Grad project rocks local venues

Amy Cooknick

Some came dressed in flannels and cowboy boots, some in T-shirts and sneakers, others in dresses and high heels; but all came dressed for a rockin’ good time.

Downtown Kent went country Friday night in support of the Rockin’ Country Festival: “Walk of Fame.”

Kent graduate student Jodee Hammond said she began work on the two-day bash in January 2010. The “Walk of Fame” was Hammond’s graduate project to earn her master’s degree in public relations this May.

“We (had) to do either a thesis, a project or a research paper,” Hammond said. “So I just chose to do a project.”

Local businesses supported the free event, which kicked off Thursday and continued into an all-night tour-de-force Friday. Seven bars and restaurants hosted the festival from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.

Hammond, sporting her own blue plaid button-down and cowboy boots, said she was inspired to organize a country music event after attending the June 2010 Country Music Association festival and CMA Awards in Nashville.

“Country music is just my favorite type of music,” Hammond said. “So I just thought it would be cool to bring a piece of Nashville and a part of that big music scene to Kent, and I knew that the folk festival was pretty popular around here and was a big success. I thought it would be a good way to model this in hopes to bring people out and around town.”

Kent graduate Geno Conley was one of those to come out for the music. He said he and a group of friends came to hear artist Courtney Bergman perform at 157 Lounge, before moving on to the later acts.

“(Bergman is) my sister’s old friend from school,” Conley said. “She is a phenomenal singer, so more people need to come and check her out.”

Patricia Wade was also taking advantage of the free performances, making her way from dinner and a show at Water Street Tavern to the next scheduled act of the evening.

“(The show) was really good,” Wade said. “But I came down to see Courtney Bergman. She’s my cousin.”

While Bergman and most of the other artists are from Northeast Ohio, Hammond said singer Katie O. made the trip from Wheeling, West Virginia. The farthest group, the Carter Twins, came from Nashville and performed Thursday at the Kent Stage with Tony Rio.

“The businesses were really receptive of the festival,” Hammond said. “I couldn’t have done any of this without the bands and the businesses willing to take part. The businesses are paying for the acts to come, too, but Tom Simpson (of the Kent Stage) really took a big chunk with having a band from Nashville come. I really couldn’t have done any of it without him and everyone’s support.”

Support came not only from the businesses, but also from Hammond’s family, friends and new fans.

At each venue, the atmosphere was friendly and casual. The crowds acted more like houseguests enjoying the music at their own private party than audience members. People laughed, talked, sang along, and snapped pictures at each location. The performers worked the crowd in return, telling stories, asking questions, taking requests, and calling for drinks between sets.

Some artists performed original songs and handed out free CD’s, while others covered hits by Sugarland, Shania Twain, Bon Jovi, Kellie Pickler, and additional favorites.

Nashville might be the only official Music City, but that wouldn’t stop Kent from rockin’ along the country “Walk of Fame.”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected]