played Nutcracker now hundreds of times there is always something magical about it. The beautiful scenery, the incredible setting, the anticipation in the audience, many for whom this is their first live performance. I can’t see the dancers except when they come to the very front of the stage. I just get a whirl of skirt or lifted leg but even just those glimpses are transporting. There is nothing like it, a collective magical experience.

Neglia Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER returns to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre for its 13th presentation of the beloved holiday tradition of live ballet, with music performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, all danced on the historic Shea’s Buffalo stage, 646 Main Street Buffalo, NY 14202 (the same stage that hosts so many Broadway musicals). 

BPO Cellist Robbie Hausmann told Buffalo Rising: 

My 2 daughters were soldiers, mice, party teens, and cupcakes in The Nutcracker! Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores are my favorite of his compositions.  I admit to trying to catch glimpses of my daughters on stage which can be challenging from the pit.

Enjoy performances on Saturday, December 3 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 4 at 1:00 pm. Tickets range from $26 to $85 and are available online at Sheas.org or at Shea’s Box Office (716) 847-0850.

BPO Harpist Madeline Olson told Buffalo Rising: 

For me The Nutcracker isn’t the typical pit musician experience- the harp is actually situated in the audience directly next to the pit due to space considerations. This is a lot of fun every year, as the audience gets a much more up close and personal view of my role in the orchestra than usual (and the harp has a lot to do in the Nutcracker!). At intermission, there are always audience members who come to see the harp, and I love being able to show them a little bit about how the instrument works. It’s a rare experience to encounter a harp outside of the classical music world, and it’s always a joy to be able to introduce the instrument to people.

THE STORY: On Christmas Eve, Clara (Marie in this production) is given a wooden nutcracker doll and as she falls asleep dreams that it has become a soldier who,  after a battle with Mouse King, transforms into a handsome Prince/Cavalier and she becomes a beautiful princess. (That scene, with The Buffalo Girls Chorus singing off stage, is always my favorite music.) 

Watch the Neglia Ballet’s “Battle Scene” from THE NUTCRACKER…

In Act II, Clara and her prince arrive at the Land of the Sweets, greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, and are entertained by several dance performances including the Waltz of the Flowers.  At the end of the ballet, Marie awakens with her nutcracker doll as she takes in the magic of Christmas. 

BPO Percussionist Dinesh Joseph echoed Madeline Olson’s thoughts:

As a percussionist, I’m lucky to be situated just above the pit on the stage left (audience’s right) side during the Nutcracker, since the Sheas pit is too small to accommodate our setup.  Being able to watch the dancers when we’re not playing is super fun and inspiring. Also- Tchaikovsky’s use of percussion is extraordinary.  His inventive writing for tambourine, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, castanets and snare drum play an integral role in telling the story and keeps us on our toes musically.  He truly elevated our art form with this score- setting the bar high for future Russian giants like Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.  

This is a professional production, featuring Colorado Ballet’s Dana Benton and Jonnathan Ramirez who will perform the Grand Pas de Deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier. Camila Rodrigues, originally from Brazil, will dance as Young Marie. In addition to professional dancers, 80 youth roles will be performed by Neglia Ballet students and local children hailing from twenty WNY dance schools. It’s a pretty high-class production, as Montreal-based American conductor Daniel Black will guest conduct the BPO’s orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s cherished score.

Handel’s Messiah

Sunday December 4, 7:30 pm at OLV Basilica

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra return with their annual holiday presentation of Handel’s Messiah at  Our Lady of Victory Basilica 767 Ridge Road Lackawanna, NY 14218.

Once again, it features Adam Luebke, music director, The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and this year the four soloists are: Lucia Flowers, soprano; Kyrsten Chambers Jones, mezzo-soprano; Pablo Bustos, tenor; and Valerian Ruminski, bass.

Audience favorite airs include:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion (soprano)
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (mezzo-soprano)
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted (tenor)
The trumpet shall sound (bass)
And many choral numbers including, of course, The Hallelujah Chorus!

Celtic Woman: A Christmas Symphony

Thursday December 8, 7:30 pm at Kleinhans

Celebrate Ireland’s rich musical and cultural heritage through the Grammy-nominated voices and instrumental virtuosity of four talented musicians, performing an array of Celtic tunes, contemporary works, and classic holiday favorites in an unforgettable evening with your BPO conducted by Lloyd Butler. The BPO’s shimmering strings and magnificent brass fanfares are fused with the Irish harp, the bagpipes, and the beat of the bodhrán drum.

Celtic Woman has a wealth of seasonal music including Silent Night and the ancient Gaelic carol Dia do Bheatha from their holiday album, The Magic of Christmas along with Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, and Deck the Halls.  Kleinhans Music Hall is at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle.  Visit www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000.  Full-service bar in the lobby or across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room.  Masks are optional.

JoAnn’s Classical Christmas

Friday, December 9, 10:30 am and Saturday, December 10, at 7:30 pm at Kleinhans Music Hall

An annual holiday favorite, Maestro JoAnn Falletta celebrates the season with centuries of classical treasures. Principal harpist Madeline Olson adds a sparkle of delicate magic with François-Adrien Boieldieu’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus returns to lend their festive voices to seasonal favorites and the traditional holiday sing-along. They are joined by Erica Gabriel, soprano, and John Tiranno, tenor.

The concert starts with Jerry Herman’s “We Need A Little Christmas” (from MAME) continuing all the way to Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” The Friday morning event will have the traditional free donuts and hot beverages. 

BPO Double Bassist Edmond Gnekow told Buffalo Rising:

For me, it’s not the holidays without Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” My high school orchestra played it every year, and every year our director Mr. Cunningham would give a short speech during first rehearsal about why it was the best holiday arrangement ever. A friend from high school recently sent me a picture of his daughter playing it at her school with the caption “Pouring one out for Mr. C”; my stepkids’ school orchestra plays it, and of course the BPO plays it (this year during the Classical Christmas concerts December 9 & 10), and I will admit that sometimes while in the middle of playing it, I get embarrassingly meditative about how waves of musicians rise and fall, but music itself stays untouched by time…. and then Jingle Bells snaps me out of it, and as Anderson transforms Jingle Bells into the foundation supporting O Come All Ye Faithful, I feel absurdly happy. 

It’s a full 2-hour concert with intermission including a suite of music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. 

BPO Flutist and Piccolo player Natalie Debikey Scanio told Buffalo Rising:

When my kids were younger, we used to listen to the Nutcracker on repeat all year long. The music is just so amazing, that I never tire of it, and it’s also a lot of fun to play.

Kleinhans Music Hall is at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201. For tickets visit www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000.

BPO Holiday Music Under the Dome

Saturday, December 10, 1:00 pm at the M&T Bank, Fountain Plaza

Once again, the BPO will be providing the community an opportunity to get up close to the world-class musicians of the orchestra in an annual favorite concert.  

BPO Associate Principal Bassist Brett Shurtliffe told Buffalo Rising:

The M&T Gold Dome concert brings the orchestra up close and personal with the audience; so close that they can see every detail of the performance, but also close enough that we get to see the enjoyment on the faces of our audience as we play!

And speaking of community, while not open to the public, readers should know that the BPO performs special holiday concerts for students with disabilities, including many, many of the musician’s favorite concert of all, the annual trip to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf (including a visit from Santa).  

BPO Violinist Loren Silvertrust is all in on that one and told Buffalo Rising: 

I LOVE playing Nutcracker every year, the music never gets old, although this year I’m playing Messiah which also has some great music. My other favorite concert each year usually kicks off our holiday season at St. Mary’s school for the deaf. It’s short, fun, has singing, signing, dancing and they are the greatest audience!! And they give us coffee and cookies and donuts! (the key to any Buffalonian’s heart obviously).

Jingle Bell Jam, a BPO Kids Concert, Sunday, December 11 at 2:30 pm at Kleinhans. This tradition of family festive frivolity includes a seasonal souvenir for kids and Santa himself helps conduct and lead the holiday sing-along. The BPO’s new “Conductor Diversity Fellow” is Fernanda Lastra who will conduct and be joined by Kate Bassett, narrator, members of the Royal Academy of Ballet, and as mentioned, Santa.  From Jule Styne’s “Let It Snow” to Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” it’s about an hour-long child-friendly program. For details and tickets, visit bpo.org or call 716-885-5000.

BPO Principal Trombonist Jonathan Lombardo told Buffalo Rising: 

Come Thanksgiving I look forward to playing all of the different holiday concerts the BPO offers.  No other time of year has its own soundtrack and personally, I think it’s some of the greatest music ever written.

John Morris Russell’s Holiday Pops

Thursday-Friday December 15-16 at 10:30 am, then Saturday, December 17, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, December 18 at 2:30 pm all concerts at Kleinhans Music Hall

Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell returns with his signature high-energy style for four festive performances filled with holiday music favorites, a carol sing-along, and maybe even a visit from the “man with the bag” himself.  Maestro Russell will be joined by Sydney McSweeney, vocalist; the African American Cultural Center, BPO Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden, violin; and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. It’s a full-length concert with intermission. For details and tickets, visit bpo.org or call the box office at 716-885-5000. 

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WNY SOUNDSTAGE | DECEMBER EVENT ROUNDUP

The holiday season is upon us. This can mean many things…. like family time, hot cocoa, sitting around a fire, and an abundance of themed events that cater to everyone in Buffalo! Because the month of December is so abundant with incredible things to do, Buffalo Rising has decided to make weekly lists to celebrate all of the best things to do in the Queen City this month. This one is no exception and has something for everyone.

Concert: The Cadillac Three

Hillbilly Hypnotized Tour
Town Ballroom
681 S. Main Street, Buffalo
November 30th
Doors 7pm
$25
Town Ballroom

Southern Rock band The Cadillac Three brings their Hillbilly Hypnotized Tour to the Town Ballroom. This band’s live performance is as good as any album track. Pre-game all your Holiday Parties by rocking out at Town Ballroom with this ACM nominee.

Event: Elf Camp

Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum
180 Thompson St
North Tonowanda, NY
December 3rd
9:30am-2:00pm
$30 per child
Elf Camp

Get some holiday shopping done when you drop the kids off at Elf Camp at the Herschell Carrousel Museum. Young people will be making crafts, playing games, riding the carrousel, and enjoying other holiday activities. Lunch will be served during the event.

Event: Holly Jolly 5K

4190 N. Buffalo Rd
Orchard Park, NY 14127
December 3
10 am
$24
Registration ends December 2nd at 9:00pm
Holly Jolly 5k

Take the morning to run and enjoy Christmas time in Orchard Park. The course will take you down Old Taylor Road, and through the surrounding neighborhood. The race starts at The Orchard Fresh Plaza parking lot on North Buffalo Road and will finish at Runner’s Roost on North Buffalo Road. The first 250 registered runners will receive a beanie running hat and a pint glass.

Event: The Nutcracker

Neglia Ballet Artists at Shea’s Performing Arts Center
650 Main Street
Buffalo, NY
Dec 3rd at 7 pm and December 4th at 1pm
$52-$78
The Nutcracker

Perennial Yuletime Favorite, Neglia’s Nutcracker production has been recognized for its spectacular production value. Tchaikovsky’s ballet features the story of Clara, who receives a nutcracker doll from her uncle, and is whisked away to a magical holiday kingdom. Shea’s Performing Art center is the perfect venue for this seasonal tradition.

Concert: Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus

All Wrapped Up! Holiday Concert
December 4th 3:00pm
Orchard Park United Methodist Church
3700 North Buffalo Street
Orchard Park, NY
$20 presale, $25 at the door
Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus

The BGMC is a choral family of LGBTQIA+ members and straight allies. Since 2001, they have been performing in Western New York. Their annual Holiday Concert, directed by Dr. Robert Strauss, will feature holiday favorites, as well as some surprises. (They are also performing in Buffalo at Lafayette Presbyterian Church on Saturday, December 3rd. Details on their website)

Concert: Handel’s Messiah

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Our Lady of Victory Basilica
767 Ridge Road
Lackawanna, NY
December 4th
7:30 pm
$30-$60
Handel’s Messiah

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra return with their annual holiday presentation of Handel’s Messiah. The famous “Hallelujah Chorus” is a highlight of the performance.

Performance: A Charlie Brown Christmas

O’Connell & Company
4110 Bailey Avenue
Amherst, NY
Dec 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th
12:30 pm
$17-27
A Charlie Brown Christmas

O’Connell & Company showcases local Buffalo actors in a 30-minute stage adaptation of the classic animated TV special featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the gang discovering the true meaning of Christmas. The performance is followed by a meet and greet with Santa Claus and opportunity to make special holiday crafts.

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BuffaBlo, Lawn Blow-Ups

Yes, they are finally here. The lawn blow-ups that everyone has been waiting for. These Buffalo-themed lawn ornaments are the perfect answer to spicing up the same old same old when it comes to lawn decorations. We’ve all seen the super tacky blow-ups, and the seasonal ones, but we’ve never had an opportunity to bedazzle our lawns with anything super special, with a Buffalo touch.

BuffaBlo has come to the rescue thanks to creators Brendan Cimerman and his dad, Chris Cimerman.

“It’s all blown up a lot quicker that we thought,” said Brendan [laughing]. “I went to Buffalo State, and would drive in from Clarence every day. I would see those giant copper buffalos along the thruway. It struck me that I had never seen an inflatable one. My dad dealt with the engineering part of it. We both have full time jobs. As I said, we’re surprised at the response – we’re both looking at each other and seeing what’s happening. We love supporting the city through these creations. We’ve got a lot of ideas, but we’re focusing on these for right now, while working our day jobs.”

The BuffaBlo, lawn inflatables are weighed down with sand, and tied with stakes, so that they won’t blow over. They also light up at night.

50″tall x 40″wide x 72″long

Currently, Brendan and Chris are taking pre-orders for the inflatables. Brendan told me that he is expecting the first batch of Let’s Go Buffalos to come in today. The red, white, and blue striped version is expected to arrive next week.

It is obvious that Brendan and Chris have a big hit on their hands, as word is spreading quickly about these fantastic lawn creations, that are anything but ordinary. Just like Buffalo.

$139.99 – Includes All Seasons Blower, 4 LEDs, 4 Stakes & Tethers, 2 Sand Bags, and Storage Bag

Learn more about this Buffalo-esque inflatable decor at www.Buffablo.com | Facebook | Instagram

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SantaCon Buffalo 2022

Buffalo Santas unite on Saturday, December 3. Be there or be on the naughty list!

You better watch out… on Saturday, December 3, at 1:30pm, as the 2022 SantaCon takes to the streets of Buffalo. Each year, around this time, cities around the world prepare for a sea of red suits to assemble in districts where there are a concentration of bars and restaurants.

Photo by Tony Mastrangelo @ Big Picture Media

Last year, in Buffalo, between 4-5000 Santas (and friends) participated in SantaCon. While there were plenty of signature Santas, a lot of revelers got creative with their attire, by dressing as Pirate Santa, Super Santa, James Bond Santa, Biker Santa, Doctor Santa, Samurai, Hanukkah Harry, Sugar Plum Fairy, Reindeer, Terminator Reindeer, Elves… the list goes on and on.

Photo by Tony Mastrangelo @ Big Picture Media

Participating bars in 2022 include:

SOHOBansheeTaphouseRec RoomVenuBottoms Up67 WestCowboyD-TourOscars 31 ClubDuke’s Bohemian Crocodile BarLIFT Night Club

SantaCon certainly spreads a lot of good cheer. But it also spreads goodwill. A percentage of ticket sales benefits the Boys & Girls Club. Santas should bring a new toy to donate to the children of the Boys & Girls Club.

Everyone (over 21 years of age) is invited to come out and make a toast, sing some carols, and shout ho-ho-ho at the top of their lungs. It’s all good fun at this North Pole Stroll aka Santa’s Bar Crawl, which is held in the Chippewa District.

The event is sponsored by Jameson and Labatt Blue. Each location will be featuring drink specials from each sponsor.

$15 presale tickets are available. Registration is at 1:30pm at Venu and The Banshee.

Registration fee includes free entrance, drink specials, and giveaways.

Visit www.santaconbuffalo.net for additional information.

Get tickets

Photos by Tony Mastrangelo @ Big Picture Media 

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A Visit to the African American Veterans Monument

Just before the recent snow storm, I paid a visit to the new African American Veterans Monument (AAVM) at the Erie Basin Marina, which I initially posted about back in June. The striking monument, designed by Jonathan Casey and the team at Solid 716, pays tribute to African Americans who have served, and are currently serving, in all six branches of the military.

The unprecedented work of art – designed as a matrix that represents a timeline of 12 conflicts – is illuminated at the top. The 12 lit pillars represent candles that were placed by family members in their windows as beacons, to guide brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, home. The work of art honors African American Veterans – those who enlisted voluntarily, and those who were drafted.

African American Veterans have heroically fought in US wars, starting with the Revolutionary War in 1775. At the same time, they are considered a disenfranchised group that deserve to be recognized for their contributions towards safeguarding the American dream.

From the Revolutionary War to the War on Afghanistan, the monument represents the integrity, strength, and resilience of African Americans from every branch of service. These heroic, esteemed, and selfless souls, fought for this country despite facing unequal representation, disrespect, and disregard for their basic civil rights.

The monument site features commemorative concrete bricks inscribed with the names of African American Veterans, their branch of service, and rank or years of service (learn more about the bricks).

The AAVM extends the current footprint of The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park on Buffalo’s waterfront at Canalside and the Erie Basin Marina.

A dedication and unveiling ceremony was held this past September, flanked by the historic Edward M Cotter fireboat.

Explore the exhibition.

Learn about the stories of war.

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Photographer Glenn Murray captures the spirit of the 2022 YMCA Turkey Trot

The 2022 Turkey Trot couldn’t have been any more perfect. Photographer Glenn Murray was on hand to capture the magic, on a balmy winter’s day, not longer after Buffalo’s initial significant snowfall. The collective mood was cheerful, and boisterous. Runners appeared to be enjoying some fun in the sun, as they passed plenty of water, beer, and Bloody Mary stations. This is the race that officially signals the arrival of the holidays.

This year’s Turkey Trot attracted around 12,000 runners. It is highly anticipated, not only due to the party atmosphere that surrounds it, but because many of the runners are joined by friends, family, and out-of-towners who return to Buffalo for Thanksgiving – hence many of the costumed characters dressed in turkey-attire.

Thanks to Glenn for capturing the spirit of the 127th YMCA Turkey Trot.

Get connected: Glenn Murray @ Smugmug

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Five Cent Cine: Living

The man in the pin-striped suit

Older man learns he’s dying, meets much younger woman, determines to change his life. Defying that prosaic storyline are Bill Nighy as the older man, Aimee Lou Wood as the young woman, and the tone and creative screenplay of “Living.”

Nighy is “Mr. Williams” and Wood is “Miss Harris,” who calls him “Mr. Zombie,” and with good reason. As she reluctantly informs him, Mr. Zombie is “dead but alive,” “a walking mummy.” He presides over a coterie of 5 colleagues who push paper, not projects, in the Dickensian post-World War II public works department of London County Hall. The piles of paper and folders in the sky-high inboxes of these 5 men and 1 woman (Miss Harris), and the run-around they give 3 mothers trying to turn an alienated, bombed-out space into a playground, are evocative of the Chancery Courts of that Victorian Era author’s “Bleak House.”

Nighy, tall and rigid, with a gray, gaunt and heavily lined face, in his uniform of pin-striped suit and bowler hat, portrays “Mr. Williams” with heartbreaking reserve and an intimation of deep-rooted unhappiness. He seems to have adopted this limited life more by inertia and a fascination with manners than by choice, much like the dysfunctional office over which he presides. As he considers his past and future, Williams begins a cautious journey to self-knowledge. Unlike Colm, the crusty protagonist of Martin McDonagh’s recent “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Williams’s crisis is triggered not by old age, but by the prospect of his dying, and it’s not about wanting some form of life-after-death, but a matter of reconsideration, of regret.

After learning of his fatal illness, Williams takes a break from his stultifying commuter regimen and heads for a seaside town, where, under the tutelage of a sympathetic stranger, he discovers the small joys of arcade games, exchanges the bowler for a fedora, and in a bar sings a Scottish ballad that brings tears to his eyes (and perhaps an Oscar nomination to Nighy) as it reminds him of his mother. The debauched, drunken, sexualized setting of this first effort to shed his old self doesn’t repel Williams so much as it is unsuitable to the gentleman he remains. He returns to London—but not his desk—and by chance encounters Miss Harris, who also has abandoned her paper-pushing post for waitressing. Her zeal for life entrances him (“but I’m just ordinary,” she insists, with some accuracy). Williams’s infatuation is something other than sexual; it’s a tiny kindling of a spirit he has buried for decades.

The film has an unanticipated arc, with a mid-way turn to flashbacks of Williams’s 4 male colleagues, on their otherwise monotonous, nearly silent daily commute to the City in their usual train compartment. Each of them (readily distinguishable, even in identical suits and hats, by nicknames Harris has given them) reveals a different side of the Williams they barely know, their stories focusing on that playground that once seemed an inconsequential irritation.

One of those 4 is the first person we see in the film, the newest member of the office cohort, appropriately named “Mr. Wakeling” (Alex Sharp). Through the eyes of the young, naïve, and not yet corrupted staffer and Miss Harris, one begins to see a living man—a thoughtful, caring person—under that fedora.

Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the novels and screenplays for “Remains of the Day” (film, 1993) and “Never Let Me Go” (film, 2010), featuring protagonists whose constrained lives have diminished their emotional inclinations, had long desired to remake the 1952 film, “Ikiru,” by Japan’s most famous director, Akira Kurosawa, and to transfer its setting to 1950s London. A product of the combination of these masterful authors, “Living” is a superb unfolding of words and characters.

Ishiguro boldly entrusted the remake of the Kurosawa classic to a South African director of limited experience, Oliver Hermanus, who imbues the film with a melancholy so restrained it transcends melodrama. While relying on the prodigious talent of Nighy, Ishiguro and Hermanus also get the most out of newer actors, Sharp and especially Wood, who is compelling in spite of, or possibly because of, her rosy face, rounded figure, prominent teeth, and bright red lips.

Mr. Williams (Nighy) seems infatuated with the much younger (as she points out to him) Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), here as they have a drink in a pub.

The result is of a piece with 1950s tracts on the deadness of office life, including “The Organization Man” (book, 1956) and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (film, Gregory Peck, 1955). At the same time, the film resonates with the dissatisfactions of many contemporary workers, especially post-Covid: those who quit or engage in “quiet quitting,” the defiant Amazon warehouse workers, Starbucks’ unionizers and, as we write this, the flight of Twitter employees from Elon Musk’s dictatorial, live-to-work management.

“Living” is a small gem of a film, with compelling (and yet contained) performances, capped by Nighy’s poignant portrayal of a life badly, and barely, lived, and of a man’s belated recognition that there is another way to be in the world.

Date: 2022

Stars: 3.5 (out of 4)

Director: Oliver Hermanus

Starring: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp

Countries: United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden

Language: English

Runtime: 102 minutes

Other Awards: 2 wins and 10 nominations to date

Availability: Opening December 23, 2022, in theaters in the US; premiered in January at Sundance; released November 4 in the United Kingdom; no streaming availability at this time; for future streaming availability, see JustWatch here.

Lead image: Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) in his uniform of pin-striped suit and bowler hat.

See all Five Cent Cine reviews by 2 Film Critics

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ART of WNY to deliver “The Birth of Santa”

Do you ever feel like Christmas is for everybody else, and not for you? Maybe you wonder if this lack of oomph for the holidays is a part of getting old? That your feelings of being missing amongst the festivities is a sign of upcoming mortality.

But that’s crazy, right? You’re overreacting. Maybe it’s just a bit too much egg nog for the night and tomorrow you’ll have forgotten about it.

So, you decide to get out there and do your thing. Hugs to the grandkids, children, animals. Maybe some festive bells or bows? Anyway, it’s Christmas!

And maybe that’s it. Maybe you ghost the eye of the needle and everything is fine.

But for many of us there’s something more to those initial feelings. Like maybe the so-called normal traditions of the season are only the same old misgivings getting rolled out each year and admired? Like something that occurs every time they are unfolded and left to hang in the freezing temperatures – regardless of the level of Christmas cheer one consumes. Something that says that this time of year isn’t as jolly as it makes itself out to be.

A few Christmas’s ago, I found myself alone when the big day came. I decided to see The Last Jedi in theaters. Then I tried to find a Chinese food restaurant that was open so I could buy chicken lo mein. My car was like the Millennium Falcon. I avoided all dangers from the Sith, but I never found the food and went home unfulfilled. 

A couple years later the new Matrix movie came out and I was once again looking for that Christmas spirit. I spot polled people on the potential of making my movie and drive-about a holiday tradition. Finally, my soon-to-be fiancé, Rachel, and my adult son, Sage, said they’d brave the COVID stricken outside and watch a movie with me. This time I found an open Chinese take-out place, but they did not make lo mein.

Maybe all traditions do die. 

Eventually.

So, while I look through movie listings, I think that even Santa Claus must have to pack it in occasionally and sit on the couch with a box full of Pringle cans and tell the elves hovering around him that he’s sick of the same old, same old.

“I’d like to see something different this time around,” he hollers, grabbing the Gingerbread man and taking a bite. 

“What else do you got?”

Well, perhaps this will do the trick. 

“The Birth of Santa” is opening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 at the American Repertory Theater of Western New York located at 545 Elmwood Ave. Subsequent shows will be presented on Dec. 2nd, 9th, 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd. 5 p.m. shows will occur on Dec. 3rd, 10th and 17th. 

You can tell the old man that It’s well-worth the ticket price.

The play is about an artist that found fame with a simple idea of what a baby Santa would look like and, wow. Faster than Donald Trump’s hand on the Tweet button, the artist had to go and become famous with his now-famously painted canvas also-called, “The Birth of Santa.” 

So now there’re expectations. What will he cook up for this Christmas holiday? Does he even want to? What more can be added to the idea that the holidays are special? And are they special in the same way every year? What about the Christmas blues? What about all those feelings that come in just as caroling starts piling from the eaves and you wonder if it’s just you? 

Am I the only one who’s not happy?

In the classic formula for a holiday comedy, “The Birth of Santa” brings three visitors into the artist’s tortured journey. The little drummer boy – all grown up! The ghost of Norman Rockwell. And the mysterious ghost of Christmas future, Mr. Commercialism and his art robot, Brutus.

The premise of the script? The Nazis won the war and secretly subverted the holiday spirit to worship the buying and selling of all our resources. Presidents proclaim the best way to fight terror is by shopping at the nearby mall and algorithms for spending habits are created by the best minds of our generation.

Well, not exactly.

Directed by Eric Mowery, “The Birth of Santa” was inspired by some of the first-time director’s own artwork. Mowery was asked to allow the incorporation of his paintings into what would be a holiday-play, but what that play would be was at that point unknown.

Enter Justin Karcher, playwright and poet, hot off from his readings around town, devoid of any doubt on the topic of Josh Allen’s arm and you start to see something materialize as it always does this time of year. Santa is getting off the couch and putting on his coat. It should be a full house tonight.

Andrew Zuccari plays the protagonist of the show – the Artist – besieged on all sides by his money-grubbing Scrooge of a Manager, David Wysocki, his worried Significant Other, Danielle Burning, and his own brand of painter’s block. His newest holiday show is being blasted by the holiday joy hungry public and with cancel-culture, his name has become instant mud.

That guy who did “The Birth of Santa”? Oh yeah, he’s come down with something. He’s lost it. No Christmas from that guy again.

But like any holiday tale worth its salt, and to the benefit of our collective funny bone, there’s a degree of magical intrigue in the air. The Artist’s plight isn’t just a failed career, but a genuine threat to his life. There are people who will kill to keep the public’s wandering eye away from the man-behind-the-curtain, and without the Artist’s cooperation, that feeling of “joy” that turns every American into a table of monetary expenditures is in danger of slipping.

And that’s not an option, says the ghost of the machine.

However, neither is the hilarity ensuing from this genuinely funny, yet thoughtful, answer to and deconstruction of the holiday blues.

Turning tragedy into laughter, Karcher said in café interview that he wrote the script of the play over the course of a weekend, but the events leading up to writing “The Birth of Santa” had been building up since summer.

In a way, Karcher tried to wipe away pain in his own life through the penning of the script.

“It’s been an interesting year,” he said candidly. “My dad died. I got a divorce. My life, for all intents and purposes, just fell apart numerous times.”

“So, during one of those manic break-outs, I wrote a lot of plays.”

The cast, including Mowery, rallied around Karcher in his time of need.

“There is not a guy who looked out for me more than Justin Karcher,” Zuccari said. “So, I’ll always appreciate him for that.”

Mowery noted that Karcher and himself have been friends for years.

“I’ve worked with Justin Karcher for – what is this? – the twentieth project?” Mowery said. “We always have a blast. I got really lucky, in that this guy (Karcher) cast a show expertly well. I am directing it, but they’re doing all the work. I just fell into a really amazing cast.”

One of the alleys the play brings the audience into is the role of the Significant Other. Burning’s depiction of what is basically the story of Bob Cratchit’s wife – a piece of the puzzle missing in the traditional play – is entrancing to watch and wins over the skepticism of the Scrooge-bah-humbug crowd that don’t see anything new here.

“It’s exhausting to date a creative person,” Karcher said of that particular sub-plot which ultimately becomes the center of opposition to the Artist’s own wheel of spokes turning towards calamity.

“It’s not easy,” Karcher continued. “I’ve dated creative people. I obviously am a creative person … For someone to willingly walk into that world? It’s a lot that, that partner has got to handle.”

The other characters also play well. Wysocki, Rick Lattimer who plays Norma Rockwell, and Ian Michalski, who plays the middle-aged drummer boy, round off the set with funny, but thought provoking renditions of the script. 

Karcher said he had the idea for the little drummer boy before “The Birth of Santa” was even conceived.

“In all honesty, it’s time for us to tell new Christmas stories,” Karcher said. “It’s time for us to represent different narratives. … What do the holidays really mean when you’re constantly just seeing the same holiday shit over-and-over again? You don’t have opportunity to really reflect on how joy is different. How joy changes. What does cheer mean?”

“Christmas is not the same for everybody,” he concludes.

As for me, I still have not found the perfect movie for my holiday retreat. But I know there’s good eating for the soul out there, solet’s all chow down! Maybe the little drummer boy will play a new song and Tiny Tim will burst out laughing as he tries to get his line out.

“May the muse bless us,” he’ll say. “Every one!”

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