The New Sound of the Old Goodyear Theater Could Transform East Akron

Sep 22, 2016

The 90-year-old Goodyear Theater has reopened as a new concert venue
Credit Amanda Rabinowitz / WKSU

The old headquarters of one of Northeast Ohio’s iconic companies is drawing big music acts to what had been a desolate area of East Akron. WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz examines the viability of the newest music venue: Akron’s Goodyear Theater

Nearly 100 years ago, the Goodyear Theater served as a space for company and stockholder meetings, sales conferences and other employee and civic gatherings.

An untapped music city
Now, the theater at the old Goodyear headquarters has been revamped and reopened with the rock band the Smashing Pumpkins. Goodyear Theater is a linchpin in the redevelopment of that area east of downtown Akron along I-76. The Cleveland-based production company Elevation Group is leading the venture. President Denny Young believes Akron is a largely untapped area to attract concert goers:

"If you drew a circle around downtown Cleveland, half of that circle is going to be in Lake Erie. If you drew a circle around downtown Akron, half of that circle is Canton, New Philadelphia and south. You can draw from so many places."

The anti-Live Nation
Young says he’s spent his career building relationships in the music industry – first at Cleveland concert production company Belkin and then at sports marketing company IMG. Which is why he says that despite being a small, independent company, Elevation Group can sell big acts on the idea that Akron is cool.

"We’re not Live Nation. We’re not AEG. Those are multi-billion dollar companies. And there are a number of artists that still support being independent."

Since its opening, the 1,500-seat Goodyear Theater has had singers Jason Isbell and Gavin DeGraw. And that’s one of two concert halls. Rocker Bret Michaels was the first to play in the slightly bigger Goodyear Hall, which used to be a company gymnasium. But, Young acknowledges they’re not going to have big name acts every night.

The advantage: A local scene
University of North Texas researcher Michael Seman specializes in music as it relates to urban planning and public policy. He agrees Goodyear has an advantage over concert venues like House of Blues and Blossom Music Center that that are partnered with juggernaut entertainment companies like Live Nation.  He says being independent gives them the freedom to tap into Akron’s local music scene.

"You can have Smashing Pumpkins, which is awesome, but who is the next Smashing Pumpkins that is rehearsing in the basement of someone’s home in Akron? Let’s find them and give them a chance to be on stage and development. This can be done with matinee shows, off nights."

The Ohio Weather Band is a rock group that’s been together for about four years. They mostly play in small clubs in Akron, Canton and Cleveland, but lead singer and guitarist Corey King, who recently saw folk/rock band Dawes at Goodyear, says getting to play there would be a step up.  

"As a local band, it’s a very slow, outward build. I mean we would like to get to the point where we’re just playing theater shows or doing a theater tour, or something. So, I think starting in the area is achievable."

Elevation Group’s Denny Young says he’s open to working with smaller venues in Akron, like Musica, to get local bands on his stage.

Competition with Cleveland?
Young says he's going to continue to work to attract big names to Akron…and that could create a little bit of competition with venues in Cleveland, like the Agora.

Cleveland's Agora theater has been around nearly a century
Credit Wikipedia

The historic Agora east of downtown is independently owned and about the same age and holds as many people as Goodyear -- but much different. While Goodyear has new, sleek red seats, a fresh coat of paint, redesigned lobby, lighting and a booming sound system, the cavernous Agora prides itself on being a bit gritty, with lobby walls covered in graffiti and stickers, creaky floorboards and industrial-sized fans to keep it cool.

Mike Tata books mostly hard rock and metal acts there and says the talent, not the venue, is what’s important. "It’s about what the artist is, and as long that show is effectively promoted, as long as the word is out there, it doesn’t really matter where your location is; it’s about who’s on that stage that night."

University of North Texas researcher Seman says there’s plenty of good music to go around in Northeast Ohio. "Cleveland right now may be ebbing, but again it’s going to be flowing again and Akron can weave its way into that so that the ebbs and flows are cyclical and eventually the rising tide lifts all boats."

So, he says, there may be room for Cleveland and Akron and even smaller communities in Northeast Ohio to work together to become a regional music hub. Still, both Goodyear’s Denny Young and the Agora’s Mike Tata say a little healthy competition is good, for everyone.