Stars under the stars

Fraze Pavilion’s 25th season brings vampires, legends and more…

By Rusty Pate

It is a crisp summer evening. Friends get together and have a quick drink or bite to eat. They slowly make their way through traffic and parking. Walking toward the gate, ticket in hand, their step has a bounce and the energy of the converging crowd becomes infectious.

Any live music performance can be special, but there is perhaps no better way to spend a beautiful night than under the stars of an outdoor amphitheater.

For centuries, live performance has found a home outside. From the Theatre of Dionysus in ancient Greece to famous modern North American “sheds” like Berkeley California’s Greek Theatre, New York’s Jones Beach or Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, audiences have always gathered in open-air venues.

Kettering’s Fraze Pavilion honors that long history.

Former Kettering mayor Gerald Busch was one of several people instrumental in bringing the project together. In the mid-1980s, the city had a plot of land it was looking to develop. Early plans called for little more than a band shell with wooden benches.

“The more we talked about it the more elaborate it got,” Busch remembers. “Then somebody came up with the bright idea that we ought to raise the money privately, rather than raise city money to do this.”

With an initial goal of $1.5 million—more than $3.25 million when adjusted for inflation—Busch and Assistant City Manager Pete Horan began the arduous process of fundraising. They sold seats to the new venue, which allowed purchasers to buy a 10-year lease on specific seats, which they would then be required to buy tickets to individual shows. They approached local businesses, but quickly learned they would need someone to drop a sizeable leadership gift to really get the ball rolling.

Enter Virginia Kettering.

“The first people we went to talk to were the executives at the Mead Corporation downtown,” Busch says. “They looked at our plan, and liked it. They suggested that we put off fundraising for a year, because Mrs. Kettering was working on fundraising for the Victoria.”

That delay in the process did set them back, as did the fact that Kettering seemed worried that this new venue might compete with the Victoria, to which she had already donated a significant amount of money.

At an unrelated luncheon, Busch sat next to local real estate appraiser and developer J.R. Remick. They talked about the project and Busch mentioned how important a gift from Kettering would be—if he could only talk to her face-to-face.

As it happened, Remick’s downtown office was right next to Kettering’s.

“By golly, in a week or two, he got back to me and said Ms. Kettering has agreed to meet with me,” Busch says.

Within a few weeks, she had made the leadership donation. Busch and Horan went to work, securing donations from Delco, the Mead Corporation, NCR, Elder Beerman and many smaller gifts from other businesses.

They quickly found themselves halfway toward their goal, when the Fraze family stepped in and made what Busch called a “very major gift,” which put them over the top.

The building project began shortly after, and took about a year and a half to complete. The venue opened in 1991.

The early 1990s music industry was a very different animal. Large amphitheaters, like the 20,000-seat venues Riverbend in Cincinnati and Polaris in Columbus could routinely fill up. Today, not many acts can bring in that type of crowd. In fact, the Columbus venue closed a decade ago and has since been torn down.

Fraze is now the ideal size for some big name acts, such as Bob Dylan and The Avett Brothers.

Artists and fans also love the intimacy the venue provides, according to general manager Karen Durham.

“Our venue is very up close and personal,” Durham says. “We sit in the middle of a neighborhood. It is a completely different environment. It’s in a park. The audience is up close and there is a whole lot of really good feedback and energy the artists receive in that kind of small intimate environment.”

Durham has been with Fraze for 20 years. During that time, the venue has seen a remarkable run of success, bringing some of the biggest names in music to quant little city of Kettering.

In 2003, a Sheryl Crow concert sold out within a few days. A chance phone call from Crow’s booking agent, who was trying to book other artists at the venue, prompted Durham to ask for a second show with Crow. As the process moved forward, Crow’s management had even bigger plans.

They wanted to film the performance for a DVD release.

“That was pretty cool,” Durham remembers. “In 2003, we were the only venue that had two sold out shows with her. That’s what precipitated the DVD, and quite frankly, the DVD came about in a matter of about three weeks before show time.”

Durham calls the event the most memorable in her time with the Fraze. She also ranks hosting Ringo Starr as a big achievement.

“He’s a Beatle—a Beatle in Kettering, that’s pretty cool,” Durham beams.

For local musicians, venues such as the Fraze represent the holy grail of their performance aspirations. Bars and rock clubs are certainly special places, with their own indelible charms, but a chance to perform in a 4,000-plus seat pavilion, where some of the biggest names in music have performed is a thrill beyond the normal euphoria of playing music in front of an audience.

Legendary local band Shrug had been together less than a year when they reached the finals of the Canal Street Tavern’s Dayton Band Playoffs in 1995. They eventually won the competition, but the real thrill was stepping on that stage for the first time, according to guitarist/vocalist Tod Weidner.

While the venue seats a substantial audience, its character caters to everyone in attendance, from the performer on stage through reserved seats, lawn blankets and bleachers.

“It arrived on the scene at a time when, for a variety of reasons, arena tours were not coming through Dayton as often as they had been,” Weidner says. “Fraze kind of kept Dayton on the national map for touring artists who were too big for bars and clubs, and the relative intimacy of the venue makes shows feel a bit more personal than being in Row ZZZ in a big metal and concrete box.”

After 25 years, Fraze continues to prevail. Any business would be happy to celebrate such a milestone, but what keeps Fraze relevant are the superbly programmed shows they continue to present. This season’s schedule is especially diverse. On the country side, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Rogers will have boots scootin’. Colin Raye will also front a special tribute to Glen Campbell with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday, Aug. 18.

Blues lovers can enjoy a dual-headlining night of Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang on Saturday, August 27 and Bonnie Raitt returns with Richard Thompson on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan will bring the funny on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

Those looking for a nostalgic trip back a few decades also have some great options this season. Foreigner and The Guess Who share the stage on Sunday, July 24. Rick Springfield, Night Ranger and the Romantics team up for a great night of music on July 2.

Perhaps the biggest-name offerings on the schedule come from the classic rock genre.

Hollywood Vampires will play on Tuesday, July 12. Tickets are $59 and increase $5 day of show. The band features Alice Cooper, Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Johnny Depp. Then, on Tuesday, June 28, Bob Dylan and His Band return with special guest Mavis Staples. Tickets range from $54-$94 and increase $5 day of show. Each pair of tickets also comes with a code to receive Dylan’s new album “Fallen Angels.”

The schedule is strategically peppered with tribute bands and a slew of other great free events, including three 25th anniversary shows: Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring Bo Bice, Grand Funk Railroad and The Spinners. Although free, tickets are required and will be distributed while supplies last beginning June 3, July 1 and July 15 respectively.

The free events are important to what Fraze stands for, according to Durham.

“While the facility was built with private donations and private money, we are owned and operated by the city of Kettering,” Durham says. “We are taxpayer-subsidized and supported. So, it’s always been the thinking to offer free events for the Kettering community, so people can come out and enjoy music or the park without having to pay for it. We do so many free events to give back to the community. Also, Kettering doesn’t really have a real true downtown. In the summertime, we like to think Lincoln Park is the downtown. It’s a great place to be social.”

Durham is also quick to give praise to her entire team of employees and volunteers who help make the Fraze the success it is today.

While an unquestionable team effort, Durham’s leadership has been paramount in keeping the Fraze relevant in a changing music business economy. From the diverse lineups year after year to the free events, she has always had a keen awareness of improving what is offered and how it is presented.

It is the constant that has allowed the venue to celebrate 25 years, a celebration that she is looking forward to sharing with the community.

“We have had a lot of various shows and a lot of artists that have come through Kettering over the last 25 years,” Durham says. “It’s pretty amazing when you start looking at the list. We are actually posting on our Facebook page every day starting June 1 a kind of look back—this day in Fraze history—that will show what artist performed on that day in history. It has certainly been and interesting look back for me as well. The 20 years seems to have flown by. I think we have a really great season that we have put forth this year.”

Busch says there are many people who continue to have a hand in making the venue what it is.

“It was just one of those things we felt would be good for the community,” Busch concludes. “It turned out to be pretty popular, really.”

The Fraze Pavilion celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016. The venue is located at 300 E. Stroop Road in Kettering. Their anniversary concert will take place on Sunday, June 26 with a concert by Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring Bo Bice. Tickets are free, and will be available at the Fraze box office on Friday, June 3 at 9 a.m. while supplies last. For a complete listing of events and concerts, please visit
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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