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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



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

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Arts & Culture

Ohio animator creates tribute, parody video of DeWine & Acton

Wayne T. Lewis, Publisher



Video at bottom of story

About three weeks ago, when the world was starting to fall apart, Dave Stofka was looking for something to take his mind off the stream of daily bad news. A freelance web developer and animator since 2007, Stofka had just the idea.

"I watched Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton's press conferences, and all the Facebook comments I was reading conveyed a sense of great appreciation of their leadership. At some point I jokingly thought to myself that all they need is a theme song. Growing up in the days when every show had a theme song, the "Laverne & Shirley" theme popped into my head for some reason, said Stofka.

With some encouragement from his wife, he dug into the project putting to work his previous experience making animated parodies. Stofka says he put about 100 hours over 2.5 weeks into the video project.

"I knew technically how to pull it off. The jokes started flowing the more I worked on it and bounced ideas off my family and a couple friends. It snowballed from there," said Stofka.

The 1:20 video offers a light-hearted take on the state government's efforts - led by DeWine and Acton - in combating the coronavirus pandemic. The video is based on a hilarious take on the "Laverne & Shirley" theme song, performed by Stofka's friend, Elisa Grecar.

"My goal in this was to bring smiles to people's faces. It's so easy to focus on the negative and difficult to focus on the positive -- not just in times like this but in life in general. I love that Ohio's motto is "With God, all things are possible" -- it made a perfect tagline at the end -- and personally it has given me a lot of hope to get through this," added Stofka.

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Arts & Culture

CCAD Spring Art Fair goes virtual

Mitch Hooper



The COVID-19 outbreak has all but canceled every event slated for April, but that isn't stopping the Columbus College of Art and Design from finding ways to safely move forward. Though there won't be an in-person Spring Art Fair this year, folks can still support these students and their artwork through the first ever virtual installment of the showcase.

Spanning April 10 to April 12, the CCAD Spring Art Fair will have its students projects, designs, and creations available for purchase online. The day kicks off on Friday at 5 p.m. and ends Sunday at midnight. All proceeds from the event will go directly to the artists, makers, and designers.

CCAD is also running a giveaway for anyone who makes a purchase during the Art Fair. If a visitor spends $50 or more and posts their receipt (without their personal information visible) to Instagram with the hashtag #CCADArtFair, they will be entered in to win a $50 gift certificate to CCAD’s Continuing & Professional Studies classes. Three winners will be selected randomly on April 13.

To find out more about the Art Fair, visit

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Listening In Place: The story behind the front porch cello concert heard around the world

Linda Lee Baird



Inspired by scenes from Italy of socially distancing neighbors standing on balconies, singing together, Clintonville resident Rebecca Tien (who is also a longtime (614) contributing photographer) had an idea for how her family could make a difference in their neighborhood. Across the street, Tien’s elderly neighbor Helena Schlam was under a self-imposed quarantine due to the coronavirus. Tien knew Schlam loved classical music, and she also knew her children, Taran, nine, and Calliope, six, had to keep practicing on their cellos, even if the school orchestra was canceled for the foreseeable future. So Tien planned for her kids to hold a concert for Schlam on her large front porch, keeping a safe distance away.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

If you were anywhere near Twitter that day, you know what came next: another neighbor, Jackie Borchardt, tweeted a clip of the performance. And thanks to Borchardt’s many followers in the media, (she is a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer), the Tiens’ performance exploded across the internet. Taran and Calliope soon landed on national news broadcasts from NBC, CBS, and CNN, as well as in Time magazine and The Washington Post. The story was retweeted by George Takei and the kids’ cello idol, Yo-Yo Ma. 

Now that their 15 minutes of fame is winding down, (614) caught up with Calliope and Taran to learn what the experience was like. 

Turns out, they found fame not only early in their lives, but also early in their cello careers. Both began playing in fall 2019, with Taran joining his school orchestra, and Calliope taking private lessons (Taran soon began doing the same). It’s an instrument the Tiens took to naturally. 

“I tend to speed ahead a lot,” Taran said. “I printed out the Bach cello suite and I’m working on that. I bought new music that’s really advanced today and I probably can’t play it but I want to because I always want to.” 

It’s the music they can make on the cello that motivates them. "I just really love the sound,” Calliope said. Taran adds that when he was younger, he pretended almost everything was a cello.   

With that motivation, they took the Suzuki Level One cello book over to Schlam’s for their concert.  “We played multiple songs. One was a Bach minuet. And then there was Twinkle Twinkle,” Taran said. Although he’s the more advanced musician of the two, having played four years of classical guitar before picking up the cello, part of coming together under quarantine circumstances means playing together. In this case, that meant they stuck to songs both of them were comfortable with from Calliope’s book. The song they became internet famous for was called “Song of the Wind.” 

Even before the tweet that changed their lives, the Tiens knew they were about to play for their first international audience when they made their way to Schlam’s porch. Schlam had her relatives in Israel on FaceTime; she wanted them to see what her neighbors were doing for her, and told the Tiens their music would be heard around the world. (Little could they have predicted that it would also be broadcast on the BBC a few days later.)

When the news coverage began, the Tien family was surprised, but Taran and Calliope took to it pretty well. “It was really, really exciting!” Taran said. “I was, like, feeling a little shy, but also pretty excited,” Calliope added.  

Rebecca was concerned all the attention might be too much for her neighbor during her period of isolation, but Schlam enjoyed it,  telling Rebecca, “I feel like a little kid. I guess I like all the attention. I think this is wonderful.”

Taran and Calliope had different replies when asked about the best thing to come out of this for them. For Taran, it was the retweet from his cello hero, Yo-Yo Ma. “It was literally the best thing ever. Like, I’ve really wanted to meet Yo-Yo Ma and play with him and stuff, but, at least this is a step towards that.” Meanwhile, Calliope said she was glad to make her neighbor happy.

One reason the concert resonated across the internet and around the world is that the Tiens managed to find joy and connection during a time when both are in short supply. So what advice do the kids have for others trying to navigate this moment? “Play a musical instrument. Sing. Do something you really like. And just do one of your favorite hobbies and don’t get bored and have a good attitude and be kind to everybody,” Taran suggested.  

And remember at the end of the day, this moment is about all of us; our own health and happiness is tied into that of our neighbors. For Calliope, the best part was helping Helena. “She was like ‘bravo! bravo!’” 

Taran also remained focused on the bigger picture. “This is all for Helena. It’s all to make her happy. Not to get all famous and stuff. It’s cool that all this is happening, but it’s just for Helena.”

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