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There’s no perfect formula for connecting artists and audiences. But if there were one, the secret ingredient that distinguishes nuisance from ....noise would probably be the venue itself. Maybe that’s why serious musicians and their faithful followers are driving in droves to a former furniture store out in Newark for craft beer and cocktails before [...]
J.R. McMillan

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There’s no perfect formula for connecting artists and audiences. But if there were one, the secret ingredient that distinguishes nuisance from ….noise would probably be the venue itself.

Maybe that’s why serious musicians and their faithful followers are driving in droves to a former furniture store out in Newark for craft beer and cocktails before settling in for shows that defy expectations at any decibel.

Unlike an aging arena or basement bar, Thirty One West was built for music back in the days when Newark was known as “Little Chicago” for its robust theater scene. But after decades of decline, the satellite city has been torn between playing second fiddle to a tempting metropolis just over the horizon or forging its own destination identity. The dance hall days are long gone, save this one last ballroom that happened to find a second life as a low-frills furniture store waiting to be rediscovered and reinvented.

“During construction, we did a series called the Ballroom Revival Sessions. We wanted to share with folks where we were in the process and were eager to have music in the space and hear how it sounded,” explained Tom Atha, champion of Newark’s own larger revival and a familiar face for anyone who’s ever been to Thirty One West.

The Church Street “project” (as it was locally known) included a barbeque joint, a yoga studio, a play café, and an art space anchored by Atha’s alma mater, Denison University. But the second-story live concert venue and street-level bar are the jewels in this downtown crown of urban renewal.

It didn’t take long for word to get out that there was acoustic street cred in their quirky old ballroom with a bar in both the basement and the balcony (ironically replicating the feel of a house show in a space that once sold couches and loveseats). Perhaps that’s why acts that could play anywhere are reconnecting with their roots in a venue that actually brings artists and audiences together outside the outerbelt.

“For me, the biggest part of choosing a venue is whether the audience can hear the show as we intend it. You don’t want it loud, and reverberant, and noisy. I really prefer to have a listening environment,” revealed Steven Page, who recently played his first gig at Thirty One West. The fearless former front man for Barenaked Ladies knows what makes a room and an audience both hum. “I’m pretty aware of the fact that my audience isn’t 22 anymore. They’re not going to want to come see me and stand on a concrete floor for five hours.”

Many musicians often have only rudimentary information about a venue before playing there for the first time—city and capacity might be it. Bookers and promoters schedule the shows. One delivers the talent, the other the audience. But when artists are impressed by the right place, or turned off, everyone tends to hear about it.

“Lots of artists compare notes, especially the horror stories. But if there’s a new venue opening up in town, or one that’s developing a new reputation, you automatically share those experiences with other musicians,” Page noted. “I’ll go to my agent and say I really want to play there again—and that helps get more acts booked there as well.”

Every venue has a different vibe, and Thirty One West seems to occupy the fabled Goldilocks zone right in the middle, large enough to achieve critical mass, yet small enough for the shared experience not to get lost.

“If a room is acoustically dead, some songs won’t have the same kind of expansive feeling they would in a more lively room. And if a venue is really noisy, it’s harder for us to hear ourselves onstage. If notes go out and wash around the room, we may have to choose songs that require less precision. The strokes are broader,” Page explained. “Sometimes we’ll play in a place that’s really ornate, and you can tell an audience is intimidated by that. They aren’t as expressive right off the bat, so you have to work a little harder for them to feel less self-conscious, let go, and enjoy the show. I like those challenges. Honestly, I like having to work for every bit of applause.”

This is where Thirty One West really ups the ante for concert venues, and is a credible threat for the predictable digs folks are used to in Columbus. Techs know the room, so artists are also at ease, tuning the whole hall like one giant instrument instead of turning everything up to 11 and hoping for the best.

“The folks at Thirty One West told us it was the first time for a lot of people there at the show, so hopefully connecting with a new clientele will help build that core audience. For us, the staff and crew were great, easy to work with, from the monitors to the PAs. They were helpful and hands on and really knew how to work their equipment,” Page revealed. “That’s a big difference.”

Even so, old habits are tough to break with some tours that tend to look past smaller shows or locales, despite the increased attention from performers and their patrons.

“It could be daunting initially to attract acts that are used to playing right in Columbus. It’s a beautiful building, aesthetically and acoustically. That’s what’s going to win them over. It’s such a great listening room—without being precious about it,” Page opined. “I feel I have to earn people’s quiet. But if it’s a talky room, maybe it’s because audiences can’t hear us as well. Everyone here was relaxed, enthusiastic, and into the show. That’s what the right venue can do. It’s not just the building; it’s the audience it attracts.”

However, the ballroom is only part of what distinguishes Thirty One West from your typical concert hall. It’s about building that elusive connection that doesn’t fade away after the encore.

“We started the 31 Club when we launched, which is our $100 membership….We do member appreciation shows, there are discounts on our bar and our merch, we open access to ticket sales early, and give away tickets,” Atha explained. “This past year, we extended our membership to include a Season Pass at a $500 level. That also includes two general admission tickets to every show for the calendar year.”

Imagine buying concert tickets like Netflix. Instead of only going to see the bands you know, you’re more likely to discover new ones—and that’s kind of the point.

“Folks were coming out to shows they never would have otherwise. If we have enough members who do that, we can take bigger risks as a music venue, and do a better job curating, if we know there is a core audience to support it,” Atha said.

For details on upcoming shows at Thirty One West, or to see their Ballroom Revival Sessions, visit thirtyone-west.com

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Community

Cedar Point, Kings Island are suing to get you back

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It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Columbus Zoo & Aquarium are allowed to re-open but Cedar Point and Kings Island have been snubbed in Gov. Mike DeWine’s most recent announcement that Ohio’s entertainment venues were allowed to re-open.

After being left out of the party, Cedar Point, Kalahari Resort and Kings Island sued the director of the Ohio Department of Health Thursday, arguing that Dr. Amy Acton doesn’t have the authority to keep the state’s amusement parks and waterparks shut down and in doing so is violating the park’s rights.

The lawsuit was brought by attorney Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. The county health departments for both parks were also named in the lawsuit.

No word yet from the Ohio Department of Health as to when, or if, either amusement park will be allowed to open in June.

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Arts & Culture

See what’s re-opening: Entertainment venues get June 10 go-ahead

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Who would’ve thought that people would be getting excited about a roller skating rink reopening in 2020?

As far as keeping ourselves entertained, Gov. Mike DeWine blessed the state with wonderful news on Thursday. DeWine announced that certain entertainment facilities would be able to reopen under certain health and safety restrictions starting June 10.

Skate Zone 71 has already reopened as of today, but there’s still a handful of entertainment venues who have had to hold off on letting people back in until next Wednesday.

Those venues include:

  • Aquariums
  • Art galleries
  • Country clubs
  • Ice skating rinks
  • Indoor family entertainment centers
  • Indoor sports facilities
  • Laser tag facilities
  • Movie theaters (indoor)
  • Museums
  • Playgrounds (outdoor)
  • Public recreation centers
  • Roller skating rinks
  • Social clubs
  • Trampoline parks
  • Zoos

Below are a few we know are re-opening next week. Check back for more next week!

  • Otherworld  — The immersive art installation that took Columbus by storm in 2019 is set to return on June 11, according to the venue’s webpage. Otherworld will be operating at a capacity of one visitor per 160 square feet, or around 20 percent of the regular admittance.
  • The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomes back members beginning on June 12, 13, and 14, and all guests starting on June 15. The Zoo will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and all Zoo visits (including for Members) will require a dated, timed ticket to help ensure that social distancing and other precautions are followed appropriately.
  • Skate 71 is gearing up for re-opening, according to its Facebook page. It’s currently selling tickets for Adult Night Skating on June 11. Buy them here.
  • The Chiller is also prepping for re-opening and has been selling passes for various sessions since June 1. You can learn more about grabbing some time at the rink here.
  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will reopen its operations to visitors on Saturday, June 13. The reopening includes all of the Conservatory's interior biomes and outdoor gardens, filled with colorful summer horticulture displays and topiaries. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the annual Bonsai exhibition and the Conservatory’s entire collection of Dale Chihuly glass artwork.
     
    For more information and updates on the Conservatory, please visit fpconservatory.org or follow the Conservatory on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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Community

Updated hours for North Market as first Farmers’ Market of the season opens Saturday

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Get excited Columbus foodies - this Saturday marks the beginning of North Market’s Farmers’ Market season! The Farmers’ Market will tantalize your taste buds every Saturday this summer through October, from 8 a.m. until noon at the North Market outdoor plaza at 59 Spruce Street.

During the coronavirus pandemic, North Market provided customers with fresh pick-up bundles. Now they’ve updated their operating hours to give consumers who want to shop again a chance to pick their own culinary delights.

"The hope is that a gradual reopening will strike a balance between the desire to serve the public and still respect the very real health concerns still shared by merchants, public, and staff," said Rick Harrison Wolfe, North Market's executive director, in a press release Thursday.

The updated hours, which will go into effect this Sat., June 6, are as follows:

  • Monday - Tuesday: closed
  • Wednesday - Friday, Sunday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

All of those in attendance will have to observe the following guidelines as outlined in a press release by North Market:

  • North Market's mask requirement that applies to indoor merchants and guests will also apply to all outdoor vendors and guests.
  • Access to each farmers' market booth will be limited. Markings on ground will indicate this requirement and will show the distance required between people. Only one person/group traveling together may be in each box at a time.
  • Several farms and vendors will offer contact-free shopping and pre-orders. North Market asks that guests pre-order and plan out shopping trips when possible. This helps keep crowds to a minimum and lines moving smoothly.
  • Farms and vendors will provide hand sanitizer for guest use.
  • North Market farms and vendors are committed to helping prevent the spread of illness by washing hands frequently, covering coughs/sneezes, staying home when sick, and avoiding exposure to others who are sick. We ask that all guests follow the same protocols and do not visit North Market or the Farmers' Market if feeling ill.
  • North Market farms and vendors will continue to strictly follow all local public health guidelines, safety protocols, and best practices.

If you’re interested in which merchants will be open on what days, North Market has been dedicated to providing you with that information during the pandemic. You can find the list, which is updated daily, here.

Although there are still limitations on indoor seating, outdoor seating on the porch and the farmers’ market plaza are currently available.

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