Downtown Dayton Revival music festival makes debut
By Kyle Melton
Over the course of past decade or so, Dayton has slowly witnessed a transformation from a decaying post-industrial wasteland, as attempts to reinvent the character of the city centered around the notion that the future of the city lay in supporting the arts. As galleries have opened up all over downtown and events like Urban Nights have provided additional spotlight on the art emerging from Dayton on various levels, it would be difficult to deny that the culture was decidedly, if slowly, changing. Early in 2012, the announcement of the inaugural Downtown Dayton Revival in downtown Dayton added additional fuel to this sense of some kind of renaissance in Dayton.
When word came down early this year that there would be a major music festival in downtown Dayton, inquiries quickly abounded regarding its origins, where the festival would take place and who would grace the stages of this event. While the Downtown Dayton Revival emerged seemingly fully-formed and with an exceptional and diverse lineup, the groundwork behind the festival, laid down by founder Matt Luongo and his team, certainly revealed a great degree of planning and forethought.
“I have been talking about making this happen since 2005,” explained Luongo. “The original business plan was written in 2008. However, at that time the economy had just crashed, and I knew it wasn’t the right time to try and pull this off. Last spring, I couldn’t wait any more. My free time was consumed with planning, and I began having preliminary conversations with Tim Riordan of the City of Dayton and Sandy Gudorf of the Downtown Dayton Partnership in April 2011. I resigned from my job in August 2011 and began formalizing my business plan and meeting with potential investors that fall. During a lunch meeting with Doug Meyer of Brixey & Meyer, I presented the concept of the Downtown Dayton Revival, and he loved it, offered to partner on the project, and we formed an LLC in January 2012.”
Although a Dayton native and University of Dayton graduate, Luongo spent his formative years in Birmingham, Ala. where the annual City Stages Music Festival planted a seed in his mind for a festival that he felt could help bring people together through music here in Dayton. As his plan moved forward to bring the Downtown Dayton Revival to fruition, Luongo worked with established booking agencies to secure a lineup that he and his staff felt would bolster the event and help to bring additional acts that would provide the festival the type of diversity and drawing power that could help establish this inaugural event.
“The first band is always the most difficult to secure for a first year event,” said Luongo. “We knew once we signed one, the rest would fall into place. John Legend was the first act to confirm, and we are thrilled with the line-up we have put together.”
With Springfield native John Legend on board, the Revival quickly confirmed headliners such as Train, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and hometown heroes The Ohio Players, Heartless Bastards and Guided By Voices. Additionally, the festival put out a call to local acts offering them an opportunity to perform. From the open call, local favorites such as Buffalo Killers, Motel Beds, Wheels and Good English, among others, were selected to participate. With such an eclectic blend of national and local talent covering an incredible stylistic range, Luongo and his team are excited for attendees of the Revival.
“When we put together the Downtown Dayton Revival lineup, we wanted to make sure that there was a band for everyone,” Luongo explained. “Whether they are enticed by the large, national acts or the local favorites, everyone who joins us for the weekend is going to get two full days of incredible music.”
While the Downtown Dayton Revival is certainly centered around a weekend filled with music, Luongo expects that this event will have a greater impact on Dayton than merely a weekend of fun and festivities.
“The economic impact of the Downtown Dayton Revival for Dayton has been estimated at $1-4 million,” Luongo said. “Everyone who has been a part of this project has an immense love for this city and we all want to help put together an event that will not only add to the economic vibrancy of the city, but also give Daytonians a reason to be proud. One thing that was important to me in the planning of this event is that we were committed to giving back to the region, and a portion the proceeds for the weekend will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters and Stivers School for the Arts.”
In talking with some of the performers slated to appear at the Downtown Dayton Revival, there seems to a great deal of enthusiasm for the festival’s first year.
“We haven’t played Dayton in quite a while,” said Greg Rahm, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist of Columbus-based regional favorites Red Wanting Blue. “We are expecting a very enthusiastic crowd. Since this festival is in Ohio, we expect to have a good hometown crowd, being from just down the road. It’s always great playing a festival in our home state with bands that we have played with in the past.”
“It’s always hard to know what to expect from a festival crowd,” said Brendan O’Connell of Chicago soul outift The Right Now. “We’ve had it both ways: a listening crowd in lawn chairs and a rowdy, sweaty mass that’s down for dancing with us. We hope for the latter, but don’t have a problem with playing to folks that want to listen to our tunes. I’m expecting a great crowd in Dayton and hope to make a bunch of new fans.”
When asked about his band’s intial reaction to being invited to play the Downtown Dayton Revival, Brent James of Brent James & the Contraband said, “The name alone screamed this festival is going to rock! I’ve always liked the Dayton area and we have radio support from Mix 107.7 there and have been anxious to get there and play. This is the perfect time.”
Vocalist/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom of Austin-based Dayton expatriates Heartless Bastards likewise expressed excitement for a new musical event downtown.
“I thought it was great to see an event that would bring a lot of people to the heart of the city,” said Wennerstrom. “The various artists booked for the event cover a really broad spectrum of music. It’s not just blues or jazz, which Dayton has always had in the past. It will bring a lot of people of different ages with different interests together, which is always a good thing.”
With the word “revival” featured in the name of the event, there is a sense of purpose uncommon to a typical music festival. In speaking with Luongo, it is apparent that his hopes for the Downtown Dayton Revival transcend the obvious desire to simply have a good time listening to music.
“A revival is defined as an instance of something becoming popular, active or important again,” explained Luongo. “Music has the unique ability to break down barriers – of generations, of cultures, and of prejudice. It can express what others struggle to say, inspire change, and bring people together. Great music has the power to transform, and that is the ultimate goal the Downtown Dayton Revival is all about: bring great music to Dayton.”
With three stages spread out within a two-block radius, festival-goers should find it relatively easy to navigate and see as much of the festival as possible. The Budweiser Stage will be located at First and Jefferson Streets on the old site of the Patterson Co-Op, the CareSource Stage in front of the Dayton Metro Library/Cooper Park on St. Clair Street and the Monster Stage will be in the parking lot behind Memorial Hall and the Wright State University downtown branch. A quick glance at the schedule [see sidebar] shows that staggered set times should allow those willing to wander around maximum opportunity to see as many sets as possible.
“If festival goers want to make the most of their weekend, take a little time to get to know some of the acts on our website and plan out a couple of sets they definitely want to catch,” Luongo suggested. “If you come to the Downtown Dayton Revival ready to rock and with an open mind, you are going to have an amazing two days of music and memories.”
The Downtown Dayton Revival will take place Sept. 8-9 in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $75 for both days. For more information, visit downtownrevival.com.
Reach DCP editor Kyle Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org