Erie Canal's bicentennial showcased in stories, songs and film

Sep 22, 2017

Storytellers, singers, filmmakers and colorful troubadours will shine a spotlight on the Erie Canal tonight at a special event in North Buffalo.

Rochester-area musicians and scholars Glenn McClure, Karen Canning, Dick Bolt and Jim Kimball.
Credit Heartland Passage Tour

The Heartland Passage Tour has been bringing a unique performance to communities along the Erie Canal. It is all part of a celebration of the canal's bicentennial.

Producer Steve  Zeitlin, director of City Lore and producer of the event scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the North Park Theatre on  Hertel, said the evening of entertainment will include the screening of a short documentary that has local ties.

"A movie we produced called 'Boom and Bust' talks about the history of industrialization and deindustrialization which has marked the whole development of this region and a lot of the film was shot in Buffalo.”

Well-known folk musician couple Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, who composed the theme tune to Ken Burns' renowned documentary "The Civil War."
Credit Heartland Passage Tour

Well-known local activists Bruce Jackson and Tim Tielman are among those who are featured in the film, according to the producers of Heartland Passage.

Musicians will recreate some of the minstrel shows that were a common form of entertainment along the Erie Canal. Zeitlin talked about the significance of these shows.

“I think it’s important because it was really the beginning of the mix of white and black music," he said. "There was a lot of Irish music being played, a lot of the people who dug the canal were Irish. And they developed a love for black music which started that mix of music, which really defined American popular culture.”

Zeitlin said it's encouraging to hear about the state's plans to expand a bike trail along the Erie Canal, a waterway that changed the face of Western New York and many other communities.

“[The canal] brought so much prosperity to the region, and [later] created such an incredible recession so that upstate New York was one of the poorest areas in the United States. And it’s now serving this grand new vision.”

WBFO's Terra Harter contributed to this report.