Hometown Rock Hall Inductee Dave Grohl Is a Catalyst for Warren’s Revival
Nestled behind a Burger King restaurant and craft brewery in is Dave Grohl Alley, a roadside attraction that has come to mean so much more to a committed group of Warren residents.
The alley, located on the east side of Main Avenue and south of West Market Street, is filled with murals and sculptures created by local artists. Each piece is a depiction of or nod to rockstar Dave Grohl, who was born in Warren in 1969.
The alley has come to represent the city of Warren's revitalization and a new generation’s efforts to redefine what was once a thriving industrial city.
Grohl has been the catalyst for this group of residents, artists and business owners to come together and make the alley more than just a tourist photo-op spot, but a go-to hangout for locals.
Grohl’s upcoming induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the second time means even more to this little strip of town.
“I see this as an arts-and-culture alley, and somewhere for people to come and learn about Dave Grohl," Carvin said. “There’s a lot of artwork and sculptures, but it’s also just a place to come and people to see what Warren is all about.”
Creating a tribute to a modern rock legend
Dave Grohl Alley was put together by the Dave Grohl Alley Committee, a nonprofit fiscal agent of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, in 2009.
It serves as both a space to showcase work by local artists and an homage to Grohl, who resided in the city until he was three years old.
His family moved to Virginia, and Grohl formed several bands before relocating to Washington, D.C., to join the punk-rock band Scream as its drummer.
Since then, Grohl has been involved in numerous television projects, won 16 Grammy Awards, became a New York Times bestselling author and will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Foo Fighters Oct. 30.
Grohl’s Northeast Ohio roots were a surprise to some local residents, including former Warren police sergeant Joseph O’Grady.
He learned this information from an Ohio DJ named Fred “Fast Freddie” Woak in 2007.
O’Grady devised the idea to create a tribute to Grohl to inspire young people living in Warren, a city in need of revitalization.
He wanted to turn a dark, trash-filled alley into a vibrant site commemorating a local rock hero in part because it was located near the city’s courthouse.
Warren residents banded together to clean up the alley and install lighting, and local artists painted murals of Grohl.
Dave Grohl Alley officially opened in August 2009, and Grohl was in attendance for a special dedication ceremony and accepted the key to the city.
Jim Fogarty owns 2 Ticks and The Dog Productions, whose backdoor leads out to the alley.
“The day [Grohl] showed up it was pretty much unannounced that he'd even be here, but thousands of people packed the square,” Fogarty said. “When he got up there and plugged that Martin in and played, the city went wild. It was like a private concert for Warren.”
Falling into disrepair
In the years since Grohl came to Warren to accept the dedication and entertain locals, the alley has become rundown.
The city has struggled to rebuild its image over the years.
Carvin said downtown Warren was only about 30% occupied when he moved there.
“A lot of the storefronts were empty. There was no activity down here. And not to say that Dave Grohl Alley was the catalyst for all of this, but it’s part of the puzzle of redeveloping your downtown,” Carvin said.
Carvin moved into an apartment in Dave Grohl alley in 2013 and became more heavily involved in the Dave Grohl Alley Committee.
“[The alley] was in pretty bad disrepair at that point,” Carvin said.
Artist Joel Eggert hand-carved a pair of 900-pound drumsticks that sit in the alley. They broke the Guinness World Record for the “World’s Largest Drumsticks”.
Over the years, the drumsticks and other artwork in the alley had fallen into disrepair, and proper lighting was an issue.
Josh Nativio runs All American Cards and Comics in Warren. The shop’s back door has led to the alley since 2008, before Dave Grohl Alley opened.
“Maybe the promise of Dave Grohl Alley wasn’t really fulfilled by all of us down here. It was like a lot of things around here; it was great ideas, great intentions, piss-poor follow through,” Nativio said. “When you’re living with something, you stop seeing it.”
Carver said there was a point in time when he was the only Dave Grohl Alley Committee member.
He added that he wasn’t much of a “Grohlhead,” a term used to describe diehard Dave Grohl fans, before moving to the alley.
“It wasn’t until he got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that I listened to his music, really,” Carvin said.
Fogarty agreed that he wasn’t a big Grohl fan before the alley opened.
“But after what he did and how uplifting it was to the local community that a major artist like him would take time to come here and play for us, I can't tell you how cool that was and just how down-to-earth and awesome of a guy he was,” Fogarty said. “I've been a big fan ever since.”
Fogarty added that Grohl has visited the alley with his daughter a few times over the year, unannounced.
A new effort is underway to revamp the alley and have it truly live up to its name, both to impress out-of-town visitors and inspire locals.
Raising funds to restore the alley’s artwork
A fundraiser has been set up to gain $75,000 for new exterior artwork, weather-resistant frames and signage to attract visitors to the alley and make it more noticeable.
The alley was vandalized a few years ago, and Carvin said the city came together to repair the damage.
“People were devastated. We had the entire community come together to fix it. All of the original artists touched up their artwork, residents came out and bought artwork that was displayed to help support the alley, and they paid an admission that day,” he said. “The entire city was invested in this alley. That was the starter for other activities happening.”
The committee wants to get an archway built to signify the entrance of the alley, as well as benches and more green space.
Right now, vehicles can still drive down the alley to get to local businesses, so it’s not set up to be an outdoor hangout spot just yet.
The city of Warren will repave the alley next year so more artwork can be added to the ground.
"The entire city was invested in this alley. That was the starter for other activities happening."
Carvin said there used to be artwork placed on the ground, but a sewer project knocked out most of it.
The giant drumsticks deteriorated, and two years ago, Ohio Edison donated telephone polls to help restore the sculpture.
A local chainsaw artist came in and carved the poles into drumsticks. Carvin said they are sanding them down and painting so they can last longer.
Around 15-20 artists are on board to help restore and produce new original artwork for the space.
Approximately $18,000 has been raised to revitalize the alley’s artwork.
Within the next six months to a year, the committee hopes to raise the full $75,000.
A brewery at the center of the revival efforts
Committee members, business owners and residents want to turn Dave Grohl Alley into a thriving hub for art and culture in Warren.
Modern Methods Brewing Co. is the hub of this revitalization, breathing new life into the alley and bringing people back downtown.
The brewery is located right in the alley, which spans 86.5 feet.
Although various businesses have backdoors that lead out to the alley, Modern Methods is the only establishment located right in the alley itself.
Adam Keck owns the brewery with his wife, Sarah Braun.
Both are ivy league alumni and moved to Warren while Keck was working for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.
Keck was raised in Warren and decided to stay in the area. Braun was able to find work in the city right away.
Keck was into homebrewing and community organizing. The couple got an apartment in Dave Grohl Alley and decided to open a business there.
“Maybe making your community better can also be starting a business, employing people and creating culture locally and making your town cooler,” Keck said. “It was really satisfying to write the postmaster general and become the first official address that they put in the record: 125 David Grohl Alley.”
Braun and Keck have since bought a house a few blocks away from Dave Grohl Alley.
Braun said she’s seen a shift in thinking about what the city could be for this generation and the next.
“I think it’s a really great example of what can happen in Warren because the residents really care about and take ownership of that process,” Braun said.
The brewery opened in March 2018, and the couple got 40 investors on board.
“They believed in a vision for a little scrappy brewery in downtown Warren,” Keck said.
Keck said that they didn’t want to become the “Dave Grohl brewery,” but they have embraced it in some ways.
The brewery has two beers that reference Grohl: “There Gose My Hero” and “Floating in the Dark,” which is tied to the Foo Fighters song “February Stars.”
Their head brewer is a huge Foo Fighters fan, and many “Grohlheads” regularly hang out at the brewery.
Keck said when he and Braun opened the brewery, they imagined downtown Warren would turn into an “entertainment district.”
“It’s an excuse to stop and see the area and ends up connecting people to something very real, even though they stopped for something that’s maybe a little silly,” Braun said.
Drawing visitors to downtown Warren
Turning Dave Grohl Alley into a hub for art, culture and entertainment requires input from around 15 businesses and 20 residents who live and work in the small area.
Carvin said a year ago, they put up string lighting across two portions of the alley.
“That was a huge improvement because there was no lighting back here,” Carvin said. “Since then, they installed these interactive LED lights.”
There are people from all walks of life, all over the country and even other countries who visit the alley, Carvin said.
Many Rock & Roll Hall of Fame visitors will stop by when they realize it’s only an hour from Cleveland.
More tourists may be drawn to the alley in light of Foo Fighters’ upcoming Rock Hall induction this month.
“It’s an excuse to stop and see the area and ends up connecting people to something very real, even though they stopped for something that’s maybe a little silly."
Modern Methods is planning a T-shirt release for the induction ceremony, which features a portrait of Grohl eating a hamburger and wearing a Burger King hat as a nod to the alley’s location.
The image of Grohl will include a Modern Methods beer can and Nirvana shirt.
The brewery has been growing, starting with three fermenters and now up to seven.
“Now we’re like little mice in a maze making beer every day,” Keck said.
Keck drew comparisons between running a business in Warren and Grohl’s early days with Nirvana.
“Starting a small band that’s touring across the country, it’s a grind and you’re watching dollars and cents and you’re building a following. And we’re living that right now. There are parallels there,” Keck said.
Keck said he grew up listening to Nirvana and Foo Fighters but didn’t consider himself a diehard fan.
Since “Grohlheads” often visit the brewery and ask Keck what his favorite song is, he’s “obsessively read” about Grohl and ordered his new book, “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music,” which chronicles his life from growing up in the Midwest to becoming a rock icon.
Grohl has relatives who still live in Trumbull County, and occasionally they will stop by to check out the homage to their loved one.