It’s a warm summer evening in downtown Kent. A small crowd is gathered at the Home Savings Bank plaza to listen to the Lazy Dogs, a bluesy rock band with an alternative bent. An interesting mix of people are spread out on the plaza – the band’s inner circle and girlfriends, older folks who brought lawn chairs, curious on-lookers and general music fans.
The concert is one of the first in the new Thursday Night Live series, sponsored by Main Street Kent. It’s also part of a busy calendar of musical and community events held on the picturesque village green.
“One of our goals as a downtown revitalization organization is to get people downtown,” said Mary Gilbert, executive director of Main Street Kent. “And if we can get them downtown, hopefully they’ll shop and they’ll eat and our businesses will prosper. But we also just want the public to see downtown Kent as a fun place to hang out.”
Gilbert says the new series, which continues through the end of September, will showcase a wide variety of music. “There are a lot of fine music venues in the city, but we really wanted to take advantage of the summer weather and have some great music outside.”
Gilbert says folks often remind her about the 1970s — the glory days of live music in Kent. “I would really like us to get back to that kind of feeling downtown,” she said.
Erik Urycki, leader of the popular Kent-based band the Speedbumps, stopped by to check out the Lazy Dogs. “It’s nice that the community has something like this, where people can congregate and listen to local music,” said Urycki. “It really helps local musicians, but it’s also good for the community in general.”
Urycki visited the plaza that hot August night simply because he heard music in the air. “It’s just a nice opportunity to get out and spend some time downtown,” he said.
Lazy Dogs singer and guitarist Bill Dunphy, a 2008 Kent State graduate, said his band loves the park-like venue. “When you play at the bars at night it just feels so dark and closed in,” said Dunphy. “It’s so much fun being out here and being able to see everybody’s faces. The sound feels more open, too.”
The plaza has been the site of numerous concerts and activities since it was built in 2000, including Standing Rock Cultural Arts’ Sidewalk Cinema, holiday events, Kent Blues Fest shows, various festivals and even weddings.
The bank’s own Home Heritage Concert series presents music on the last Thursday of the month from May to September. This year’s offerings, which have included the Bob Hoefler Big Band and acclaimed British vocalist Helen Welch, have been more popular than ever.
This year also marked the first time the Kent Communiversity Band played the plaza. A capacity crowd packed the venue on July 7 to hear the ensemble’s fun mix of light classics, show tunes and marches.
Home Savings Bank President and CEO Howard Boyle said the bank has been presenting music downtown for more than 20 years.
“We used to put on lunchtime concerts at the gazebo next to the Pufferbelly,” Boyle said.
When the opportunity to build a larger venue presented itself, the bank stepped up. “We always thought downtown Kent should have something like it, so we put our money where our mouth was,” Boyle said. “We feel it’s a nice gift to the community.”
One of the bank’s goals in building the plaza was to spur more concerts and activity. Boyle admits that, at first, he was a bit disappointed with the results. But now the schedule is filled with a diverse line-up of concerts and events that is fulfilling his vision.
Tonight at 7 p.m., the band Everything Stood Still plays as part of the Thursday Night Live series. Other upcoming concerts include the Western Reserve Community Band performing a special Sept. 11 memorial concert on Sept. 8.
But as Boyle points out, you don’t have to attend a concert to enjoy the simple pleasures the location offers.
“The trees have grown so now you can just sit in the shade and watch downtown go by,” he said.