Local bands play Checkers-N-Trophies


Ben Cohen, manager of Checkers and Trophies in Kent, serves patrons while they take in music on Saturday. “Hosting a variety of acts and genres we have been able to create something very strong, powerful and underground, as well as something very down to earth and fun,” Cohen said, who is working to attract more students to the bar. Photo by Valerie Brown.

Amy Cooknick

There is a place just down the road, off the beaten path, where drinks are flowing and entertainment is usually free. The people are friendly and the music is loud.

The street looks like an average residential area, causing first-time visitors to recheck their maps or GPS coordinates, but the distant glow of the neon lights burns through all concerns about having the wrong address, guiding travelers to

352 W. Elm St.

Blinking from the street corner, Checkers-N-Trophies bar is a flashy contrast to the rest of the neighborhood.

Stepping from the green-carpeted stoop into the warm glow of the bar, early patrons are greeted by manager Ben Cohen wiping down the counter and getting ready for the evening ahead.

“I’ve been promoting shows here off and on since ’07,” Cohen said as he poured a drink and turned on the radio. “I’ve been managing the bar since about July 24 (2010), give or take.”

Cohen graduated from Kent State in 2008 with a Bachelor of General Studies focused in sociology, history and English. He was interested in making Checkers-N-Trophies more accessible to college students and approached owner Bill Savory about managing.

Savory agreed, and Cohen got to work booking acts.

“Lately we have been working to revamp Kent’s vibrant and rich local music scene,” Cohen said. “Hosting a variety of acts and genres, we have been able to create something very strong, powerful and underground, as well as something very down to earth and fun.”

Cohen said Checkers-N-Trophies is open every day except Sunday, unless they have an act scheduled. It features bands every Saturday night. Cohen and Savory hope to start booking enough performers to have live music every Friday and Saturday.

No genre is off limits at the bar. Past acts have represented punk, metal, indie, folk, hip-hop, bluegrass, country and music that doesn’t fit any description.

In the near future, Cohen said he would like to add Sunday-night drum circles and Monday-night indie rock dance parties to that list, although the headliners on Saturdays would still be the main attraction.

“What I’m trying to do here,” Cohen said, “is to kind of promote a rich and vibrant music scene that’s very diverse in its scope and has all those different perspectives represented. That’s what I like doing. I like to bring people out. I like to see people have a good time enjoying local music.”

Most of the musicians who play Checkers-N-Trophies are local, although Cohen said he does like to bring in touring bands when they’re in the area.

“Whoever’s gonna show up and rock out,” Cohen said. “Whoever we can rely on.” Most acts perform for free, but Cohen and Savory said they sometimes have to charge a cover of $3 to $5. That cover is only placed on touring bands that ask for money for travel expenses.

“Out of the last six months, we’ve probably charged a cover only four times,” Savory said. “So the cover charge is pretty much the exception. It’s just dictated by the group. (With) most of the groups we have in, it’s not necessary.”

Since he experienced student life at Kent State, Cohen makes an effort to cater to the college scene. He tries to provide a fun, relaxed atmosphere for students to come and experience new music.

“You can expect to find what you’re not finding elsewhere,” Cohen said. “I don’t like to abuse the term ‘underground,’ but I think that what we have here is a very underground scene. And, by underground, I also don’t mean sectarian. I mean, you can find people here enjoying themselves, promoting music and promoting real culture.”

Savory said the primary goal of Checkers-N-Trophies is to expose students to artists they might not find on their own. Although the bar has dartboards, pool tables and food under $10, and although Savory has tried bringing in alternate forms of entertainment, like comedians, he said students come for the live music.

“Most of the music we’re bringing in anymore is pretty much geared towards the college, as far as being a little less mainstream,” Savory said. “The comedian thing, that was geared more towards a mainstream populous. You kind of just got to look at the audience you have to draw from.”

Until Cohen, Savory said he didn’t do much to attract the college crowd. Once Cohen got involved, Savory realized the potential audiences he had at Kent State and let Cohen begin restructuring the bar to fit that crowd.

“We get a good turnout,” Savory said. “Now, of course you know, the band a lot of times dictates the crowd, but I think on the nights that we have the entertainment, we have a full bar. We don’t have to kick anybody out, but we don’t have to run down the street naked to try and get ‘em down here either.”

Cohen said he wants audiences at Checkers-N-Trophies to be as diverse as the musicians who play there.

“I kind of wrote a little mission statement on our Facebook website about making this a really nice spot for people of different race, different class,” Cohen said. “People of all colors, creeds (and) nationalities.”

Cohen said he just wants all of his patrons to feel at home in the bar and inspired by the music.

“Whether it’s a singer/songwriter or somebody playing harmonica and kazoo and strumming a banjo,” Cohen said, opening a bottle of the usual for the evening’s first customers. “Or somebody jamming on a bongo drum, punk rockers screaming their heads off, hip-hoppers free-styling their hearts out about the problems of today. In short, you can expect a lot.”

With that, Cohen turns up the music and turns to chat with the next wave of customers, who, whether drawn by the lights and music spilling into the otherwise quiet street, or the promise of somewhere warm and laidback, seem ready to spend the night.

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected] .