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Infringement 2011 draws to a close

Late this afternoon, a little after 6 o'clock, I paused on a square of sidewalk outside of Antique Man to listen to part of a set from local saxophonist Steve Baczkowski (official Infringement category: "avantgarde other"). He sat cross-legged on the ground manipulating an array of three turntables on the ground in front of him, each of which was hooked up to a small amp. The skittering noise that issued forth from his equipment served as a backdrop for Baczkowski's guttural squeals and lightning-fast runs, which occasionally resolved themselves into fleeting little snippets of melody.

After a minute or two, seemingly out of nowhere to most of the dozen or so onlookers, a parade that seemed to come straight of the Haight-Ashbury made its way down Allen Street on its way toward a communal foot-painting dance near Days Park. The scene:

That, to me, this totally unorthodox little scene represents more than a bit (though not nearly all) of what makes the Infringement Festival unique -- not just among Buffalo festivals, but among arts festivals anywhere.

*****

Some people have an unnatural fear of mimes. I do not. So earlier in the day, I caught a performance from Infringement veteran Elaine Barthel. Here she is with her three-minute piece "Pizza Surprise":

*****

The fest-closing Iffy Awards were also given out this evening around 7, though the list is so long I can't possibly repeat it here. Suffice it to say some of them were vulgar, some were touching and all of them spoke to the dedication of the Infringement organizers and the truly head-spinning and often madly gifted artists, musicians and other performers the fest represents.

Throughout the week, I heard plenty of comparisons between Buffalo's uncommonly vibrant and diverse grassroots art, music and theater scene and larger cities like Berlin, Austin and New Orleans. To those who haven't taken a walk down Allen Street during the height of this festival, those comparisons will no doubt seem overblown. And to some extent, they are.

But here's where the similarities come in: Austin and Berlin and New Orleans are places where the arts have taken root at the community level and flourished on the streets on a grand scale -- in no-name bars and "unofficial" art spaces that are quite happily subterranean. This huge and vastly under-recognized grassroots culture does exist in Buffalo to an extent far too few of its own citizens recognize. It floats far outside what we normally think of as the Western New York "arts community" even despite its size, breadth and diversity, and it is indisputably one of the great virtues that sets our city apart from most others in America.

And over the past seven years, the Buffalo Infringement Festival has become indispensable, both to the artists it represents and the city it calls home, in preaching that truth and letting it sing.

See you next year in this space and out on Allen Street. Until then, Infringe on!

--Colin Dabkowski

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