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Ruth Benjamin has become a big fan of the Goo Goo Dolls.

Not that Benjamin knows the difference between "Superstar Car Wash" and "Gutterflower" recordings. What Benjamin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, knows is that her hotel is booked solid this weekend, thanks in large part to Buffalo Place Inc.'s "Uncle Sam's Jam."

Uncle Sam's Jam is a two-day free music festival, set for July 3 and 4 in Niagara Square, that will culminate with Buffalo's Goo Goo Dolls performing live for a concert that's being taped for a DVD set to be released later this fall.

"Our phones are still ringing off the hook with people looking for rooms because they want to come in for the concert," Benjamin said.

She is not alone.

Virtually every major downtown hotel is booked this weekend, largely due to the free concerts. Bookings are being extended to suburban hotel properties.

"There's not a lot of rooms left in downtown," said Richard Geiger, Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Geiger said his agency's visitor's bureau is getting flooded with calls from out-of-towners looking for information about the shows.

And, along the Chippewa Street strip, bars and restaurants are beefing up their beverage and food orders from their respective vendors, again anticipating a large influx of people.

"The restaurants, Chippewa Street and the city will definitely benefit from this concert," Geiger said.

"To say and see that Chippewa Street is packed and the hotels are booked solid is, for us, mission accomplished," added Michael Schmand, Buffalo Place Inc. executive director.

When Buffalo Place announced the shows six weeks ago, it was hyped as potentially the largest free concert in downtown's history, easily topping the 40,000 or so who attended a 2001 Thursday at the Square appearance by Pat Benatar.

The concerts are living up to their hype.

The July 3 show features Guster, Ben Folds and Rufus Wainright while the July 4 concert, in addition to the headlining Goo Goo Dolls, also features Buffalo singer Ani DiFranco and Hamil on Trial. Both shows begin at 4 p.m. and will conclude at 11 p.m. The July 4th show also features a fireworks display.

Buffalo Place officials are reluctant to say so, but the concerts, especially the Goo Goo Dolls performance, will be a watershed moment for the organization.

"Watershed moment for us? I wouldn't say so," Schmand said. "We always talk about raising the bar higher. We've done it and now we want to raise it higher again."

New Era Cap Co. has signed on as a sponsor of the concert and will have a presence on site via its 35-foot road vehicle known as NERV.

"We've converged our brand into the music culture, plus there's the local connection with the Goo Goo Dolls that we started about five years ago," said John De Waal, New Era's vice president of global marketing.

For the Goo Goo Dolls, doing the concert and DVD shot in Buffalo was a must from the moment their label, Warner Brothers Records, first suggested the idea.

"It means a lot to us to be able to do the DVD and concert here," said Johnny Rzeznik, the band's lead singer and guitarist. "The people of Buffalo were the first to support us and it's nice to be able to come here and share something with them."

Not that the band has ever forgotten its Buffalo roots and heritage. Buffalo served as a back drop for its VH1 "Behind the Music" segment and also a special it did for MTV when, last spring, it performed a surprise concert for local students at Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Robby Takac, who founded the band with Rzeznick in 1985, has kept his deep ties to Buffalo. Takac, the band's bassist, maintains an Allentown apartment -- which he admits to seeing about 10 days a month.

Takac is one of the owners of Chameleon West Studios in Allentown and his Good Charamel Records is also based in Allentown. Several of Good Charamel's bands including Klear will be performing during Buffalo Place's Sept. 2 Thursday at the Square show.

Yet despite the presence of some 16 cameras and an elaborate stage setting that uses Buffalo City Hall as a backdrop, Takac said at its roots, the concert is still a show.

"More than anything else, it is a concert, he said.

Takac said the band gets a special rush by playing before Buffalo crowds, and it does have everything to do with it being their hometown.

"If I could pick out a group of 100 people from the crowd, I'd probably know at least one of them," Takac said. "When we're in Buffalo and we're getting jostled by the crowd, it's not just a group of fans. In some cases, we may be getting jostled by our third-grade teacher."

Putting on the concert won't be cheap. The bottom line is the price tag may approach $500,000 -- a cost shared by the band, Warner Brothers Records, the sponsors, Buffalo Place and the City of Buffalo.

The payback is huge.

The DVD promises to be a huge marketing tool for the city and region. It will raise the profile of downtown, the region and the band.

"A lot of people are going out on a limb for this," Takac said.

To get ready for the show, the Goo Goo Dolls did an invitation-only benefit concert on June 30 in the Buffalo Convention Center. Proceeds helped underwrite the Uncle Sam's Jam production costs.

By the holiday weekend, portions of Niagara Street, Delaware Avenue, Court Street and Genesee Street will be shut off to traffic. All streets will re-opened by July 5.

Schmand said he doubts there will any negative feedback from the shut down.

"People are willing to accept that because they understand what this means," Schmand said. "People would rather come to downtown Buffalo for this and see this concert in context to our wonderful architecture than hold it in some suburban parking lot."
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