Local Boy Makes Good (Tunes)
Golden yellow and green stage lights pointed at a guitar player wearing jeans and a blue and black striped shirt, finishing a perfect cover of Incubus' "Drive." Bartenders didn't notice as they rushed to restock the refrigerators with Labatt Blue and Coors Light, and people continued to order their drinks.
The crowd grew steadily throughout the bar, especially at the foot of the stage as local musician Tom Sartori, who plays a regular Wednesday night gig at the Kahunaville bar and grill on the first floor of the Walden Galleria Mall, began playing a crowd-pleasing acoustic version of Duncan Sheik's "He's Everything You Want."
Kahunaville operates by day as a family-oriented theme restaurant, with entertainment provided by waterfalls, plastic jungle vegetation, Disney-like animatronics and wild animal sounds. At night, it transforms into a more mature club scene, with flashing lights, DJs playing techno and hip-hop, drink specials, live bands and a strictly enforced 21 and over policy past 10 p.m.
Although the crowd is typically bigger on Wednesday nights than the few hundred or so who attended last Wednesday, most came solely to see Sartori perform. "I've seen him play downtown before and he's really good," said Julie Prowst.
"Sartori is a very accomplished musician and has a pretty good name in the community, along with a great following," said Dennis Webber, Kahunaville's manager-on-duty Wednesday night. "He's been playing here for probably about a year and a half now and always brings in a big crowd."
Throughout the evening, Sartori seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. After talking with the crowd for a few minutes during his first set, he joked, "Always the same crowd: 'Just sing a song and shut up.'"
He tried to keep up the bar's party atmosphere by playing mostly cover songs and mixing in originals slowly, adding more as the crowd grew accustomed to his compositions.
"When people come out to the bars, they want to have fun and be entertained," Sartori said. "It's hard to do that when you're playing a bunch of songs no one has heard before." He tries to keep things "fun" by taking requests and playing upbeat songs, including covers of Creed, Peter Gabriel, David Gray and U2.
Not everyone in the crowd was excited over the live music - one crowd member said she preferred the club scene and would rather have heard the radio.
Jennifer Quheliana, from Williamsville, owns Sartori's first album, "Time Drifts By," and has seen him play several times at places like Cobblestones, Big Sharks, and McMonkeyz.
"He's good and fun, but needs a little variety. If you have seen him already you may not be all that surprised," said Quheliana.
Like many musicians looking to make names for themselves, Sartori has struggled with making ends meet. "I dabbled in acting for a while. I would take any kind of work I could get my hands on really," said Sartori.
He learned that the best way to make a living as a musician was to cut expenses and make everything as small as possible. "I left the band I was in and took over my own sound, light, marketing, representation ... I did everything myself to cut down expenses so I could make enough money to survive."
Sartori, a Buffalo native, has been playing guitar since the age of 12. Several years ago he attended UB before leaving to pursue his music career, which has taken him across America, and to Germany and Japan. He is currently working on his second album, which will be out sometime in November.
For those whose tastes run to classic rock and The Edge, Sartori's performance is worth checking out. Interested listeners can find him every Tuesday night at The Steer, located on Main Street near UB's South Campus, and every Thursday night at McMonkeyz, located downtown on Chippewa Street.