Urban Nights Showcases Downtown Dayton
By Lara Donnelly
As the nights start to cool off and students head back to school, the city of Dayton is giving summer one last hurrah. On Friday, September 10 from 5 to 10 p.m., downtown Dayton, the Oregon District and the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood will be the stage for the free, bi-annual extravaganza that is Urban Nights. Artists, singers, musicians, dancers and bicyclists will be just a few among the crowds swarming the streets of downtown. Multiple performance venues will be set up at different places around the city, and some acts will simply take to the streets, dancing and singing on corners. Weather permitting, Hauer Music will release some pianos into the wild for Urban Nights adventurers to play, whether they are virtuosi who can perform the works of Mozart from memory or someone who just wants to plunk out “Chopsticks.” Molly Eaton, Downtown Dayton Partnership marketing manager, hopes the incorporation of pianos will help people “bring out (their) inner musician on the street. (They) can step right up and play a song.”
This community participation is a new development for Urban Nights, which started eight years ago as an art hop and housing tour. At the first event, says Eaton, there were about 700 attendees. Last May, at the most recent Urban Nights, over 30,000 people turned out to see the excitement. “The event continues to grow and attract more people,” says Eaton.
This edition of Urban Nights will feature more than just art galleries and snazzy real estate. “In the past,” says Eaton, “we’ve always advertised it as a walk on the artsy side. We’ve decided to add more interactive events.” Not only will there be pianos on the street corners, but you’ll find a chalk walk on Main Street, karaoke by the Kettering Tower, and free tap dance lessons at Courthouse Square and around the city.
During the chalk walk, chalk will be provided for free to anyone who wants to try their hand at sidewalk art. At the Spotlight on Second Stage, by the Kettering Tower, there will be an open call for karaoke fans from 6 to 9 p.m. All are welcome to step up and show off their pipes there, but for the truly ambitious, the Human Race Theatre Company is presenting a ‘70s Karaoke Contest at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. The first 30 people to sign up, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Loft, will compete for the chance to sing on stage before the Race’s December production of 8-Track: The Sounds of the ‘70s. The 30 contestants will be divided into three groups of 10 who will perform beginning at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. The championship round will commence at 9 p.m. Cash prizes of $250 (first place), $100 (second place) and $50 (third place) will also be awarded. All three finalists and possible other contestants will receive free tickets to the show. Dan Edwards of WDTN-Channel 2 will serve as host and University of Dayton law professor and former member of Sha Na Na, Dennis Greene, will judge.
In addition, the Community Stage, located at the corner of Third and Jefferson Streets, will feature local artists who have signed up for a 10-minute time slot to perform in front of the multitude of Urban Nights guests. At Gallery 510 Fine Art in the Oregon District, there will be a large easel set up out front, and any passersby will be invited to add to a large Zentangle drawing. The main hub of Urban Nights will be Courthouse Square, where the stage will be filled with various choirs (such as the Wilberforce University Choir and the Schuster Center Celebration Choir among others), big bands, and tap dancers from the Tap Factor.
Christopher Erk, founder of the Tap Factor, says that their 15 to 20 minute show will run the gamut from improvisation to choreographed routines, performed by all sorts, from students at Stivers School for the Arts and Wright State University, to local
“If you can reference the last show that we did,” says Erk, referring to the Tap Factor’s much smaller performance at a previous Urban Nights, “(this show) is a testament to the growth of the company.”
Most importantly, during the show, there will be 2-by-2 foot tap boards scattered throughout the audience. At the conclusion of the dancing, the performers will give a short lesson. “It will be like the first 15 minutes of a class they would take if they’ve never tap danced before,” Erk explains. His goal is to show people that tap is a relevant (and fun) type of artistic expression. “Tap dancing is easier, and more accessible and appealing, to a wider form of audience than (people) may think,” he says. “It’s more of an urban and accessible art form.” After the main Tap Factor show in Courthouse Square, dancers will disperse into the street with their 2-by-2 boards, each custom painted by local artist Mike Elsass of the Color of Energy Gallery, to teach anyone who wants to learn a little tap dancing.
Erk says that this year, there will be “more things happening in between staging
areas,” such as the Tap Factor’s impromptu lessons. Instead of an oasis of art, dance, and song that guests have to travel between, events will be happening all over the city, on stage and off, some large, some small. Opinions vary on the best way to see everything; the aforementioned Eaton recommends navigating Urban Nights on foot, but Andy Williamson disagrees. Williamson, the organizer of the Urban Bikes at Urban Nights program, says that the city is best seen from the seat of a bike. “The human body is able to interpret data at a speed no greater than 15 miles per hour, which is the average speed of a bicycle,” he says. The not-too-slow, not-too-fast pace of a bike allows for easy cruising, while letting riders “still have that intimate connection” with the surroundings, says Williamson.
The overall intent of Urban Bikes at Urban Nights is to “promote cyclists right to the road,” but the mass ride is also an easy and fun way to get an eyeful of the excitement. “It’s a pretty slow pace,” says Williamson, “and it is escorted by the Dayton police, and people drop in and out.” Everyone is encouraged to attend, as long as they can keep up. Parents are encouraged to attach buggies or seats to their bikes for smaller children.
The Urban Bikes at Urban Nights ride meets at Fifth Third Plaza at 5 p.m. Riders will head down Monument Street towards the Wright-Dunbar district, to “see some of the happenings.” The ride will end at Courthouse Square at 6 to 6:15 p.m., so that participants can take advantage of the information and entertainment that the Downtown Dayton Partnership will be offering there.
If walking or biking isn’t your style, there will be free event shuttles running from 5 to 10 p.m., to take visitors around downtown, to the Oregon District, and out to Wright-Dunbar.
Whether by bike, foot or bus, there is a wide range of things to do and see. With more than 100 participating galleries, restaurants, and organizations, it’s conceivable you might miss a few sights here and there. Even so, that’s all right, according to Eaton. “We want the community to experience all the unique places we have downtown that you can’t find anywhere else,” she says. “All these businesses are here all year round, and there’s so much to do during Urban Nights. We hope people will come back later.”
For more information about Urban Nights, visit online at www.DowntownDayton.org. Information can also be found by following Urban Nights on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/UrbanNightsDayton
Reach DCP freelance writer Lara Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org