Ohio music shop: the hidden talent of Kent, Ohio


Shane Flanigan

Woody James, 61, opened the Ohio Music Shop in downtown Kent almost three years ago and has been making guitars for the past 28 years. James, who first picked up a guitar at age six, has played with artists such as Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Gilby Clarke (Guns ‘n Roses) and Elliot Eastman (The Cars) over his muscial career. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Kate Kelly

The Ohio Music Shop, located in downtown Kent, gives more than just a variety of services for guitar lovers. It gives the people of Kent a place to come spread their talent to those willing to listen.

Woody James, the owner of the guitar store, hosts an open mic night where local singers and songwriters are able to play in front of a live audience and bar Thursdays starting at 7 p.m.

“This place is a lot of fun with lots of great music,” said John Patrick Halling, junior anthropology major who attended the event. “Everyone here is friendly and welcomes newcomers.”

James, who has been playing guitar for 54 years, opened the guitar store in May 2010. He had already been manufacturing guitars and pedals for many years, and the store gave him a retail outlet. He built the stage and bar in the store because he knew he wanted to have shows there.

“During the day when all the lights are on, we are like any other music store you go into,” said James. “And during the night, we are a bar.”

James wants people to know the guitar store comes first, but the open mic nights do bring 50 to 60 people each night. The artists come into the store, sign up on a sheet, and wait for their turn to play their three songs in front of a live audience.

Kate “Miss Kate” Gore, a freshman education major, travels all the way from Youngstown State University to play her three songs with her acoustic guitar. When asked why she comes all the way to Kent to play, she explains exactly how much she loves the audience.

“The crowd is just so genuine,” Gore said. “I knew one time playing here was never going to be enough.”

Young college students are not the only people that fill up the open mic nights. Bill Beans, 74, really gets the crowd whistling and stomping their feet to a song called “I Like Beer.” He also enjoys singing songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd and country singer Kitty Wells.

“You talk to anyone and they will say this place is like home,” Beans said. “I love it here. I never really sang in front of a crowd until recently.”

Between the fall and spring of every year, a contest takes place during open mic nights. The contest this year is specifically for the best singer and songwriter. Judges vary every week, but they are local musicians that have had some level of success in their careers.

After a certain number of people go each week, the final round during spring consists of the top singers and songwriters battling against each other. The top three are chosen by a number of judges and each win prizes.

First place winner for best singer and/or songwriter wins $1,000. The second place winner goes home with $500 dollars, and third place with $200. Each winner also gets a Woody James guitar.

Before opening the store and building boutique pedals, guitars and amplifiers, James compiled an impressive list of accomplishments during his lifetime.

“I’ve played some really great places in some of the bands I was in,” James said. “We were the headliner of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock. There were 65,000 people when we walked out.”

James knew exactly what he wanted and what he didn’t want when opening the music shop. He wanted a place to help many aspiring musicians with their careers, and to critique them when possible because of all his great experience.

“As a musician myself, I know what these people are dealing with and going through,” James said. “I always try to give them as much of my time as I can while they are here with advice.”

Kate Kelly is the off-campus entertainment reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact Kate Kelly at [email protected].