THERE’S SHOW PLACE LIKE HOME
As music venues in Kent disappear, students turn to house shows like the Hoe Garden for performances that are enjoyable and cost-effective.
Words by Collin Cunningham | Photos by Adrian Leuthauser
Situated on Columbus Street, just behind Kent’s courthouse, the Hoe Garden is the first home you’re going to notice on the block. As you get closer, you see the wide front porch crammed with bodies smoking cigarettes between a set, while the side and back yards are bordered by overgrown foliage. In the back, there’s another entrance and occasional spot for guests to go pee. Folks are wearing a lot of denim, that’s for sure, but there are also people hanging out in khakis and jerseys. They all seem to be having a good time, maybe locked in conversation, maybe just staring of into space.
Inside, attendees are congregated in the two-story’s kitchen and living room or waiting in line for the bathroom upstairs. The walls are arranged with all manner of decorations: On one shelf in the living room sits a prize machine filled with plushies that resident Erin Dovishaw created for an art project. On another sits a neon sign that reads “Hoegaarden,” the name of a Belgian wheat beer which served as the inspiration for the venue’s iconic name, a gift from Dovishaw’s parents for Valentine’s Day in 2016.
When you have music scenes as large and boisterous as the ones in Cleveland and Akron, it’s only natural some of that enthusiasm for good live performances leaks into the surrounding areas. Kent especially has long been saturated with a rotating crew of active bands. Devo was the town’s standout act of the ‘70s, and venues such as JB’s Brewhouse and The Stone Tavern were the places to go to see touring acts from Ohio and the rest of the country for years.
Since then, things have changed. The Stone Tavern shuttered its doors in 2016, to be followed by a venue known only by its address: 425 Gougler Avenue. The other spaces in town are mostly being used as bars. Instead, people who want to see bands for cheap will now turn to house shows — literally homemade venues in basements where bands and artists come to perform. Even more than some of the bands themselves, these residences have become staples of the Kent music scene, serving as the background for excellent performances — or just enjoyable Friday nights. Simply ask Dani Bennett, who currently resides at the Hoe Garden, one of the few remaining house show locations in Kent.
“I’ve heard people say things like, ‘I didn’t even like Kent before I came here,’” Bennett, a senior majoring in fashion design, says. One of the latent functions of these house venues is they also serve as relaxed hangouts, and many use the Hoe Garden to make new friends.
“I’ve met the most beautiful souls here,” says Dovishaw, one of the Hoe Garden’s current co-owners along with Bennett, Nina Bianco and Ella Foley. Dovishaw is a junior, dual-majoring in jewelry/metal and sculpture. “Seriously, I might’ve just seen them in passing or something, and then they come here and I sit (on a couch near the house’s first-floor entrance) usually, but, as the show’s starting, I love just meeting people. I love it so much. It makes me so happy.”
The house tends to get pretty messy after every show, but the residents don’t seem to mind. A giant support beam divides the entire room in half, leading to some interesting movements and interactions between guests during every performance. With this atmosphere and set of traits, it’s easy to believe people who have trouble fitting in elsewhere can find shelter in the Hoe Garden.
Jeff Atkinson, a sophomore studying human resources management, frequently visits the Hoe Garden when it has its Friday or Saturday shows. “It’s a fairly nice, older house to begin with,” he says. “There’s a lot of people there. It’s usually a pretty cool party, even when you’re not watching the shows.”
Bennett says she’s happy people can feel welcome enough at the Hoe to bring their friends along, but it can lead to some difficulties when people wander in of the street.
Some people have come to look at houses like the Hoe Garden more as places to party and drink than live music venues, which often leads to people overstepping their boundaries with the girls’ property.
“We’re definitely trying to bring it back to what we’re used to because it has kind of gotten out of hand, unfortunately,” Dovishaw says. “It becomes unpleasant for us. It’s not like we don’t have a good time regardless, but when I walk into my bedroom, I don’t want random people to be in there.”
This lack of respect for the venue’s owners and noise complaints from their neighbors bother the Hoe’s residents, but they shoulder the burden. In fact, they’re effectively the only house having shows in Kent right now. Previously, other shows were held at two punk-flavored venues named The Workshoppe and Bum House. While the Hoe Garden is a haven for indie or jazz acts, the other two served up more hardcore music.
Garet Greitzer is a freshman studying visual communication design whose parents own the Workshoppe, a standalone garage spot in which his dad often does work for the house. Except the Workshoppe hasn’t had a show since October of 2017after repeated noise complaints from neighbors.
Visitors access the Workshoppe simply by walking down the hill into Greitzer’s backyard on the corner of Williams and Depeyster Street. The interior sports an industrial setting, which works well whether a sweaty moshpit has developed in the center of the room or people are leaning against the walls and enjoying softer music.
The only signs that bands play are a small stage set up in the corner and a banner hanging from the ceiling, while the rest of the place is occupied by miscellaneous tools and building materials. During shows, the wide-open garage allows people to see and hear the acts no matter where they’re standing, harsh sounds from the guitars and drums clashing perfectly with the sight of the random instruments scattered about.
Greitzer doesn’t intend to have any shows soon, but he understands Kent’s independent music scene would be different if his venue had never existed. “I definitely feel like there would be less cohesiveness between everybody because there are so many people I’ve met through the Workshoppe,” he says. “And now, even though the Workshoppe is gone, we still have this hub of people, and it expanded more into people in the university or people who live in town.”
Greitzer says having house shows isn’t just about clearing your basement and setting up a public address system; you also have to consider how to get the word out.
“It goes a lot beyond doing the show itself, organizing it on Facebook and stuff,” Greitzer says. “We had 1,000 likes on the Facebook page, and it really showed that the word was coming around Ohio, and even other states because touring bands were coming through.”
One of the comforting aspects of house shows is that things aren’t always regulated. It’s difficult to get down the stairs at the Hoe Garden, for example. The steps leading to the cellar leave a bit of head room to be desired, and you might have to brush past a few people to reach the music.
The walls of the Hoe’s basement are covered in a swirling tapestry of graffiti. IPA cans from the most recent show are spread about the floor. At first, it might look like a battlefield, if a hardcore band has taken the stage. Or perhaps a cult engaging in ritualistic dancing on jazz night. (They have a lot of jazz nights — Bennett really likes jazz.) But after a few songs, you really start to get into the music, and you realize you’re going to want to come back.