Willie Nile's Buffalo-brewed rock

Considering his home town of Buffalo is just 20 minutes away, it's surprising it has taken Willie Nile this long to do his first proper show in Niagara Falls.

Mind you, he has been busy these past 40 years. Opening up for The Who. Jamming with Springsteen. Earning a loyal following for his amped-up, heartland rock. But while he's a regular at the annual Light of Day Niagara fundraising concert, we've never had Willie on his own until this week.

He agrees, it's long overdue. He already feels like family here.

"I was flying in (to Buffalo) Saturday morning, and as the plane was landing I could clearly see Niagara Falls … it's a hop, skip and a jump away," he says on the line from New York. "To see it in the plane like that, it's in the hood. Totally.

"And the people are so warm there. They're very, very kind to me in Niagara Falls, so it feels like part of the hood."

He's hoping to see all his friends, old and new, at the Seneca Queen Theatre downtown Oct. 1 for the revamped venue's first rock concert since it was brought back from the dead four years ago. As opposed to his brief 20-minute sets at the Light of Day Niagara shows (he'll be back for the next one Nov. 11), Nile will tear it up for two hours.

It's a direct result of the 'Jersey sound' Light of Day Niagara cofounder Dave Rotella has brought to town in recent years, The Light of Day show, and its subsequent summer concert series, have converted plenty of local fans to the likes of Nile, Joe Grushecky and Joe D'Urso.

"It's clear to me it's a music-loving town," says Nile. "The reaction to the Light of Day shows is just wonderful. Audiences get it, they have fun, they stand up. They appreciate it and it's a joy to play for an audience like that."

Actually, Nile appreciates everything these days. After some bumps early in his career, he's enjoying the freedom of doing what he wants, when he wants. With no record company pressure, he juggles new music and touring with a vigour even he's surprised at – Nile released just four albums from 1979 to 2003, but five since then, including last year's The Innocent Ones.

He has toured the world, performed in centuries-old opera houses in Italy, and joined Springsteen on stage at Shea Stadium. After Niagara Falls he heads to Sweden and the UK. Nile's brand of Buffalo-brewed Americana, heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and The Clash, connects with more people now than it ever has.

"Willie's so good, I can't believe he's not from New Jersey," Little Steven once said.

Praise also came from Lucinda Williams: "If there was any justice in this world, I'd be opening up for him instead of him for me."

"I'm constantly surprised," says Nile. "I don't take it for granted, I know that I'm lucky. I mean, I've worked hard and taken risks following the life of a musician … it's not a sure thing but it's turned out great. I'm having a blast

"These are the best days for me."

Nile's luck early on was anything but good. Shortly after moving from Buffalo to Greenwich Village in the late '70s, he caught pneumonia and was out of action for a year. Then, after two albums in the early '80s which earned Springsteen comparisons, a legal fight with Geffen Records derailed his career for several years. Nile was off the grid until the well-received Places I Have Never Been in 1991. But it was 2006's magnificent Streets of New York which started his late-inning comeback.

It's no surprise Nile's working class rock seems to hold greater appeal during tough economic times. One of his most popular songs is Hard Times in America, which has proven so universal he can change the name of the country in the title depending on where he's playing.

"I don't know where it's not tough times," he says. "People gravitate to music … especially in hard times. (Think of) the music of Woody Guthrie pouring out of the depression. I think it gives voice to pain and fear, but it can give hope, it can be a release, an escape. All those things.

"If I'm feeling down, music's the one thing that can help get me out of it.," he adds. "That was one of my goals or the new album was to fire a shot across the bow of sorrow. The live shows are a total celebration of being alive, being human."

By JOHN LAW, NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW   To view full article click here

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