Harmonious Hymns and Soulful Sounds

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Akron’s Second Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival

by Sierra Allen

Once upon a time, Akron’s Howard Street was a popular spot for music. The area was filled with clubs and soirees and attracted musicians like Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Wes Montgomery. Eventually, the entertainment scene faded away, and as time passed, the 30s-50s were undocumented. Akron lost memories until the recent reemergence of music appreciation.

For the second year, The Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival will fill downtown with inviting melodies and rhythmic songs. Local musicians will showcase their talents and reclaim Akron’s sound. Akronites will get a chance to discover and relearn bands that were right under their noses.

Compared to last year’s two-day festival, The Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival has grown to four days with added events. New events include power lunches at the Akron Art Museum, Sunday Brunch at the Akron Civic Theater and the main event at Lock 3. Other venues include BLU Jazz+, the Akron Public Library, High St. Hop House, Maiden Lane, Musica, The Nightlight and Uncorked Wine Bar. Some headliners include Dan Wilson, Chris Potter and James Johnson III.

Originally from Zanesville, co-founder and director Theron Brown graduated from The University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies and master’s degree in classical piano performance. As a professor of Jazz Piano at Kent State University and Youngstown State University, he’s passionate about expanding the jazz community and keeping the history alive, especially in Akron. 

“Being in the jazz community for about 10 years, you start to learn what all happened in this area with Howard Street and the type of talent that was coming through,” says Brown. “A lot of stuff was undocumented and people sort of forgot that jazz was big here.”

Brown also hopes the festival will spark an interest for children to keep history alive, along with Open Tone Music, a program that makes music education accessible to children in underserved neighborhoods.  

“Music tells a story of the city and for the people representing that to come together. It helps build that Akron sound again,” Brown says.

The free event offers access to world class music and the potential to build comradery amongst peers from Thursday, August 24 – Sunday, August 27. Volunteering opportunities at both Open Tone Music and The Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival are listed at opentonemusic.org.

(PHOTO CREDIT: All photos by Todd Biss Photography)

Sierra Allen: Senior journalism major at Kent State University, contributing writer for TDS and Ohio Magazine, self-proclaimed interior designer thanks to HGTV.  

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