The jewel on Main

Adam Griffiths

Former Pretender Chrissie Hynde plays the Akron Civic Theatre

Rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis performs “Great Balls of Fire” as Akron native Chrissie Hynde, lead singer for The Pretenders, looks over him at the “Chrissie Hynde and Friends” concert at the Akron Civic Theatre Saturday. Leslie Cusano | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys


The lobby was bustling for the first time in years.

Former Pretender Chrissie Hynde and special guest Jerry Lee Lewis played to a full house Saturday night at the Akron Civic Theatre with a full line up of performers.

The concert was a benefit show, and participating artists donated all proceeds from ticket sales to the continuing revitalization of the 88-year-old venue. In addition to Hynde and Lewis, local artists If These Trees Could Talk, The Diffi Cult, Pat Sweany, Judah, The Bizzaros and The Numbers Band entertained audience members both old and young.

“Tonight we honor Akron, and we honor the Civic Theatre,” said Billy Soule, assistant for community relations to the mayor of Akron, who emceed the event. “This is about our home. Our town. Our Civic Theatre.”

Fans came from across the country for the event. Kent alumna Carrie Donahue was in town from Chicago to see the show that Hynde crafted herself.

“I can’t remember when I wasn’t a fan,” Donahue said of Hynde, who’s been the vocalist for The Pretenders since 1978.

Akron native Cindy Mullins and Jiblet Croft, her friend from Los Angeles, were also at the show for Hynde’s set.

“It’s great that she’s doing something to keep this place open,” Mullins said. “It’s the jewel on Main.”

Croft said the evening was reminiscent of events and projects in Los Angeles to renovate and revive burnt out communities such as Akron.

If These Trees Could Talk opened the night about fifteen minutes before the 8 p.m. showtime. Most seats were filled as The Diffi Cult rocked the stage next, featuring Akron Beacon-Journal columnist David Giffels and owner of the former Lime Spider Danny Basone.

“God Bless Akron,” shouted blues rocker Pat Sweany during his set. Sweany, who recorded his latest album, Every Hour is a Dollar Gone, in Akron, thanked audience members from out-of-town for supporting the city. Gospel, hip-hop Judah and Akron’s own The Bizarros took the stage next.

“Akron still knows how to party,” said Ralph Palmisano, president of the Akron Civic Theatre board of trustees, during intermission. “I want to thank everyone for being here tonight and kicking off this new age at the Civic.”

Half Cleveland and The Numbers Band kept the night going and got most of the audience out of their seats. As Hynde took the stage in what Soule called a “comeback to her beloved Akron,” everyone was on their feet.

Throughout Hynde’s performance, it was clear that Dorothy had effectively made her return to the Rubber City. Silence enraptured the audience throughout much of Hynde’s set, which she performed with fellow Pretender Adam Seymour.

“We love you Chrissie,” echoed through the auditorium on more than one occasion.

Throughout her performance, Hynde reminisced about life in Akron.

“This is for all those guys off Hickory street, for all the old timers,” Hynde said before performing “Biker.” “I know those houses are gone, but the spirit remains.”

Fellow Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis closed the evening out with his set, featuring “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Hynde and friends joined the audience, dancing on stage during the final number, “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

In the final moments of the night, as Lewis stood up, knocked over his piano bench and walked off stage, the instructions Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic gave the audience during intermission seemed to ring true.

“If there’s somebody in this town who says this place isn’t worth saving, then you be sure to tell them why we should.”

Contact off-campus entertainment reporter Adam Griffiths at [email protected].