Hawthorne Heights may have done more to put Dayton on the national map over the past decade than anyone else — besides, maybe, those little actors from The West Wing with the last names Sheen, Lowe and Janney.
In 2004, the faces of five guys who would play their hearts out on stage at Knights of Columbus were suddenly plastered on Hot Topic T-shirts across the country when their single “Ohio Is For Lovers” blew up on MTV. And now, over 10 years and nearly as many releases later, the band is paying tribute to the city that nurtured them before Victory Records and TRL came along with Dayton Is For Lovers, a hometown musical showcase that also serves as the vinyl release of their latest EP and the final installment in a three-part series, Hurt.
The all-ages show tonight at the “Old” Yellow Cab Building features bands that Hawthorne Heights’ members — JT Woodruff, Matt Ridenour, and Mark McMillon — have known for years, groups that are paving their own way out of Dayton, and bands the group had never even heard of before they decided to put on the show.
“It’s a collection of having old friends, having people that we see leaving town and trying to make their mark across the United States, as well as people who are the new batch of musicians, working hard in Dayton,” Woodruff said. Before they take the stage on Friday night, we caught up with the band at their practice space in downtown Dayton mere days after they returned from playing shows on the West Coast, discussing the food trucks at their show, the music scene of their youth, and the Gem City’s rising potential.
How did the Dayton Is For Lovers show come about?
JT Woodruff: We realized that we hadn’t played Dayton in over a year. And we were planning to have a release show for our new EP, then we wanted to do something more fun. The first thing to decide when we do a Dayton show is, how many bands can we have on the bill? How do we get enough space and time to fit all of these bands in? And we have to make this an all-ages show, because the scene we grew up in was all ages, and we still have younger people come to our shows.
Mark had done a show (with The Story Changes, his band with Hawthorne Heights’ touring drummer Chris “Poppy” Lee) at the Yellow Cab recently, and the fact that they had two rooms there enabled us to have more bands on the bill, and keep it all ages.
Matt Ridenour: When we were young bucks, we could just go to the Knights of Columbus and put on a show, and we wanted to do something like that. It was just cool that anybody of any age could throw a show.
JW: Even though the Dayton music scene is a strong scene, a lot of it is based in the Oregon District and is either 18 and up or 21 and up. Rock Star Pro Arena does do all-ages shows, but there need to be multiple venues doing that. We also liked Yellow Cab because they’re tied to the arts in Dayton, havs great parking, and it’s a neat building.
How did you pick the bands who are performing?
Mark McMillon: We wanted to play with bands with our friends in them, but we also wanted to reward bands that were already making it happen. Good English just got off their first U.S. tour and booked it all themselves; Jasper the Colossal – we’ve known Paige (Beller) for a while but never played with them – but they put on Ladyfest this year, and that was two great nights at Yellow Cab. And we threw some young bands on the bill that we had never seen before, because we wanted to nurture what we had been doing back in the day, just playing wherever you could.
What else can people expect from the show?
MM: I’m most excited about the food trucks: we’re going to have Hunger Paynes and the Wicked ‘Wich of Dayton. I’ve been to the (Yellow Cab) food truck rallies, and it’s always been a good time. There will be some local beers on tap.
JW: When we’re home, we don’t go to a lot of shows because we’re burned out after playing shows every night, so this is our time to go to a show, and throw a show to see bands that we don’t usually get to see.
Dayton’s a cool scene because we all have a mutual respect for one another. It’s such a tight-knit small scene; we’re all a bunch of no-coast bands hanging out in the middle of the United States trying to make it happen. Dayton has a great late-night bar scene and we wanted to combine that with the fact that the all-ages scene is strong here. The kids want to go to shows, but there aren’t as many options as in bigger cities.
MM: It’s the perfect scenario, because you can watch the whole show at Yellow Cab, then roll over to the bars after we’re done.
Tell me about Dayton’s music scene when you were all coming up.
MM: There were bands like Brainiac who sounded like nobody else out there, but who were playing shows with bands that were straight-up pop-punk, Ramones-style, and bands who were folk-y. It was never three metal bands or three punk bands, it was always just Dayton bands.
The Knights of Columbus. That’s where everyone played. You jumped on the road on a Friday night and that’s where everyone was.
MR: There would be some big touring bands who would come to Dayton for the Knights of Columbus.
JW: You have to think about how small social media was back then. If you didn’t like the show, you didn’t bitch; you were outside talking or smoking cigarettes. And if you liked the band, you were inside watching. Even if you didn’t like the bands, you liked what was happening there. You liked the community. And now, a lot of those people who were kids there are helping to run the music scene in downtown Dayton.
MR: There were some sweet house bands on Jasper Street too. I’ve seen so many good bands in basements in Dayton.
Now, when you’re home and go to see a show in Dayton, what’s different?
MM: I play Dayton two to three times a year: In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed it’s cool again to know how to play your instrument. Bands are getting better at their instruments, it’s not cool to just play bad punk anymore. That, and if you come to a bar earlier than 11 o’clock, the bands probably haven’t started yet.
MR: We’re headlining our show, and we’re going on before any other bands in the Oregon.
What’s the Dayton background for each of you?
MM: I grew up in Vandalia, then moved to Dayton.
MR: I grew up outside of Oxford. I had a scholarship to play music at Miami University, but I decided to go to Wright State because it was closer to Dayton. JT moved to Dayton to play music in 2000.
JW: I went to Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia, and a guy there turned me onto Guided By Voices. I knew nothing about Dayton, but I really liked the band and they were singing about Dayton, and I saw that the Breeders were from here. So I moved here with my friend who was getting a job at the Troy Daily News, and I’ve been there ever since.
What do you love about coming home?
MR: It’s good to come home to Dayton because it has the big city feel in a small city. You get the city aspect of things like all of the different foods and people, but you don’t really get traffic downtown — it’s a quaint, big city.
JW: We’ve definitely seen Dayton grow. Places are getting more serious about food, and culinary ingredients. We’ve seen the Oregon grow. Anytime we have friends coming from out of town, we know that we can take them to places that will rival the restaurants where they’re from, and that always makes you feel good.
MR: It’s great that you can go to Press or Ghostlight and get some of the best coffee in the country. I exclusively drink iced coffee regardless of how cold it is, and, aside from a coffeehouse in Portland, those two have my favorite cups of iced coffee.
MM: We go to Fusian a lot when we’re home. I eat dinner at Lucky’s (Taproom and Eatery) about once a month when I’m home.
MR: Taqueria Mixteca on Third Street – oh my lord. So good. When I’m home, I eat and go to Century Bar. That’s pretty much it.
What do you think about events like the Dayton Music Festival? Having played big festivals around the country, do you think Dayton could pull one off like that?
JW: I’ve assumed that they could pull off a festival like DMAFF because – like I said, I moved here for the music scene – and when you have a big indie music scene, with bands like Guided By Voices, that’s bound to cause a ripple effect with a bunch of other bands wanting to sound like them, or get inspired.
Then you have that wonderful 650 feet known as the Oregon District – I wish it had room to expand and it could be like five blocks – but since they have that consolidated area and can get the venues and businesses to partner together, it makes perfect sense.
MR: And if you have good enough music, which Dayton does, you are so close to so many cities. If you have good enough bands and people want to see them, they would drive from Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit. We’re in a very centrally located place.
JW: I think cities like Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, size-wise are very similar to Dayton. There’s always a killer record store and a couple of cool coffee shops. There’s a lot going on in the Midwest that people don’t really give it credit for. But Dayton hangs tough with all of those cities, and we’re proud of that.
How could Dayton’s music scene compete with its neighboring big cities?
JW: Dayton is in a little bit of a predicament because due to population, it is going to be in what is considered a “B” market. It’s an underdog. When you do a tour of major cities, you wouldn’t include a city like Dayton anyway, but on your next tour, if you still want to come through Ohio, that’s when you would go through Dayton. That’s why we wish there were a couple more all-ages venues that would give that scene – give bands more of an opportunity to come to Dayton.
MR: We love our shows in places like Knoxville and Memphis in Tennessee, or Birmingham, Alabama. And people would come to Dayton. You’d see people from Cincinnati, who go to see you at Bogarts, but who would rather see you in a smaller venue, or a different venue.
JW: If there was a 500-seat all-ages venue with a bar downtown, Dayton could have a very successful scene.
What’s next for Hawthorne Heights?
JW: We have the show, and then we write a whole lot. Since we released Hurt, we’re playing each EP acoustic online, so we’re working on those acoustic versions right now. We have a festival in Cleveland in December, but in between all of this is a lot of writing, since next year will be a very busy year touring.
And lastly, what’s one thing that out of towners have to do in Dayton?
MM: Marion’s Piazza.
JW: They have to go to the Oregon District because there’s something for everybody. There’s great food and music clubs, and great clubs just to hang out in. I’ve never been, but everybody loves to go to Dayton Dragons games
MR: Every seat is foul ball to the face area there.
JW: I think the Neon Movies are super good. If you had one night in Dayton, you could get a lot of stuff done in the Oregon District. We’re fortunate to have toured for the last 10-12 years, and every place is awesome, but Dayton is pretty damn cool.