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Kent Stage Quietly Growing its Music Audience

Big-name acts draw crowds from afar

Since the Kent Stage opened in 2002, it has brought in a variety of well-known folk musicians to Kent.

Booking acts from folk singer Joan Baez to musician Stephen Stills, the Kent Stage has become known among the folk circuit, Kent Stage booking agent Tom Simpson said.

"We’re probably more famous in Nashville than we are in Kent,” Simpson said. “Within the music industry in New York and L.A., the major agencies all know who we are.”

Folk music has become a focus for the venue because of its relationship with WKSU 89.7 FM, Kent State University’s local National Public Radio station, Simpson said.

“WKSU had such a folk presence and they just fit naturally, that they were here and we were here and we could work together,” Simpson said.

The Kent Stage wanted to appeal to WKSU’s folk audience, Simpson said, so when frequently aired acts began to play at the location, WKSU began to promote concerts at the Kent Stage.

The Kent Stage started to book folk acts after the Kent State Folk Festival started to branch off into other cities, Simpson said. The city manager and the city community development director wanted to bring an audience to Kent, so they gathered Simpson and his colleagues, all Kent State alumni, to help. After buying the building from its previous owners, The Kent Stage came to fruition.

The venue began with folk artists who had a medium-sized audience. For the one-year anniversary, Tom Paxton played at the venue. The decision to book better known artists began when Joan Baez performed in March 2003.

After being asked to book Joan Baez, the venue decided to book a big act every year on its anniversary, Simpson said. Then it grew into a venue where big-named acts can play in a small, intimate place.

“If you’re playing, you’re … like, 5 feet away. The stage is about 3 feet tall and the person is right there,” Simpson said. “It’s like playing in a big living room.”

The Kent Stage has since expanded its repertoire to include diverse genres of music, from rock to reggae, country and blues.  Recent acts include Todd Rundgren, Little Feat, country singer Emmylou Harris and Glass Harp.

Kent State sophomore Joannah Morris said she saw a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Kent Stage instead of a different location.

“I like the local downtown Kent area and ambiance,” Morris said. “It’s very welcoming.”

Kent State freshman Sonja Dittmann said she saw pianist Vienna Tang, and felt “the acoustics there are really nice.”

“It’s more homey and it has a different feel to it than bigger concert spaces,” Dittman said.

The Kent Stage was named the best acoustic venue in northeast Ohio by the Plain Dealer in 2004, Simpson said. The location also tries to keep ticket prices down, with a $90 ticket for Glen Campbell as the most expensive price so far.

Booking big name acts, reasonable ticket prices and an intimate venue all put the Kent Stage on the map, Simpson said.

“It’s a small town environment and, as I say, we bring world class entertainment to Kent,” Simpson said. “And there are not many other cities in Ohio that can say that.”

Debra-Lynn Hook April 12, 2013 at 09:33 AM
So glad to see the "best acoustics" label. This, to me, is what makes Kent Stage stand out among the many music venues in the area. Stunning, stunning sound. Would love to also see some of more of the many smaller Indie bands represented at the Stage, which might bring in a whole new generation of music lovers. Keep up the good work, Tom and crew, and thanks!
Emmylou Fan For Life April 12, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Emmylou Harris performed at the Kent Stage recently? ever? When was this? You sure that's correct because there is no record of this anywhere and none of the Kent music folks are aware of this
Amanda May 20, 2013 at 09:42 PM
It's great to have a decently sized and historic venue like the Kent Stage in town bringing in big name talent but I feel like they miss a lot of potential clientele in erratic advertising. I really think they'd increase attendance, particularly with indie or those non-folk acts if they got a consistent and frequently updated social media presence together. Also, it'd be great if the venue was heated for paid winter events! If I'm paying $5 to see a "late night" film on a small projector I'd like to not be freezing even in my winter coat!

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