Keep on growin’

Dayton Music, Art & Film Fest expands to embrace city’s creative culture

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Shaun Flemming of Diane Coffee is also the drummer for Foxygen and a former child star. He will close the main stage on Sept. 19.

The Dayton Music Fest has been a staple of the local music scene for the past decade. Through its humble beginnings as a one-night affair and an eventual expansion to two nights and multiple venues, it has always seemed to be an event in a state of constant evolution.

The origin story stretches back to 2005 when Dan Clayton, Shawn Johnson, Andy Ingram and Will Leasure brought together the best musicians the city had to offer. Five years later, area legends Don Thrasher and then-Dayton City Paper editor Kyle Melton took the reins.

After heading it for five years themselves, it seemed like a logical time to again pass the torch.

“We knew Conor Stratton through his band Speaking Suns,” Melton says. “We felt like it would be a good idea to infuse the festival with some young blood and some new ideas. It had kind of been a very similar event for 10 years. Don and I had taken it as far as it could go and we didn’t really know how to take it to the next level, which we thought it deserved. We gave it to Conor and he’s proven so far that he’s setting it up to be a different more expanded idea, which we’re very excited about.”

Stratton essentially began working on the festival as the final notes faded from last year’s iteration. He worked with Melton and Thrasher in previous years and always thought about expanding the festival’s scope and reach.

“I always had ideas for the future,” Stratton says. “I had no idea they were planning on passing the torch. When they did, I had always thought there was room for growth in terms of community involvement and different types of cultural things—whether that’s food trucks, art, film or anything we could do to make sure that Dayton as a whole culturally is being expressed thorough this festival. That was something I really wanted to do.”

His first move was to call on an old friend to imagine what was possible.

Nancy Epling refers to Stratton as her best friend since second grade. The duo grew up in Yellow Springs and have been obsessed with music and arts for nearly as long. Their senior project was organizing a music, art and skate festival.

When Stratton told Epling about inheriting the festival, she felt like they had realized a childhood dream. Their first thoughts shot to pulling more than just musicians into the fold.

“I am a visual artist, but I’m very passionate about music,” Epling says. “We could bring in visual art and give local artists a chance to showcase their work and even sell it. We met with Shelly [Hulce] and the film thing came into it. We decided it was almost like a Dayton cultural festival.”

Hulce is the former executive director of FilmDayton and will curate the film selections. Where the music side of the festival has been able to organically grow over the past 10 years, the art and film side are basically functioning in their inaugural year. That means no film submissions were accepted this year. Instead, Hulce has stepped into the future with an eye firmly on the past.

“This is the experimental year,” Hulce says. “We’re doing a micro-cinema approach to it, which means we’ll have mostly fringe and independent stuff there. We’re going to spotlight first film of independent filmmakers from Dayton.”

The art and film portions will take place at K12 Gallery/Tejas. Films will be screened in the pottery room. The smell of dust and clay as patrons view the films will provide a multi-sensory experience and the industrial setting will echo some of the film selections.

Audio and video equipment is being supplied by DATV.

The visual arts portion will feature concert posters, music photography and traditional hanging galleries. In addition, Epling has been working on an interactive installation titled “Gem City: What Does It Mean To You?” It offers attendees the opportunity to not only consume the art but to help create it as well.

Pinning down how Dayton became known as the Gem City is no easy task. Epling’s thought was to expand on a comic by local artist Ted Rall titled “Why My City Is Gone: The Math behind the Gutting of Dayton.”

“We’re trying to bring all of Dayton’s elements together into one thing so we can start a dialog about the issue of Dayton being a dying city,” Epling says. “Everyone is trying so hard to lift it back up and preserve the history we do have.”

Friday night will feature a yoga session set to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Saturday will bring a busking stage in front of Omega Music.

While the festival’s expansion branches into other creative areas, this is still a music-centric event. Stratton wanted to also expand the focus of the music to include not only a larger portion of southwest Ohio, but to bring in national artists as well.

Headliner Shaun Fleming is perhaps best known as the drummer for indie darlings Foxygen. In 2013, he released a solo effort under the moniker Diane Coffee titled My Friend Fish. While that album was essentially recorded as a demo, his latest effort, Everybody’s A Good Dog is a much more fully realized album.

“This one is kind of like a friends-and-family record,” Fleming says. “The sound is a lot more lush. We have a lot of strings, a lot of horns.”

This will mark Fleming’s first trip to Dayton, and he is excited about the prospect. His DMAFF performance will come just days after his newest album drops. NPR recently featured the lead single “Spring Breeze” on their site and he named the album’s closer “Not That Easy” as a personal favorite.

Even with the addition of someone like Diane Coffee, make no mistake; this is still a Dayton-heavy lineup.

Melton says his band Smug Brothers have had a solid 2015. They’ve toured heavily throughout the region and released the full-length album Woodpecker Paradise. They are currently wrapping a split EP with Brat Curse titled Echo Complex and already have begun working on another LP.

Melton also has a deep knowledge and appreciation of the Dayton music scene.

“I think it’s always healthy,” Melton says. “There’s plenty of diversity, and there’s plenty of new people popping up all the time or old guys still kicking it around. In Smug Brothers, if you put all four of us together, we’ve got over 50 years of stage experience. There are always people out there doing interesting stuff. If you’re willing to go out, look around and see what’s out there, you’re always going to find some really good talent.”

The festival also features local up-and-comers.

Good Luck Year will use DAMFF as a release party for their latest EP Tinder for the Fire, the group’s second release of 2015. Two of the acoustic-driven tracks were recorded in the band’s home, but to capture the full band they headed up to Micah Carli’s Popside studio in Troy.

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Shelter said even though the two discs came out in a short time frame, they are two different beasts.

“It is the natural progression of the band,” Shelter says. “It’s probably a wider spread of extremes. We have two acoustic songs and one is a stark, simple arrangement. The stuff we did with Micah, you’ve got guitar overdubs and it’s to the nines. It’s fully fleshed out. It may be a little more aggressive than what we have on the first EP.”

While Stratton is shaking things up this year, the goal is to take an already great event and make it a happening.

“This isn’t something you’re going to be able to do on your average weekend or weeknight,” Stratton says. “Even the art—these are all specialty things. These aren’t people that are just showing up that are known artists just hanging up stuff that they always hang up at their shows. Everything is very specific to this festival.”

Stratton said he has devoted virtually his entire life to putting on shows and helping bands. All that time has prepared him for a moment such as this, and the workload that has come with it.

“It’s very fulfilling to have something like this that’s a direct outlet for that,” Stratton says. “It’s definitely way more work than I expected. That’s not dissuading at all. It’s driving me even harder.”

Dayton Music Fest will take place in various venues downtown on Sept. 18-19. Presale tickets are $21.39 for two-day, all access, $16.29 for a single day pass to either day, or $11.19 for a Saturday main stage pass. For more information, please visit


Blind Bob’s

8 p.m. Forage

9 p.m. Human Cannonball

10 p.m. Joe Hertler

11 p.m. Speaking Suns

12 a.m. Forest & the Evergreens

1 a.m. Buffalo Killers

Canal Public House

7:30 p.m. Weird Science

8:15 p.m. Indigo Wild

9:15 p.m. WVWhite

10:15 p.m. Manray

11:15 p.m. Nightbeast

12:15 a.m. Spaceface

1 a.m. Good English

The Yellow Cab

Pride Celebration Dance (free show with DJ Barticus)

The Dublin Pub

9 p.m. Babbling April

10 p.m. The Yugos

11 p.m. Me Time

12 a.m. Keeps

1 a.m. Turtle Island


Main Stage

7 p.m. Good Luck Year

8 p.m. Wheels

9 p.m. Sport Fishing USA

10 p.m. Motel Beds

11 p.m. Diane Coffee

Gilly’s Jazz

8:15 p.m. Shivering Timbers

9:15 p.m. Blond

10:15 p.m. Swarming Branch

11:15 p.m. Swim Diver

12:15 a.m. Crooks on Tape

Blind Bob’s

8 p.m. Tim Prichard

9 p.m. Me and Mountains

10 p.m. Smug Brothers

11 p.m. New Old Fashioned

12 a.m. Moira

Yellow Cab

9:15 p.m. The 1984 Draft

10:15 p.m. Basic Cable Preachers

11:15 p.m. Bummers

12:15 a.m. R. Ring

Film Screenings

Friday Sept. 18

6 p.m.
“Falling Up” – A thrilling mix of stop animation and and illustrations, this short was written and directed by New York filmmaker and Stivers School for the Arts grad, Djuna Wahlrab.
(15 min.)

6:30 p.m.
“N. Dixie Drive” – A mid-length doc about life on the North Dixie strip. This is the first film from New York filmmaker /musician and native Daytonion, Eric Mahoney. Mahoney was also a member of the Dayton band “Murder Your Darlings.” This film also features music from Northridge’s favorite son, Robert Pollard.
(52 min.)


5:00 p.m.
“The Rubi Girls” – Award-winning short doc of Dayton, Ohio drag troupe and entertainers, The Rubi Girls. 2015 marked the troupes 30th anniversary of raising funds, (over one million dollars at last count), and awareness for AIDS research. Directed by filmmaker, Rubi Girl member and General Manager of Dayton’s Neon Movies, Jonathan McNeal.
(28 min.)

5:45 p.m. (DMAFF Headlining Feature Film)
“Bubble” – Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this was a film that broke a few rules for its day. One of the first feature films to be shot on high-definition video, the cast was comprised of non-professional actors recruited from the Parkersburg, West Virginia /Belpre, Ohio area, where the film was shot. Using improvised scripting and mostly natural lighting, the backdrop for this psycho thriller murder mystery is an eerie doll factory. Also unconventional was Soderbergh’s approach to distribution. Pre-dating web networks, “Bubble” was released simultaneously in movie theaters and cable/satellite TV 1/27/’06, with a DVD release on 1/31/’06. The soundtrack was scored by Dayton musician, Robert Pollard.
(73 min.)

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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