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Memorial Day Veteran’s Concert in Hamburg

HAMBURG — Music and American pride will boom from Memorial Park in the village of Hamburg for the fifth annual “Veteran’s Concert” on Sunday, May 25.

With the support of the village of Hamburg, Ray Helmicki has been the sole organizer of the event. He has raised funds to provide a free concert that is open to the public, with the intent of providing recognition for past and present members of service.

“It is my way of trying to thank all of the [soldiers] who have served this country,” Helmicki said.

The event began with 800 people, during its first execution, and now reaches approximately 2,000, according to Helmicki.

“People are looking forward to this everywhere,” he said, adding that attendees come from locations that span the Southtowns and other areas of regional Western New York.

The musical performance will be provided by The BBC Band, a group of local musicians who perform British Invasion cover tracks. The group claims it is, “A Beatles and ‘60s music experience.”

The band is comprised by John Connelly on vocals, bass and harmonica; Frank Grizanti on vocals, guitar and keyboard; Bob Volkman on vocals, keyboard, percussion and harmonica; founding member Gary Astridge on vocals, drums and percussion; and Russ Thomas on rhythm guitar and vocals.

Grizanti has been inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Astridge has worked with Ringo Starr’s company, which schleps the Beatle member’s drum set around the country, as a moving display to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landing in the United States.

Connelly, who portrays Paul McCartney while covering songs from the Beatles, was able to partake in a backstage interview with McCartney himself. During Thomas’ performance, Helmicki said, “You’d swear John Lennon was up there.”

The BBC Band has played to sold-out crowds in venues such as North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theater and the Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo.

Connelly and Helmicki have been friends for 30 years, which is how The BBC Band became involved in Helmicki’s veteran endeavor.

“One good thing about [The BBC Band] is they do a tribute to the British Invasion music ... They’re very well-rounded and their sound is so pure, it almost sounds like the actual bands themselves,” he said, adding the band members will perform tunes from groups such as The Kinks, The Zombies and more.

“I’ve brought people to a concert one time and now they see them at every concert out of WNY,” Helmicki said. “They do a phenomenal job.”

The group will play a 2.5 hour set during the Hamburg concert. Start time for the event will be at 7 p.m. and will run until approximately 9:30 or 10.

“People have been getting there early and staking out their little grass claim,” Helmicki said. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs and blankets, since bench spots are limited.

Food vendors will be available, including food from Comfort Zone Café, Main Street Ice Cream and Jim Staub’s french fry truck.

Other than food and music, no other activities will be taking place during the event, since Helmicki said he did not want to distract from the intended focus: Those who gave their all for America, retired from .

“I’m trying to keep this simple,” Helmicki said. “With just one focus: To focus on the veterans.”

A couple hundred veterans will be present, he said, and will be publicly recognized during the course of the event.

“We got so much feedback from the event, it makes me feel really great,” Helmicki added.

He reiterated that the free event is open to the public and, “Veterans or not, it’s just a nice event.”

Memorial Park is located at the intersection of Lake and Union streets in the village of Hamburg. Street parking will be available.
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