Dayton is for lovers

Hawthorne Heights hosts music festival at Yellow Cab Tavern

Lead vocals, JT Woodruff, interacts with the crowd while performing; photo: Adam Fields

By Erin Callahan

Dayton is for lovers of music, lovers of community, lovers of friendship, and staying true to your roots. And the Dayton is for Lovers Festival is a celebration of these lovers, and in spite of the fact that Hawthorne Heights has played shows around the world, this has become its favorite.

The Dayton-born band will come home for the Dayton is for Lovers Festival at the Yellow Cab Tavern Friday, Sept. 22 starting at 6 p.m. This will be the third annual event, and after selling out the last two years, lead guitarist Mark McMillon hopes to continue it for years to come.

McMillon and Hawthorne Heights drummer Chris Popadak borrowed the idea for an all-ages hometown festival from their band The Story Changes, and the successful local holiday festival they’d throw every year. In between busy touring schedules, they finally made in happen in 2015.

“We did it at the Yellow Cab because it is a great location downtown with plenty of parking, and it would allow us to have all ages,” McMillon says. “We kind of just threw a big party with some of our favorite local bands and it was so much fun. We had such a great turnout that we decided to do it again last year for the second one, and it did even better and was still a lot of fun so we’ve decided to make it an annual thing now.”

McMillon notes it was important for the band to host an all-ages festival so anyone who wanted to attend, whether they were familiar with the music or not, could be a part of the festival.

“Keeping with that spirit, we’ve got some older bands on the bill like NightBeast, Sidekick Complex, bands that we’ve known over the years that play around the Dayton bar scene in the Oregon District. We’ve also got some younger bands on the bill like Crosley Court and You vs. Yesterday that are doing their own all-ages shows in town, and capturing that kind of vibe that reminded us of us when we were first starting out. So it was just really important for us to make it all ages so we can nurture the local scene that we grew up in.”

The festival has evolved over these few years and will host more food trucks this year, including the Wicked ‘Wich of Dayton, and it has expanded to two stages.

“No band is playing at the same time, but while the next band is setting up on one stage, there will be a band playing in the other room so music will constantly be going on all night,” McMillon says. “That’s also allowed us to have more on the bill to showcase more local bands from the area.”

When it came to choosing who was on the bill the first year, McMillon explains they decided to invite both old friends and new faces.

“All of us still live in Dayton, so even when we’re not on tour we still have a lot of friends in town,” he says. “We tried to do a mixture of some old friends that we wanted to see play and spend time with, some new faces that are part of new bands in town that are really good, and we also try to have some younger bands that are stirring up the scene and making things happen on their own. We wanted to reward those bands and have them play a show with us.”

With a total of 10 bands on the bill, Hawthorne Heights expects to offer a variety of unique sounds and styles, including their own.

“One of my favorite things about it is we’re not very sound specific,” McMillon says. “I know a lot of people have an idea of what Hawthorne Heights sounds like at this point, but we try not to be specific as far as getting the other bands. We try to have a wide array. It’s definitely rooted in hard rock and pop rock, but it’s kind of all over the place. And all of the bands are really good, so whether you’re a Hawthorne Heights fan, or you’re a Dayton music fan in general, or if you just like music and have never heard of any of these bands, it’s an affordable ticket, so you can come out and see a little bit of everybody.”

In the midst of touring—completing a series of shows throughout Canada and the U.S. and heading over to Australia and New Zealand before the festival—McMillon shares his excitement for the opportunity to be in the audience for a change, rather than just playing for one. After all, he says, there’s no music community like Dayton’s.

“Being on tour about 200 days of the year, I don’t get to go out and see a lot of these local bands as much as I’d like to,” he said. “We’ve gotten to witness firsthand a lot of music scenes around the world, and it’s interesting to see how the local community rallies around their music scene in different countries or different states in the U.S.—but I have yet to see anything that is like Dayton, Ohio. We feel very fortunate to be from Dayton. It’s been great to see a lot of old friends and new faces rally behind all these great bands that we’re playing with.”

Looking forward, McMillon shares that Hawthorne Heights will finish up a new record this year—release date is still undetermined—and he sees a promising future for the Dayton is for Lovers Festival. He says the band hopes to find ways to grow the festival, get even more of the community involved to welcome more vendors or showcase local artwork, and most of all, remain rooted in Dayton.

“Going all over the world, there are plenty of places that have become our favorites for lots of reasons—being able to travel there, eat the food—but overall I think coming home to Dayton and playing here, that has become our favorite show of the year,” McMillon says. “It’s very rewarding to have such a good turnout but also be able to see how excited all of the other bands are to be part of the show and how much fun we’re all having. This is where we started out, so we feel it’s very important to stay connected to Dayton and the Dayton music community, to keep our roots here.”

The Dayton is for Lovers Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 E. Fourth Street in Dayton. Tickets are $15. For more information, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at

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