Akron's Booming DIY Scene Is Best Heard from Its Porches
Photo: Alex Dorman

Akron's Booming DIY Scene Is Best Heard from Its Porches

The city's PorchRokr 2017 festival saw 135 acts play to 12,000 people. For free. We caught it all and spoke to local band Time Cat about the city's scene.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, Akron, Ohio was a boomtown. A lot of people were making a lot of money off of rubber, and the city's economy flourished. But by the end of the 1980s, Akron (and the rest of the Rust Belt) had experienced the worst manufacturing industry downturn in American history, most of the rubber factories were gone, and what stood in their place were some cool bands like The Pretenders, The Bizarros, 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band), and The Waitresses. The same DIY scene that helped produce these acts, with roots sprouting from the gadfly sanctuary neighborhood of Highland Square, later fostered The Black Keys, and most recently, Time Cat. Akron's been down, but never out.

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Time Cat headlined this year's PorchRokr Festival in Akron's Highland Square neighborhood. What sets this annual music festival apart from the thousands of other annual music festivals is that the musicians play on residential verandas. You walk from porch to porch and see bands play. This year the porches were spread out over about 15 city blocks, and there were also a couple stages erected in the lovely Will Christie Park adjacent to the neighborhood.

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It was fun for the whole family. There was a five-piece jazz ensemble of insanely talented, mostly 12-year-old kids, called Moldy Figs. There were some local ambassadors of pop punk, Ghost Slime. There were dad bands (for dads by dads, also surf dads), and some funky mom bands too. There was Ginger Ackley, strumming an autoharp and singing serene Celtic folk; Floco Torres, a monster on the mic, with charisma to match his bars; and Soleo, a teenaged Middle Eastern prog rock band who shredded.

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Then there was Time Cat, who got an intro from the Mayor of Akron. Their set was fun as hell, with fan favorites like "Boozled" and "Young Ones." Plus they covered "War Pigs." It was the biggest show the band ever played, for the biggest crowd PorchRokr ever hosted. Being at the festival felt like witnessing history—a milestone in the continuing renaissance of a once-doomed city.

I caught up with Jeri, Sam, and Corey from Time Cat before the show, for a chat out the back of their van.

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Noisey: What has your experience been like in Akron? There are 130 bands here, 250 applied, so they had to turn them away. So there's this massive underground DIY indie scene here in Akron.
Corey Jenkins (Bass): It has been for a long time, like 50 years, really.
Jeri Sapronetti (Guitar/Vocals): I mean it definitely comes in waves. There have been times where there's like three decent bands to go see and it's at like Annabell's [Highland Square bar] or something. But I've been in one of those bands where you're just keeping it alive because there's nothing else you can do. Like, I quit college, because music is what I do. i've always felt that I couldn't stop until I could realize my vision. It's one that i've had since I was a little kid, playing in bands with my stuffed animals.

Can you talk about Highland Square, and all the time you've spent there, and how you've developed alongside that scene.
Sapronetti: I love Highland Square, dude. All the weirdos, from all corners of Akron are attracted to the Square like moths to a light. I don't know why. It's got the typical stuff, a coffee shop, a ridiculous amount of bars, a record store, some clothing stores, a Walgreens. The people are what makes it so cool to hang out there. I've met so many of my best friends just loitering in the Square. I've been hanging out there for the last thirteen years. When I was in college, I would skip school and my friends and I would get high, play guitars, wander around. It always felt like one of those epic, legendary neighborhoods I've read about in music bio books where all the great musicians and artists all kick it. It's all kind of culminated in the Porch Rokr festival. I can't even believe they were able to put together something to this scale. I've been going to Highland Square festivals for the last 13 years and this is the biggest, best one yet. And we get to headline it. I'm so fucking happy. It's a love that runs deep. I don't know, I love these people, I love this town.

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It seems like there was the rubber boom and then Akron kind of took a shit.
Sapronetti: Yeah, this was the fastest growing city in the 20's, like on the cover of all the big magazines of the day, like this was the place everyone was moving to, and then once all our industry just went overseas, went other places, we just experienced this huge depression that spanned for decades, so what the country has gone through with like 2008 with the housing burst and the recession, it's like, we already went through that, and we've come out on the other side, where it's not just the big industry, where it's just for money. It's like they've realized it's all about art and culture and community and music. Bringing people together instead of just like, I don't know.

Building strip malls.
Sapronetti: Yeah, just generic-ass shit. It's like there's a bunch of really unique people and if you come to this festival you see all these very unique bands. It seems like every genre's accounted for, every era's accounted for, it's bizarre. Like, I can't believe it.

I heard there's someone here playing jazz-infused shaman rock.
Sapronetti: Like, what? That sounds pretty badass.

How did you become a band and come up with the name Time Cat?
Jenkins: A book.
Sapronetti: It's a children's book, and it was buried amongst stuff in my parent's basement. I was unemployed and super depressed at the time and I figured, "fuck it, i'll just read this children's book". I ended up writing the lyrics to Boozled on the title page inside the book. So it was like right in front of my face. Just picked it and moved on. We used to be "Sun Dog", "The Yonge Ones", "No Shoes"…[interview interrupted]… I want it to be my band. I don't want to join people's bands, I didn't want to be in anyone's band. It's all I ever wanted to do, so.
Jenkins: What's always worked out the best for me is joining other people's bands as bass player. Like I got to play South By Southwest with a band called Ballroom Boxer, playing bass. Then I was in a band called 20GOTO10 playing bass where we played some festivals and we were signed to some synthpop label. If you play bass you've always got a job.

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So what about after PorchRokr, what do you guys have coming up?
Sapronetti: Uh, well we're gonna go record at Sound City. We're gonna re-record our song "Boozled" at Sound City, where Nirvana did Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac did Rumours, Tom Petty did Damn the Torpedoes, fuckin whatshisface did "Jesse's Girl."
Jenkins: Rick Springfield.

Check out more photos from PorchRockr 2017 below.

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