Jammin’ on the Dam
Months ago I was quoted in the newspaper wishing Kent had its own version of Cuyahoga Falls’ “Rockin’ on the River” and I even went so far as to suggest calling it “Jammin’ on the Dam.” Thanks to my position as City Manager, my ideas often make it in the newspaper but I generally don’t get too much feedback on them (which is usuallly a good thing) but that was not the case with the Jammin’ on the Dam remark. That one sentence led more people to pull me aside than any other issue I’ve ever raised. People cheered me on and wanted to know how they could help. I was surprised and intrigued.
To be honest, at that point I had not had a chance to actually attend a Rockin’ on the River event (I’d only heard about it through word of mouth) and the whole Jammin’ on the Dam name came from a city firefighter that had great memories of Kent’s musical legacy and told me to get busy recapturing Kent’s position as “THE” spot to go for live music. I heard this same sentiment many times over wherever I went in Kent after that article was printed.
So in the spirit of making sacrifices for my job, I did my homework and went out in Kent’s downtown a couple of times to see what musical entertainment we had and compared that with my first actual visit to Cuyahoga Falls’ River event. I’m glad I had a chance to visit both because before I went to Rockin’ on the River the practical side of my brain was thinking that there was no need to reinvent the wheel, let’s just take their model and copy it. But now that I’ve seen it firsthand I realize that we have a chance to offer something different that can be unmistakably Kent.
As much as I enjoyed the Rockin’ on the River venue, it became obvious to me that the scale was not Kent-like. First off, Cuyahoga Falls is double the size of Kent and I’d guess that the success of the event through the years has caused it to grow bigger and bigger which is great for two reasons: 1) because we need places nearby that provide medium to large venues; and 2)it leaves the door open for more intimate venues to complement it — which is exactly Kent’s niche.
From the Kent Stage to Woodsy’s, Kent is all about a very personalized music scene. By contrast, the layout of the vending plaza and the location of the band (tucked out of site in a sunken bunker) at Rockin’ on the River left me feeling disconnected from the music but all too connected with the lines of people waiting along with me to buy some food. Afterwords I realized that I never had a chance to get close enough to see the band and the design of the amphitheater seemed to not be great for accoustics. And other than the advertised title, I never saw the river and it didn’t really seem to be all that relevant to the music or the event.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun. I’m thrilled to have Rockin’ on the River so close by and we’d definitely go back. My kids played in the fountains, we strolled, ate, drank and were generally quite merry. I guess I was also encouraged because from all the hype I couldn’t imagine ever competing with the Rockin’ on the River event. And now I realize we don’t have to compete, we can complement. We will not beat Cuyahoga Falls at it’s own game, but we can offer an alternative music scene in Kent that is more personal and intimate. Kent seems all about being alternative so once again, I think we’ve got a potentially great fit, with a great start downtown; at this point it’s just a matter of doing it right.
Kent has a more intimate sensibility to it with it’s existing music venues being smaller with a more laid-back groove. Kent’s river plays a very real role with the landmark Dam. Put all this together and I think we could do something special that is true blue Kent. I’m not sure how all the pieces will need to be arranged but I’m hoping we can start experimenting with some different uses in and around the Dam to figure it out.
To me, Kent’s music scene can be more of a genuine music experience, with food vending second. Too often at large venues I have a sense that they are so commercialized that it feels like a vending experience with the music secondary. Again, it’s that Kent experience that separates us from so many of our neighbors. In a round-about way, our lack of flagrant commercial success distinguishes us and while we need to leverage some more commercial activity out of what we’ve got, it will be important to not do it at the expense of the Kent heritage.
You can join in the action — maybe not on the Dam but not far from it, on Friday June 30th in downtown Kent starting at 5pm. That night the Standing Rock Cultural Arts Gallery and the Downtown Innovative Community Events (DICE) are sponsoring “Festive Friday” at the Home Savings Plaza which will include live music followed by an outdoor movie. The June 30th movie is scheduled to start at 9 pm and will feature “The Princess Bride.” The Plaza is small enough to actually see and here the music so don’t miss it.
Of course economics is part of the equation but I consider it a by-product not the product. If you have doubts about the power of music on the economy read the Role of Music in the Austin Economy Report or check out this Link to the Arts and Economic Development Report .
The data speaks for itself.