Rathskeller stays rock solid after more than 30 years

Melissa Dilley

Where is the only place on campus to hear live music every weekend, grab a slice of pizza and order a beer? The Rathskeller is one of only a few places in Kent where you can do all of those things in the same building -and to top it off, admission is free.

While many students may go to parties off campus, visit home or hang out in their dorms, many never think of staying on campus for entertainment.

Rockin’ the Ratt is put on by All Campus Programming Board and features local bands every Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m.

Cathy Black, junior visual communication design major, said she has attended about seven shows this semester and said she prefers the casual and intimate atmosphere of the Rathskeller that a typical bar can’t accomplish.

“It’s right on campus, and it’s like being able to go to a different concert every week but always be able to be in the front row,” Black said.

While there have been events in the Rathskeller since it opened in the ’70s, ACPB programmer Doug Hite only started booking the weekly performances last spring after university President Lester Lefton asked for more on-campus entertainment options.

“We had about a week to plan 30 shows,” Hite said. “But once it came together, we had some great bands.”

Although most of the bands that play in the Rathskeller are local, there have been some big names that have played on the small stage located in the basement of the Student Center.

Devo played its first show in the Rathskeller, and Jerry Seinfeld has given a stand-up comedy show to students eating Pete’s Arena pizza.

Some bands played there when they were on their way to fame, but many of the musicians who play there are just breaking into the scene.

“I never imagined we would be where we are now when we played our first show in the Rathskeller,” said Maurice Martin, the lead singer of Winslow. “At only our third concert we won the Battle of the Bands, and I don’t think anyone expected us to win because no one knew who we were. Playing in the Rathskeller really catapulted us to where we are now.”

The band was known as 1959 when it won the 2006 battle, and the members were just music majors having fun. Since its days at the Rathskeller, the band has played at House of Blues, the Agora and more recently, opened for Lupe Fiasco in the M.A.C Center. They are now planning a North American tour.

While some bands played in the Rathskeller and hoped for an opportunity to make connections, others just wanted to have fun.

The TwistOffs played in the Rathskeller in the late ’80s and early ’90s until they got kicked out for having a little too much fun at the bar. Eventually they were allowed back into the Rathskeller, and they went on a cross- country tour, but lead singer and original member of the band Erik Walter said the members never wanted to make it their career.

“We never thought we would be famous,” Walter said. “At the Rathskeller, we always had fun, and it was just a place to play.”

After the tour, all the members moved on to what they call “real jobs,” but they still play a few times a month, usually at the Kent Stage in downtown Kent.

Whether the acts are big or small, rap, punk or rock, one thing stays the same every week: The performances are always free to attend.

Hite said the goal of ACPB is to keep on-campus events free, and considering the university has a yearly budget just for entertainment, that should be no problem.

“Our goal is not to make any money, but to provide entertainment,” Hite said. “There is money set aside from tuition for student entertainment, so everyone can have a good time for free.”

Another way Hite keeps the cost down is by booking bands that are appropriate for the venue. While some bands get paid a few hundred dollars to perform, Hite said others play free of charge.

“If we get 200 people in the Rathskeller, it’s a good night,” Hite said. “Some groups pay thousands of dollars to bring big acts to Kent, but over time, we get more people to come see a free show where we paid the band $50 to play. I think people are just as happy.”

Bands and programmers agree that the Rathskeller is the best place to discover local music. While the reach of bands sometimes extends beyond Northeast Ohio, most bands are local and known around campus.

Martin said before he and his friends formed their band, he went to the Rathskeller for a weekly concert series in 2006, and the music inspired him to become a musician.

“A lot of the groundwork that it takes to start a band I learned from watching performances in the Rathskeller,” Martin said. “I wanted to be a music teacher, so I had no idea how to become a serious musician in a band.”

Martin said none of his band members went on to finish their degrees in music but instead took time off school to pursue their music careers.

Anyone over the age of 18 is welcome in the Rathskeller on weekend nights, and being a student is not required for entry.

With all the perks of a bar in downtown Kent but none of the downsides (21+ only, parking two blocks away in the snow and paying a cover charge after all the trouble), Hite said the Rathskeller is the perfect place for a night out.

“The performers can easily be entertainment for everyone,” Hite said. “Even if they don’t know the band that’s playing, it’s a free night out located right on campus, and it’s a great place to showcase live music. It’s not necessary to go fishin’ when we’ve got so much good stuff right here.”

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Melissa Dilley at [email protected].