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The big and obvious
E.J. Thomas Hall
198 Hill St. at The University
For more than 30 years, the edgy, industrial-modern E.J. Thomas Hall has hosted many of Akron’s biggest and brightest live musical and theatrical events. With nearly 4,000 seats to fill, combined with a rather steely, post-modern décor, it can feel real lonely in there unless a show is a near sellout. On the other hand, the acoustics, stage, lights and infrastructure are world class, and the sheer magnitude of the architecture is an event in itself. Between traveling Broadway shows, Akron Symphony schedules and utilization by the university, there are not a ton of live music concerts held there. But when there are, the town takes notice.
Akron Civic Theatre
182 S. Main St., Downtown Akron
The proverbial “Jewel on Main Street” might be a puzzle for out-of-towners. At first, the rather modest marquee and facade, set amidst a sea of empty and decaying former storefronts, does not impress. Venture through the front doors, and the tired but ornate entry hall gives you a hint of what lies ahead. The narrow hall widens, and the effect of seeing the theater’s grand entrance is much like the moment the “Wizard of Oz” changed from black and white to color. The main hall is a lovingly restored tribute to the glorious movie palaces of the 1920s, recently augmented with all the latest technology to meet the demands of today’s traveling concerts and stage shows. Critics say the space is underutilized despite the costly restoration. On the other hand, the place is so fine you almost don’t want to fill its nearly 3,000 seats with mere humans and smudge it all up.
Lock 3 Live
182 S. Main St., Downtown Akron
Lock 3 Live is a multi-purpose outdoor amphitheatre located next to the Akron Civic Theatre on the banks of the Ohio and Erie Canal. While the Civic could be viewed as a prim and proper lady, Lock 3 Live is her scruffy, outdoorsy kid brother. Cool weather sees ice skaters and craft vendors, but in warm weather Lock 3 Live becomes a busy musical stage for several days and nights a week. Oldies and cover bands are the norm, but original and fresh performers do pop up on occasion.
Rockin’ on the River
Cuyahoga Falls Riverfront Square
For more than 20 years, this huge, outdoor, summertime Friday night party has been a cultural fixture just off Route 8 and Broad Boulevard in Cuyahoga Falls. Once a bit on the rag-tag side, major improvements have been made to the facility and surrounding area. Local music svengali Bob Earley has brought a new energy to the proceedings as booking agent and event chairman for the last several seasons. Cover bands rule on Friday nights, but the improved stage has seen an expansion of alternative genres of live music appearing other nights of the week.
Would you like some music with your Merlot?
In recent years, local wineries have begun hosting live musicians on the weekends. Relaxing spirits, spirited snacks, intimate live music—and generally no cover charge. Somebody should have thought of this ages ago!
268 Old Forge Road
in Brimfield Township
A charming and cozy hospitality area is the setting for tasty wines and appetizers, served along with live music most Sunday afternoons. When the weather warmwww.vikingvineyards.coms, wine drinkers can move outdoors to the adjoining lakefront picnic area, and the live music may follow.
The Winery at Wolf Creek
2637 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Norton
Akron’s longest-lived winery sits atop an amazing hillside in Norton, overlooking fields, vineyards, woods and waterways, with the tips of the Akron skyline peeking over the treetops. Some of the world’s most cheekily named wines complement live music most Monday and Wednesday nights.
Maize Valley Winery
6193 Edison St. NE in Hartville
Yes, Virginia, a winery can coexist in a community often viewed as an Amish enclave. The Maize Valley Winery is an offshoot of the Maize Valley Market, which offers fresh cheeses and other bounties of Amish Country. The rustic hospitality area also hosts frequent live musicians on the weekends.
Small but mighty
Musica at Mocha Maiden
17 Maiden Lane,
behind Crave and Big City Chophouse, Downtown Akron
Rapidly becoming the “It” place for breakout live music in downtown Akron, this charming venue combines touches of antiquity with industrial edges and modern facilities. Good sound and good vibes. Live music several nights a week. Adding to the ambiance is the adjoining coffee house and art gallery, and the connected recording studio adds credibility.
175 E. Main St., Downtown Kent
A few years back, a group of local rootsy music fanatics rescued the floundering old Kent Cinema and gently evolved it into a viable, medium-sized live music venue where the quality of the artists might only be exceeded by the quality of the acoustics and the sound engineer. They might not be getting rich, but they sure fill a niche for high-quality heritage artists who enjoy playing live music in a caring environment.
Akron Summit County Main Library
60 S. High St., Downtown Akron
OK, you may not think of the local library as a place for music. But to survive the cyber age, libraries are trying to evolve and prosper. When downtown Akron’s main library was remodeled and expanded a few years back, the new design included a wonderful auditorium that is a perfect place for a smaller live show. They don’t have a ton of acts on their schedule, but, when they do, don’t scoff at the concept of live music in a library. These days, no grumpy old lady with cat-eye glasses will “shhhhhh” you, we promise!
Entire issues of this magazine could be dedicated to the stories of much-loved Akron music venues that bit the dust since man first walked on the moon.
Here are a couple that have passed the decade mark, against the odds:
784 W. Market St. in Akron’s Highland Square area
A gritty, old neighborhood watering hole where live music has always survived despite a swinging door of operators and concepts. The catacomb-like basement is the musical heart of the operation. If you like your live music down, dirty and real, and the beer cheap and cold, Annabell’s has delivered for two decades.
111 N. Main St., next to Luigi’s, Downtown Akron
For more than 10 years, this trendy-yet-earthy eatery and drinkery has brought a wide assortment of live original music to the little lost strip of Main Street on the northern side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Interbelt highway. Having legendary pizza joint Luigi’s next door doesn’t hurt business. Northside has a history of delving into live jazz, blues, zydeco, indie rock and other less-mainstream musical genres. Funky acoustics and lack of a house sound system have always been puzzling in a live music venue, but such transgressions are forgiven in light of the commitment to earnest live music, delivered several nights each week.
Bill Gruber is Program and Music Director for 91.3 The Summit,