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The House That Scott Built

A never-ending debate has loomed large for years: does Columbus need a “major music festival” to put it on the proverbial “map?” Last I checked, our city was on the “map,” but yet, despite several failed attempts to create something on the level of the next Coachella or Bonnaroo, a “major music festival”—with A-list artists [...]
Kevin J. Elliott



A never-ending debate has loomed large for years: does Columbus need a “major music festival” to put it on the proverbial “map?”

Last I checked, our city was on the “map,” but yet, despite several failed attempts to create something on the level of the next Coachella or Bonnaroo, a “major music festival”—with A-list artists from multiple genres, for whom there is a palpable excitement—has been elusive. Exactly what constitutes such an event is always up for argument as well, but PromoWest Productions founder Scott Stienecker seems as good a person as any to lead Columbus audiences into that promised land.

When the inaugural PromoWest Fest kicks off later this month, Stienecker will be nearing almost 40 years in the industry. While many may take the PromoWest machine for granted, Stienecker’s independent empire was built from the ground floor featuring plenty of iconic milestones leading up to what it is today. In 1983, his journey here began when he purchased the Agora Ballroom and re-opened as the Newport Music Hall—currently, the longest continually running rock club in America. Polaris Amphitheater (later Germain), launched in 1994, may now be a relic, but was once a beacon for larger-than-life tours and open-air entertainment. Stienecker’s most sustainable triumph of the last decade though has come with his Neil Avenue compound, which includes Express Live!, The Basement, and the A&R Music Bar, cementing Columbus as a permanent stop for prominent bands, rather than being dismissed as fly-over country. When he took on the daily operations of Cincinnati’s successful Bunbury Festival in 2014, the next logical step was to bring the same experience to the city where PromoWest began.

One measure of success for PromoWest has been the variety of talent it has secured over the years. Be it indie-darlings like Neutral Milk Hotel, or hip-hop giants like Kendrick Lamar, few music fans can feel left out. The PromoWest Fest is emblematic of that mix, boasting over 30 acts as huge as Modest Mouse and Snoop Dogg, under-the-radar artists like AlunaGeorge and Moon Taxi, and even locals on the cusp of national attention like Forest and the Evergreens and the Worn Flints.

I recently spoke with Stienecker about the launch and what it takes to compete with other cities who already lay claim to those coveted “major music festivals.”

What was the impetus for PromoWest Fest and how did you get the ball rolling?

Three years ago I met with Brian Ellis of NRI and talked about doing a festival in the Arena District. Then we got sidetracked when we purchased the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati back in 2014. After our first year of Bunbury in 2015 Ellis and Brian Ross of Experience Columbus met with us and asked, can you do a Bunbury type festival in Columbus. We said “yes.”

Hence, PromoWest Fest.

It seems like you’ve made the Bunbury Festival in Cincinnati hugely successful since taking over these past two years. To what do you owe that success and how do you translate that to what you’ll be doing in Columbus with PromoWest Fest?

It’s largely driven by the ability to land the acts and the sponsors. Bunbury was close to 50,000 attendees this year. Our goal for the first year of PromoWest Fest is between 30,000–40,000 attendees.

It’s hard to fathom that PromoWest is an “independent” company, given the scope and profile of the concerts you’ve brought to Columbus. Does that designation stunt your vision at all or prevent you from doing even more large scale events like this?

We are definitely an independent company—but that doesn’t stop us from needing to grow. Competition is always present from the big corporate players.

You’ve been in the industry for almost 40 years now. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the concert-going public?

The concert-going public tells us through social media what they want to see. Radio used to be the main driving force behind what people wanted to see. Now there are so many social media avenues.

Anyone in the line-up you’re most excited to see?


The first PromoWest Fest will take place July 15-17 in the Arena District. Visit for tickets and a complete line-up.


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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need




Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here:

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here:

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?




A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti



Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.

Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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