On The Hilltop

The inaugural Dayton-talent-driven Festival on the Hill

By Tim Walker
Photo: Local favorite Eric Jerardi starts the festival June 24  at 5 p.m.; photo courtesy of Eric Jerardi

If you’re traveling through downtown Dayton on I-75, you’re afforded two beautiful views of our city. A glance to the east and you’ll see Dayton’s impressive skyline, dominated by tall buildings such as the 408-foot Kettering Tower, with 30 floors and its own zip code, the Keybank Tower and the Liberty Tower. But look to the west and you’ll be staring up at two imposing, classical-looking structures on top of Grafton Hill, almost mysterious as they perch high above the rest of the town—the Dayton Art Institute on the right, and to the left, the Dayton Masonic Center.

This year, in the first of what is planned to be an annual event, the Dayton Masonic Center will host its first Festival on the Hill on the weekend of June 24–26. With a full schedule of musical acts from all genres, family events and food trucks, the eight acres that make up the Masonic Center will be jumping and shouting for three days in the summer sun.

“The Festival on the Hill was actually started from [an] idea of Steve Argast and myself,” says John Johnson, a Dayton Masonic Center volunteer and the co-chair of the Festival on the Hill. “Back in the fall of 2014, we were in our offices at the Dayton Masonic Center [which is also known as the Dayton Masonic Temple, or used to be—most people still relate to that name] and we were looking out at the river landscape. The RiverScape is right in front of our building—it’s a beautiful view from up there. And we were just remarking on how much work and how much progress has been done along the river corridor, and the fact that Dayton is really coming around from the standpoint of growth and people moving into the downtown area.”

“The fact is that the Dayton Masonic Center, being on Steele Hill and Grafton Hill, has this beautiful view of what’s going on,” Johnson continues. “So with that, Steve said, ‘You know what would really be nice is to have a festival to celebrate all of this.’ And with that, came the birth of a festival that would take place in the summertime. The Oktoberfest is in the fall; the Greek Festival is in the fall. Our thinking was, ‘Let’s have this on the first weekend of summer.’ And consequently, that’s why the weekend of the 24th, 25th and 26th of June was selected.”

“Fundamentally, it’s really a celebration of Dayton and the river and our view from being on the hill, looking at the landscape and the river scape of downtown Dayton.”

The Dayton Masonic Center is an ideal location for a festival, with easy access and ample parking. Festival attendees will enjoy open seating on the Center’s massive front lawn, and every seat should offer an outstanding view of the large main stage—the schedule of artists performing on both of the festival’s two stages will offer something to satisfy every musical taste. In addition, more than 15 food vendors, including Dublin Pub, Hearts Hot Dogs, Bessie’s Noodles, Cork N Bottle, Mo’s Barb B Que, Pita Pockets, The Chicken Smells Good, Tuck’s Tap & Grill and Ritter’s Frozen Custard, will be on hand featuring a wide variety of festival food. And, for those who prefer an occasional adult beverage, wine and domestic and craft beer will also be sold at several locations near the food vendor areas.

The weekend starts off with a bang on Friday, June 24, when the festival kicks off at 5 p.m. Local favorite guitarist Eric Jerardi will be starting things off, performing a fiery, hour-long set of his blues flavored rock on the main stage. Chris Mulcahy, often referred to as the “singing weatherman,” will perform on the festival’s second stage beginning at 6 p.m. Rocking local favorites Spungewurthy and Cincinnati-based tribal rock duo Acarya will perform on the main and second stages, respectively, before the Friday night headliner, Dirty Deeds USA, steps onto the main stage at 8 p.m. for their rousing tribute to those hard rock icons from Down Under, the one and only AC/DC.

“We’re an AC/DC tribute,” says Freddy DeMarco, who portrays the legendary schoolboy-uniform-wearing guitarist Angus Young. “And I think the biggest thing about it is that we do both eras of AC/DC—and when I say both eras … if we do two sets, which we’re doing at the Festival on the Hill, typically the first set is the Bon Scott set, where the singer looks like Bon Scott, with all the tattoos, and we play a real high-energy old school set, dedicated to those earlier albums that AC/DC released.”

The tragic loss of AC/DC’s original lead singer Bon Scott, who passed away in February of 1980 and was replaced by Brian Johnson just as the band was breaking worldwide, is acknowledged by the Dirty Deeds performances, with the band properly paying tribute to the music of both eras.

“Then,” DeMarco continues, “What we do is we take a short break, do some costume changes, and we dedicate the second set to the Brian Johnson era. Our singer looks and sounds just like Brian Johnson. We dress all in black, and of course we’ll do all the hits from the Back in Black album—some shows, if time allows, we’ll do the entire album from front to back. And if the venue allows, we actually have an electronic bell that comes out and lowers down to the stage. And it really gets the crowd going. We do all the more modern era AC/DC hits, all those great Brian Johnson-era songs. So it’s a vintage and a modern show, and we’re very detailed about it—our claim is that we play with the energy of them live, but we really try to sound like the records, the accuracy of the records. I think the biggest bullet of the band would be the fact that it’s two shows—it’s not just the same guy singing Bon and Brian—some people are very pro-Bon Scott, and anything after that is taboo. However, most of their hits were done with Brian Johnson on vocals.”

For those about to rock, we salute you. Indeed.

The festival gates open at noon on Saturday and Sunday, with the music starting early on Saturday when The Outlets take the main stage at 12:45 p.m., playing classic rock and roll covers from the last five decades. The Blackbirds and Paige Beller perform on the second stage, each for the first of two performances that day, before The New Old-Fashioned gets the country music mojo rolling, following The Outlets appearance and taking the stage themselves at 2:30 p.m. Following that, local country singer, crowd favorite and talented workaholic Ashley Martin makes her appearance at the festival’s main stage.
“Well, country/rock, I guess” Martin says, laughing. “I’m really excited about playing the Festival on the Hill. This is one of those things where even though we’ve played over 800 shows in the past four years, we’re always excited about doing another one.”

When asked if she has anything special planned for her upcoming festival performance, Martin says, “Well, that depends on how much they’ll let me do! We’ll just do our thing. We have a new single that will be released just before the show, so we’re hoping that will go over well, and that people will hear it and hurry up and get on their phones and download the new tune. It’s a heart-jerker, so we’re hoping it continues to do what it’s done so far for us. It’s called ‘He’s Mine,’ and it was released June 10. I wrote the song with Lance Carpenter, who co-wrote ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ with Kelsea Ballerini, and that was a number one single for her. We just wrote ‘He’s Mine,’ and I played it at the Key West Songwriters Festival in Florida a few weeks ago. And the buzz about it was just insane. We put out a video for it just before Mother’s Day—the song sounds like it’s about a jealous ex-girlfriend, but it’s actually about the mother, which is the twist in the song. So all these moms just went crazy—like, I got five weddings out of it—I’m going to go sing it at these weddings.”

After Martin, fellow Ohio native and American Idol semi-finalist Alexis Gomez, the “Mexican hillbilly hippie,” takes the main stage at 6 p.m. Fan favorite Gomez is quoted on her website as saying, “As an artist, I hope to be able to create music that people want to sing and listen to. I would also love to bring something a little different to country music, which is where I hope to weave some of my Mexican heritage into my music.”

Emily Spicer’s performance will close out the acts on the second stage that day, and then two name acts are scheduled to finishing up the entertainment on the Festival’s Country Day. Nationally known Nashville recording artist John King, best known for his hit song “Tonight, Tonight,” takes the stage at 7:45 p.m., and Clark Manson, born and raised in nearby Covington, Ohio follows to close out the day’s line-up with his hit songs “I’m On It” and “Love It When You Drive.” A full day of music, food and fun with a country accent, Saturday promises to be the biggest day for the new festival.

The good times continue, however, with a more acoustic flair on Sunday, June 26, when the gates open at noon and the Antioch Brass Band appears on the main stage starting at 1:45 p.m. The day’s performances continue with the Corndrinkers, an old-time string band that channels the sound and spirit of the “golden age” of country music, the 1920s and ’30s. The Celtic Academy of Irish Dance will perform afterward on the main stage, and Dayton’s own Dulahan, performing original, contemporary Celtic music, will close out the festival. A Sweet Sound, the sole act on the festival’s second stage that day, will also play starting at 4:15 p.m.

“We’re just happy to have all of this finally come together,” Johnson, festival co-chair, continues. “Steve and I have been working on it for several years, and with the help of our many generous sponsors–iHeart Media Dayton, Heidelberg Distributing, Coca-Cola, Grandview Medical Center, Chase Bank and the Ohio Masonic Home to name just a few–we really think it’s going to be a success in Dayton, not just this year but in the future, as well.”

Festival on the Hill takes place Friday through Sunday, June 24-26 at the Dayton Masonic Center, 525 W. Riverview Ave. in Dayton’s Grafton Hills. Tickets are $6 for general admission, $5  with active police, military, fire or EMS ID and free for kids 12 and younger. Tickets sold at the gate. For more information, the full lineup or to sign up to volunteer, please visit festivalonthehill.org or follow on Facebook at facebook.com/festivalonthehill and on Twitter at @FestOnTheHill.


Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.verm.


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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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