The sideshow must go on

Dayton Sideshow’s big 11 at Dayton Yellow Cab

By Tim Smith

Underground art is defined as any form of art that operates outside of conventional norms. It can be any genre that is not popular in the art world, including visionary art and street art. Local examples of this type of urban expressionism will be on display at the 11th annual Dayton Sideshow at the Yellow Cab building on May 13 and 14.

Sideshow committee member Jeff Opt notes that participation in the event has grown steadily over the past decade.

“The first show was a one-night affair with approximately 60 artists and performers participating,” he says. “Sideshow 11 will have 55 artists and 29 bands and performers. A show that could once be held in a single room now takes a whole building and multiple stages. It takes more than 200 volunteers to make The Sideshow happen.”

Sideshow was the brainchild of Laurana Wong, who describes it thus: “The Sideshow hopes to expose the burgeoning underground art scene and interconnect it with the more established art community. We will bring attention to Downtown Dayton through a grand-scaled and highly public display of the art that is so ripe in this town. The event will be free of charge and open to as wide of a population as we can reach. The guests will be at least as diverse as the involved.”

The committee works hard to keep the original vision intact.

“Local artists and musicians respond to a Call for Entries to be part of The Sideshow,” Opt says. “We encourage all to apply. This is what keeps the show diverse. We have artists that have shown in all 11 shows, and others where this is their first time showing. We have a range of participants—artists with no formal training right next to college professors and more. If you are creative, we encourage you to show. We like to call The Sideshow a Celebration of Art and Music of the Dayton Region. Our goal is to help make people aware of how much talent exists locally. We really are blessed in Dayton.”

The Sideshow is primarily put on by the Dayton Circus organization, but Opt notes that they are always open to working with other arts organizations and groups.

“For example, the fine people from The Gem City Podcast are doing live podcasting from The Sideshow which adds a whole different dimension to the show,” he says.

Holding the event at the Yellow Cab building is in keeping with the original goal of diversity.

“We started holding The Sideshow at Yellow Cab five years ago,” Opt says. “At that time we had just moved the Dayton Circus offices to that building and location so it was a natural fit. By continuing to hold it there, we were able to build a stable environment for The Sideshow which has allowed it to grow. That said, part of the charm of the early Sideshows was the variety of locations where they were held. We would like to get back to that again.

“The Sideshow has been going on long enough that people are familiar with it and know how to participate,” he continues. “At this point, most of the challenges we face are logistical and usually involve how to make the show work better. For example, last year we decided to relocate the music tent, and this in turn allowed us to create a new parking lot for the participating musicians, but this meant we had to figure out how to get a fence gate open that had not been opened in 20-plus years.”

Although amateur artistic talent is on display, The Sideshow should not be confused with a Starving Artists gathering.

“Officially, The Sideshow is a celebration, an exhibition of art and music from the Dayton region, so you won’t see any price tags on the artwork,” Opt notes. “That said, all of the artists will have contact information clearly posted with their work, so if you see something you like, reach out to the artist directly and see if it is for sale. The same goes for the bands. If you see a performance you like, talk to the band afterwards, and they will be able to tell you how to get more of their music. Most of all, just come out and take in all of the amazing talent that is in this town!”

Opt hopes that attendees will walk away with an appreciation of the diverse talent Dayton has to offer.

“We encourage everyone to come out and explore,” he says. “We guarantee you will see art and performances that you will enjoy, some that you will find challenging and some you might not care for at all—but surrounding it all you will discover an amazing community of people, a side of Dayton that needs to be celebrated. Sideshow is a chance to play, to explore and to make new friends!”

Dayton Sideshow 11 will be held Friday-Saturday, May 13-14 at Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 East Fourth St. in Dayton. The hours are 5 p.m.-1 a.m. on May 13, and 3 p.m.-1 a.m. on May 14. It is free and open to the public. For more information and a schedule of events, please visit 

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach Dayton City Paper freelance writer Tim Smith at

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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