By Alicia Dziak

Griffis Sculpture Park is truly one of the hidden gems of WNY. If you’ve never been there before, this will become apparent as you head up and down rural roads to get there. While the park is located only a short distance off Route 219 between Springville and Ellicottville, at 6902 Mill Valley Road in East Otto, upon arrival, you feel miles from modern civilization. Open May through October, the park features over 250 large scale sculptures dispersed through miles of hiking trails. Each sculpture was placed with the natural setting in mind, creating a truly unique experience between art and nature. But a memorable day trip is not the only reason to visit the park. They also offer special events throughout the season.

History repeats itself at Griffis Sculpture Park this weekend when the 10,000 Maniacs return for a sure-to-be-epic benefit concert.

In 1991, over 6,000 people attended a benefit concert for the park hosted by alternative rockers 10,000 Maniacs. It was a legendary day that is etched in Western New York music history. Twenty-six years later, 10,000 Maniacs will make a highly anticipated return to the United States’ largest sculpture park on Sunday, July 16 at 2 p.m. for a full-performance of their album “In My Tribe,” which celebrated its 30th anniversary celebration this year.

10,000 Maniacs “In My Tribe” was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the “Top 100 Albums of the 1980s.”

10,000 Maniacs, from Jamestown, recently celebrated their 35th anniversary and continues to progress with new material and touring. The band rose to stardom in the 1980s, with their breakout hit album “In My Tribe.” The albums “Blind Man’s Zoo” and “Our Time in Eden” solidified them as one of the country’s biggest acts with sold out shows, major media appearances, and millions of albums sold. The departure of singer Natalie Merchant in 1993, presented the band new beginnings with singer and viola player Mary Ramsey in 1994. What followed was the 10,000 Maniacs tradition of creating innovative alternative rock with multiple albums and international touring that continues to this day. In the past four years, the band has release three new recordings “Music from the Motion Picture,” “Twice Told Tales” and “Playing Favorites.”

Joining the bill is the percussion rock group from Pittsburgh, PA, Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors. Donovan was one of the founding members of the band Rusted Root and is nationally known wellness and percussion instructor.

Acoustic performer and touring musician Tyler Smilo will open the concert. Born in Texas and raised deep in the Rustbelt of Ohio, Smilo has lived a vagabond’s lifestyle before settling in Erie, PA and taking the city’s music scene by storm. An award winning acoustic artist, Smilo’s Americana influenced folk songs are mostly autobiographical. However, the themes are easily relatable to the “everyman” and his performances both heartfelt and moving.

Tickets are $20 advance, $25 day of show. Children 12 and under free. Tickets can be purchased online at  Gates for the show open at noon, with music starting at 2 p.m.

The concert will feature music, activities, artists, food and beer services. Concert attendees can take in the 250 sculptures that reside throughout the trails of the park, making it the United States largest outdoor sculpture park. The events will be taking place on the top of the hill at the Mill Valley site of the park. Guests must be able to endure a 10 minute walk uphill to the festival site. There will be a shuttle service that will help attendees get to the concert area.

“The concert is a benefit concert and it will go towards making improvements at Griffis Sculpture Park,” said Nila Griffis, Executive Director of the park. “We have several new pieces that were installed from/as a final project from UB Architecture students. They are created on site and can be found along the path leading up to the upper section of the sculpture park and near the stage area.”

If you can’t make it to the concert, the park is an awesome place to explore any day of the week this time of year.

Since the early 60s, the steel sculptures of Larry Griffis, Jr. and other international artists have been residing in the woods, fields, and even ponds of Griffis Sculpture Park. The park is actually split into two sections: Rohr Hill Road Site and Mill Valley Road Site. The Rohr Hill area is characterized by towering sculptures set in fields and woods just off the road. The Mill Valley Road Site features both a smooth walk area, as well miles of trails through a variety of terrain.

“I believe that people continue to come to the park because it is so unlike any other venue – when it was in its conception phase, it was Larry Griffis who wanted to create something that didn’t exist in the United States…a place where you could enjoy art and nature – without the white walls and no touching signs.  A place for families to come and interact with the art instead of being told ‘no,’” Griffis said. “We often do school tours and to see the joy on the students’ faces when running, playing and interacting with the nature and art is something that is so wonderful!”

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