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Rock the Park on July 20 at Allegany State Park

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By Deb Everts

Allegany State Park will host its 7th annual “Rock the Park” event at the Quaker Beach area Friday, July 20 when guests will rock to the tunes of “The Rightly So” and Sean Patrick McGraw.

The free event for people of all ages kicks off at 3 p.m. when local vendors will showcase the many great products available to park patrons in the surrounding area.

At 5 p.m., park naturalists will host an “Ask the Naturalist” program featuring several interactive nature displays including a nature-themed photo booth. A sandcastle building contest will take place at 6 p.m. Participants should sign up at the “Ask the Naturalist” table in the Grand Room. Also starting at 5 p.m., the snack bar will be open and there will be a chicken barbecue available.

Live music begins at 6 p.m. when it’s time to “Rock the Park” with the opening act of Allegany’s Artist in Residence, “The Rightly So.” The young acoustic duo from the Buffalo area is comprised of esteemed guitarist and performer Gregory Zeis, and award-winning singer/songwriter Jess Chizuk.

Headliner Sean Patrick McGraw will take the stage afterward with his solo performance of blended rockabilly and punk rock style. The singer/songwriter said he was the park’s Artist in Residence for three consecutive years and he’d like to do it again.

A Nashville resident since 1996, McGraw and his wife, Debbie, are Western New York natives. He hails from Dunkirk and she originally comes from Forestville, so it’s no surprise that he performs often in Western New York (WNY) because his roots are here.

“I get offered work up there [WNY] all the time,” he said. “I’ve always said that a good performance in one place leads to more work elsewhere, so I play a lot there and Pennsylvania, as well as throughout New England. If you play often enough, people remember you and you get asked back.”

Although McGraw gained national recognition in 2004 as a semi-finalist on USA Network’s Nashville Star, he signed his first publishing deal in 1999 which, he said, was a big deal to him and his band, but then they got dropped.

“I thought I should hang it up because a music career wasn’t going to happen for me, and then a couple of years later, I got picked up to tour with Toby Keith and got on CMT, which led to more, so who knew?”

Since then, he has opened for a number of well-known country music artists sharing the stage with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Patty Loveless, Pat Green and Miranda Lambert.

According to McGraw, he started playing around age eight or nine. When he was barely 14, he started playing guitar and singing in bars, and he’s been playing music professionally since.

As soon as he finished high school, he set out to Los Angeles with dreams to make it in the music industry. There he developed his own unique hard-core hillbilly sound before moving to Nashville in 1996.

It’s been a long road for McGraw, from Dunkirk to Nashville, with various miscellaneous jobs along the way.

“I worked at Dunkirk Ice Cream making popsicles,” he said with a laugh. “I removed the asbestos from Allegheny Ludlum Steel, also in Dunkirk. No one in my family since my great-great-grandfather, who came over from Ireland, has not worked in that factory.”

After he moved to Nashville, he bartended, worked in a construction job, striped parking lots and delivered for a catering company. Then he got a publishing deal and went into an office where he wrote songs everyday for six years.

Now with a home studio in Nashville, he continues to write on his own and usually co-writes a couple of days every week. He’s primarily trying to write for other people and said he feels lucky because some of his songs are chosen for film and TV, which usually requires very specific work.

McGraw said he has about seven albums available on iTunes. He said he has signed away over 500 songs in publishing deals and he’s sure he’s written 1,000 since then.

“By Nashville standards, that’s not that unusual but I know people that probably have three times that output,” he said. “For six years of my life, I wrote about a song a day and I still write pretty frequently — more like two a month nowadays.”

Of all McGraw’s songs, “All Things Texan” is one of his favorites and has stood the test of time. He said that’s the song he sang when he was a semi-finalist on Nashville Star, in 2004, but it’s never been recorded by anyone.

“I have a song on my new CD, East Side Songs, called ‘Jesus Had Two Daddies.’ It’s a personal favorite of mine,” he said. “I thought it was a clever idea. It’s different and a good example of my weird sense of humor. It’s available on iTunes.”

According to McGraw, he isn’t spending quite as much time on the road these days and he expects to do between 50 and 75 shows this year. He said he used to play nearly every night between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“When you’re traveling that much you’re not really working ‘smart,’ you’re working hard. I came to the conclusion that I was better served if I stayed in Nashville and wrote more,” he said. “Maybe one of these days I’ll actually write something that becomes a hit. One hit song would get me what I make in a couple of years of touring.”

For more details about this event, contact the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at 354-9101, ext. 236 or visit Facebook.

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