Live Music Drawing Visitors to Downtown Canton

By Dan Kane

Lisa Sims liked what she experienced when strolling along Cleveland Avenue NW in downtown Canton on a recent Friday night.

“It’s nice to hear live music when you’re downtown. It’s definitely a different vibe,” said Sims, owner of the downtown restaurant-lounge Cork & Canvas on 3rd. “It gives you that big-city feel, and I like it a lot.”

The Canton Music Block, a major new initiative of ArtsinStark and Visit Canton, aims to present a range of live music on Friday and Saturday evenings at venues along Cleveland Avenue between Second and Fourth Streets NW and nearby, with music outdoors as well.

“We’re spending six months rebranding those two blocks as the ‘Canton Music Block,’ and we’re hustling like crazy to make it work,” said Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark. “We want you to see live music, hear live music and feel live music.”

About $60,000 in Visit Canton grant money is being used to market downtown as a weekend music destination for tourists outside Stark County.

“When the Stark County commissioners increased the bed tax (collected at hotels), they dedicated 1 percent to the arts, and this comes from that,” Hankins said. “We’re spending another $30,000 hiring musicians.” Some of the live music is being subsidized by ArtsinStark.

The official venues along the music block are Buzzbin, George’s Lounge, Avenue Arts Marketplace, Lucca, Cork & Canvas on 3rd and The Auricle, scheduled to open later this summer at the former Sports Therapy site. Hankins said there could be musicians set up on the sidewalk. Marketing and schedules for the music block will include listings for other downtown venues that offer live music, including Grapes in a Glass, Martini Lounge at Market Square, Whiskey Alley and Passion Blues.

An exciting development for the music block has been a large, yet portable, stage Kempthorn Motors purchased with help from the Stark Community Foundation that has been made available to ArtsinStark. The covered stage measures 20 feet by 24 feet and can be raised hydraulically in three minutes. Hankins described the stage, which can be rented for a nominal fee, as “a total gift and marketing initiative for the region.”

show during June’s First Friday, for recent weekend concerts on the music block by the Brighter Side blues band and the Savoy Big Band, and at Vintage Canton. It will be placed in the parking lot between Buzzbin and Fronimo’s Downtown.

“You can park your car, get a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants, then wander between all these different locations and hear tons of genres,” said Tricia Ostertag, vice president of marketing and events for ArtsinStark. “It has been really nice to see all these business owners on the same page, marketing the Canton Music Block together.”

At Cork & Canvas, Sims said, she has gone from booking music one Friday a month to every Friday night and is considering adding music on Saturdays if traffic increases.

Hankins said a plan is underway to book a larger-draw band from outside the area once a month for an outdoor concert-party on the Kempthorn stage.

The Canton Music Block was the brainchild of Mike Nasvadi, owner of Buzzbin and Cultural Coffee & Waffles, both in the neighborhood.

“Mike went to Robb and said, ‘We’d like to amp this up a bit,'” Ostertag said.

New Canton Music Block signage, spotlighting stars who have played in Canton over the years, from Bob Dylan to Annette Funicello, is being installed, Hankins said. Local artist Joseph Close is creating — from musical instruments and metal — a portable sculpture that will be moved to various rooftops.

Ally Bussey, president and CEO of Visit Canton, said, “I’m very excited about (Canton Music Block). We know live music and festivals are a huge draw for visitors outside Stark County. We love our locals, but our mission is to target markets outside of Stark County within an hour-drive radius.”

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