On Stage with The Rhodes Street Rude Boys

Homegrown Reggae

by Dave Daly


Don’t ask Rhodes Street Rude Boys (RSRB) to cover Bob Marley songs. That ain’t their thing. When you see RSRB live, they’ll be performing their own music. And that’s the way it should be because these dudes can play. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Rude Boys more times than I can remember in the three years I’ve lived in Akron. Most recently, I caught their set down at the Summit Lake Community Center after participating in the Chase Your Tail 5k, a charity run for One of a Kind Pets.

The Summit Lake Community Center is in Summit Lake Park, right along the towpath. The park is a gorgeous piece of land adjacent to a beautiful body of water. The 5k started and ended at the center so I got to say “hi” to the band as they were setting up and I could hear the sweet sound of live music coming up the hill as I nearly fell across the finish line. I stumbled onward, grabbed some water and took a seat by the stage.

As I caught my breath and cooled down from the run, I listened as they finished up playing a Free World song and watched Berhane switch to the drums, Jordan jump on bass and Kevin get up to take over singing duties on some Rude Boy originals. The only thing better than a family band is one where the members constantly switch instrument. It was great seeing them play outside on an idyllic fall day.

RSRB has been writing and performing eclectic, original music in Akron for over a decade. Although their sound is heavily influenced by roots reggae, they draw inspiration from other genres too, including punk and ska. Founding members Kevin Nunn and Walter Hayes have been playing music together for the better part of 25 years.

Nunn, singer and drummer for RSRB, moved down to Akron from Cleveland to attend UA in 1990. What he found in Akron was one hell of a music scene. Now defunct clubs like ‘The Daily Double’ fostered a local music culture that has only recently been reinvigorated by the Akron DIY scene. By 1991, he was playing in the punk band Spy Mission Pineapple. It was around this time he met Hayes, lead guitarist for RSRB, and they became friends and eventual band mates. Hayes and Nunn ended up playing together in the alternative rock band One for a number of years.

By the late nineties, Nunn and Hayes were interested in forming a reggae band. Apparently, as Hayes described it, driving around in a VW Bus while on tour listening to reggae for hours on end will influence your musical choices. The Mighty Levites, Akron’s first modern reggae band, brought their sound to Akron and beyond from 1999 to 2003 and had the opportunity to open for reggae legends touring through the area, including Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, Culture and Israel Vibrations. Although The Mighty Levites didn’t last, Hayes and Nunn’s desire to make reggae music together did. 

Since the mid-aughts, the Rude Boys have been gracing us with their unique musical presence. Members have come and gone, the sound has evolved and the music scene has definitely changed, but the Rude Boys keep at it. The current lineup is seven deep, making for some great live sets. In addition to Nunn and Hayes, there’s Jason Jowhar-Schmidt on trombone, Bryan Habor on percussion, Jordan Nunn on guitar/vocals, Sowande Okantah on keys and Berhane Okantah on bass/vocals.

Jordan happens to be Kevin’s 20-year-old son and Berhane and Sowande, his lifelong friends and bandmates in Free World, joined RSRB full time this past summer after occasionally playing with them since 2015. Jason’s daughter Eden will sometimes sing with the band too. To make it even more of a family band, once in awhile Berhane and Sowande’s dad, Mwatabu Okantah, will sit in on percussion. Of course, all members with significant others and/or Moms that directly contribute to the band gushed over how important a role they have played in making RSRB possible.

Rhodes Street Rude Boys and Free World have shows coming up this month. Definitely get out and see them, as both bands are purposeful about bringing music to all sides of town. As Kevin so elegantly puts it, they have a “multicultural outlook on life,” and will bring their diversity in music, style, race and age to anyone willing to listen. Keep an eye on Free World and Rhodes Street Rude Boys social media for up-to-date show listings, music releases and other happenings.

Find Rhodes Street Rude Boys on Facebook or catch them live at one of the following shows:

Wednesday, November 15, 8p at Wilsons Food & Music in Cleveland;

Friday, December 1, 9p at Stone Tavern in Kent


Find Free World on Facebook or catch them live:

Saturday, November 25, 8p at Hive Mind in Akron


(Featured photo: RSRB2.jpg: Rhodes Street Rude Boys live at the Summit Lake Community Center for the ‘Chase Your Tail 5k’.Photo courtesy ofFrances TvC15).

(Middle photo: Rhodes Street Rude Boys from left to right: Kevin Nunn, Berhane Okantah, Walter Hayes, Jason Jowhar-Schmidt, Jordan Nunn, Sowande Okantah. Photo courtesy ofFrances TvC15). 

(Rhodes Street Rude Boys logo: Photo courtesy of Rhodes Street Rude Boys). 


Dave Daly knows better than to ask Rhodes Street Rude Boys to play ‘No Woman, No Cry’