Celebrating local flavor

Joel Tianello

Heritage Fest brings Kent together

Kent city residents enjoy various fair foods in the midway in downtown Kent Saturday afternoon for Kent’s Heritage Festival. PHOTOS BY ALLIEY BENDER | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

      The 11th Annual Heritage Festival and Kent Bicentennial was a chance for Kent State students to celebrate Independence Day weekend with thousands of other Portage County residents.

The event included dozens of musical acts performing on three stages, as well as a classic car show, historic train rides and a fireworks display.

The streets of downtown Kent were closed off and lined with craft booths, food vendors and games for children.

Senior geography major Michael Ardnt headed down to the Heritage Festival early in the afternoon to catch local music and art.

“When you first get to Kent State, you think the campus is the whole town,” said Ardnt, who has now lived off campus for several years. “Stuff like this reminds you that there was a town here before the university. This place has a culture all its own.”

Dan Smith, executive director of Kent Chamber of Commerce and Heritage Fest co-chairman, also heads Kent’s United Services Organization, a group of nine local non-profit organizations that organized this year’s Heritage Fest.

“This year we had a great turnout, and you couldn’t ask for better weather,” Smith said.

Near the corner of Water and Main streets, a booth displaying Kent State blue and gold offered cotton candy and bottles of water for festival-appropriate prices.

“Raising Money for the Child Development Center,” the sign promised.

The Center Family Connection, a parent-teacher advisory board that works to buy playground equipment for the Child Development Center on the Kent State campus, ran the charity booth for its third year.

Inside, Director Carol Bersani spun cotton candy and explained their purpose.

“We bought all the playground equipment you see at the center now. It cost nearly $8,000,” Bersani said. “The next set will cost 15 thousand. We just do this for the kids.”

On the Zephyr patio, patrons didn’t need to need to be near one of the three stages to enjoy live music in the afternoon.

Sixteen-year-old singer and songwriter Chittlin’ performed “It’s a Shame,” one of her original songs, in a set for dozens of patrons, including her older brother, David Mayfield (known to many simply as “bass boy”), mother Valerie Fay Mayfield and father David Lee Mayfield.


Mayfield and Chittlin’ both perform in downtown Kent on a regular basis and all four family members make up local bluegrass band One Way Rider, who played later that night at The Kent Stage.

“We’ve been playing together for 14 years,” said David of the family band, “though Chittlin’ didn’t join until she was eight.”

While this was the second appearance at Heritage Fest for One Way Rider, this was the first time Chittlin’s had a solo performance at the festival.

“I love the band,” said Chittlin’. “But I definitely prefer playing solo.”

“Playing at a festival is just fun,” David said as he watched his younger sister perform. “Plus, you reach a lot of people you normally wouldn’t.”

At the top of the Main Street hill, The Kent Stage hosted an all-day line up, free to the public, as part of the festival.

“We wanted to be open as part of the community,” said Rachelle Carlton, co-director of The Kent Stage.

Festival-goers who slipped into the Stage to escape the heat were treated to local acts including Guy Pernetti, Work in Progress and the aforementioned One Way Rider.

Carlton was also happy to see the booths and attractions moved further up the hill this year.

“Part of the festival is bringing people downtown,” she said. “So why shouldn’t all of the businesses benefit? We had a lot more walk-through traffic today and, though it may have been free, a lot more people know we’re here.”

A few stores down, Lasso the Moon was not only enjoying a boost in foot traffic, but a boost in sales as well.

“We’re doing great business today,” said Leah Tonin, former Kent State student and Lasso general manager for her second Heritage Fest.

“You’d think all of those booths of jewelry and crafts would have hurt us,” Tonin said. “But they didn’t.”

George Istocki, proprietor of Europe Gyro Pizza, spent the day enjoying the festival with his wife, Mary, and daughter, Sonja, rather than worrying about sales.

“I doubt all these gyro venders are helping my food sales,” Istocki said, chuckling. “But, the bar does pretty good business at these type of things. Who cares. I’m just here to have fun.”

While One Way Rider continued performing inside The Kent Stage, others like Istocki, Smith and Ardnt watched the fireworks display.

Afterward, festival-goers fought traffic while city workers set about clearing the streets of downtown Kent.

Contact general assignment reporter Joel Tianello at [email protected].