Kent Stage puts focus on younger music


Coty Giannelli

Ethan Simpson sweeps the stage at the Kent Stage on Tuesday. The Kent Stage celebrated it’s 10-year anniversary in January 2012. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Cassie Neiden

In its 11th year of business, the Kent Stage is going to “aggressively try to bring in younger acts,” owner Tom Simpson said, but the venue will be maintaining its older following as well.

The Kent Stage, operated by the Western Reserve Folk Arts Association, has focused mainly on folk music because the venue started from Kent State’s annual folk festival and the community’s large interest in the folk genre. It blends well together with the festival and WKSU’s “Folk Alley” show, Simpson said.

“A lot of (the acts) are folk singers and blues people and some rock and roll people, but we want the younger people to come out to those as well,” he said. “People who like good music, you know, or that type of good music.”

The Kent Stage’s unique shows have brought people from all over the world to the venue, he said. People have traveled from all 88 Ohio counties as well as 37 other states, Canada, England and even Japan to see shows at the Kent Stage.

But as the venue has developed, it has featured younger acts such as Nickelcreek, The Avett Brothers, Mushroomhead, Machine Gun Kelly and Mike Posner. Simpson said five or six bands played at the Kent Stage that also played at Bonaroo last year.

Another addition has been a disco night, featuring a DJ that plays modern music such as dubstep. The building has LED lights around the outside of the stage, as well as moving lights above the stage.

“It’s kind of low-key,” he said. “We don’t advertise it. It’s like, the people who know, know.”

Jordan Self, 18, says he has never gone to the Kent Stage.

“I’ve never really heard of anything that interests me,” Self said.

Self said playing more young music at the Kent Stage would appease a larger crowd, especially Kent State students.

Courtney Shields, 20, said she would love to see a band like Family Force 5 play at the Kent Stage. She said she’d attend shows at Kent Stage if “they could get bigger, local Cleveland bands.”

As the Kent Stage is developing to accommodate the younger generation, it’s also taking advantage of social media to bring in people.

“Social media is very important to us,” Simpson said.

Simpson said the internet is a “crucial component” of advertising. He said the Kent Stage is currently running six ads on Facebook, and around 200 shows total have had advertisements on the social media site.

Simpson said he also uses Twitter to generate an audience.

In addition to social media, Simpson said the Kent Stage has a 15,000-member list that receives frequent contact through email.

Typically, the Kent Stage wouldn’t feature as many acts during the summer, but this year, Simpson plans to book a few local bands during the week and have a national act play once or twice a week.

The Summertime Blues Series at Kent Stage is already in motion. This month, Robert Cray has played, as well as Kathleen Edwards and Rickie Lee Jones. Todd Snider will also be playing on June 29.

Michael Catheline, a Cleveland resident who attended the Rickie Lee Jones show on Friday, said he’s come to the Kent Stage more than ten times over the last few years.

“It’s intimate and comfortably grungy,” Catheline said.

Contact Cassie Neiden at [email protected].