Akron DIY: Fans connect firsthand with musicians in the Rubber City underground music scene

words and photos by Kristina Aiad-Toss

Deep down in the light-strung, graffiti-painted basement of an ordinary house, a crowd of local music-lovers gather within feet of a band seconds away from beginning their set.

As the roaring strum of an electric guitar cuts through the chatter and a beat explodes from the drums, the singer’s voice reaches across the expanse of this crowded room to wrangle up the last lingering strands of attention from those who hadn’t already surrendered at the alter of this makeshift stage. In this literal underground setting, the audience’s energy aligns with the band’s, as the thumping bass reverberates through the floor to merge individual heartbeats with the rhythm of the music.

Having a crowd so locked into the performance may seem like an outdated dream from the lost days of the music industry’s golden era, not the reality for a generation of digital natives. But in Akron, there is a thriving underground scene of houses turned into DIY concert venues that have hosted over 200 local, regional and international acts who come to play in front of dedicated music fans.

Left to right: Eddie Gancos, Tyler Brown and Drew Rodgers

This community operates through “Akron DIY Shows,” a Facebook page created in 2013 by Eddie Gancos and Tyler Brown, who acted as much out of a desire for more local music venues as they did in rebellion against the for-profit music industry. They believe that venues that charge bands to play damage the community, so to solve this problem, Gancos and Brown book and host bands where they live, respectively Fool Mansion and It’s A Kling Thing! house venues.

To help the artists out, they collect suggested donations during the show or at the door. While the donations are nice, bands get a fundamentally different experience at a house show than they would at traditional venues. And that’s a good thing.

Lead singer of Hodera, Matthew Smith plays guitar and sings during a show at Fool Mansion.

“It’s different from a normal venue because you’re taking away the business aspect of it, and making it only about the fans and the band,” says Matthew Smith, the lead singer of the band Hodera. “The people that come [to the house shows] really care about the music. The face-to-face exchange is something that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Gancos and Brown, like many other concert venue house owners, are also in bands and perform at shows within the network.

“We’re doing this because we want to help people and we love music,” Brown says. “We don’t want to make money ourselves.”

Many generations of concert planners have lived in the houses and are replaced every time someone moves out.

Hosting and promoting shows for the past eight years, the underground community currently consists of 13 venues run from homes around Akron and Kent. In addition to It’s a Kling Thing! and Fool Mansion, the network currently includes Crozberry House, Sure Man House, The Glank Bank, Hive Mind, The Hoe Garden, House, LICH, Oakdale, The Spacement, The Workshoppe and Volga Way. With their own unique vibe, each house specializes in a genre of music and has another Facebook page dedicated to its own shows.

Catering to a diverse, mostly younger audience with interest in Akron’s local music scene, the page promotes punk, indie, folk and alternative bands, as well as the occasional hip-hop or jazz fusion show, not to mention the occasional art openings and literary readings.

Just as hosts welcome anyone even if they can’t make a donation, they all practice policies to promote nondiscriminatory behavior that sustain their all-inclusive atmosphere. Homeowners also host a benefit show each month to raise money for a charity or community program.

“We try to provide a sense of community,” Gancos says. “You get to experience something way more personal here than going to a bar or a regular venue. We want to bring everyone together because they love music.”  

As a concert goer, a member of Bare Walls and a resident of Sure Man House, the newest to the scene, Brian Sloan has experienced the range of possibilities at these shows.

Nic Adkins a solo singer-songwriter performs an original at Fool Mansion.

“I’ve discovered so many amazing talented musicians from going to these shows,” says Sloan. “It’s just an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Open to the public, the Facebook group allows the bands, bookers, promoters and venue owners to communicate with the fan base about upcoming events.

Gancos talked about the significance of hosting shows and introducing new people to the local scene.

“I love seeing new people come here. The experience is always great when I see people who have never seen anything like this before. It’s always a great feeling.”

Drew Baker, a musician who also books bands for the houses, spearheaded the group’s monthly “DIY Talks,” where they discuss ideas to progress the scene and expand the fan base.

“I think it’s important to have something like this everywhere,” says Baker. “I think people need an art scene that’s a distraction from going to work or school everyday. You need music to love and art to appreciate.”

Learn more at facebook.com/groups/AkronDIY.