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A Weird Twist Of Fate
Confronting Change At The Kent Stage In Kent, Ohio
"The older god put me on, and had to rock this."
(Raekwon The Chef)
(Raekwon The Chef)
I always thought that an opening act was supposed to prime the audience for the feature, not outshine the "main attraction." This seems to be the Way of things, at least in a normal venue. However, it appears that if you revert a modified setting back to its original milieu, everything involved gets switched around as well.
I came to this conclusion on the evening of May 25, 2002. What I once knew as the local matinee was now the Kent Stage, and this was my first time walking through the doors since I watched Sam Jackson bring Shaft back to the silver screen. In those days of recent Yore, the Kent Theater was not only economically viable for penniless vagrants like me, it was also a showcase for films not soggy from the Mainstream. Sure, they played movies second-hand from the town's main cinema, but every once in a while, you'd catch an independent project that couldn't be found at most multiplexes.
My nostalgia was comparatively shallow as it were, for the building was originally designed as a vaudeville type of cabaret. Its doors first opened in 1927, and the Theater played host to live performances, while also screening the occasional silent film. As Time passed, "talkies" rendered their cinematic ancestors obsolete, and due to their growing popularity, the Theater eventually became a two-stage motion picture house.
Then, not long after the turn of this Century, the Western Reserve Folk Arts Association bought the Theater, and began to establish a "home of traditional and world musics as well as the world of theatrical arts." By March, 2002, renovation was under way, and the Kent Theater became the Kent Stage.
Still, I was somewhat resentful, as the Cinema was the only one of its kind in the area. Nonetheless, I'm a fan of Pat Sweany, who was opening up that Saturday night for the Blues legend that is Jimmy Johnson. Johnson is a brick in the History of Blues, right along with Buddy Guy, Freddie King, and Lonnie Brooks. He's played with the likes of Jimmy Dawkins and Otis Rush, and even earned himself a Grammy nomination in 1978. Instead of retiring, though, Johnson still tours around the globe, playing new and old material, and continuing to maintain his position as "one of the best performers on the blues circuit," according to the New York Times.
Sweany, on the other hand, is still somewhat of a rookie, but only by tenure. Born in 1974, Pat began playing guitar as a child, feeding off influences such as Doc Watson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Pete Seeger, the great Leadbelly, and even Jimmy Johnson. His debut CD, I Wanna Tell You, was released only a year or so ago, but he's already snagged fans across the nation with his modern touch to the Blues sound, infusing soul, rock, and jazz into the mix. He's shared the stage with Chris Isaak, Better Than Ezra, and The Kinsey Report, not to mention A.C. Croce and Jimmy Thackery. And on most Tuesday evenings, you can find Pat doing his Thing at the Zephyr Pub in downtown Kent.
Only a block away from the Zephyr lies the Kent Theater…I mean STAGE. As I passed through the entrance, my stomach curled, and a chill shot from the base of my skull down to the tips of my toes. The movie posters were gone, replaced by upcoming events and other paraphernalia relating to music and stage performances. Had it not been for Melissa, the sweetest and most beautiful person on Earth, I surely would have torn my clothes to shreds and ran out onto East Main Street screaming: "NOTHING'S SACRED ANYMORE!" However, Fate was on my side, and Melissa was kind enough to accompany me to the show. As we approached the auditorium in which Sweany was already playing, I looked at her, taking a deep, nervous breath before entering what I felt was a ghastly desecration. Of course, when she
smiled at me, my anxiety quickly dissolved, and I relaxed as we walked in.
Before us was a mirror image of one of the most incredible performances in the history of Mankind: Neil Young's concert at the Muziektheater Stopera in Amsterdam on December 10, 1989. Alone on the stage, raised slightly above a faint darkness in which several hundred people sat in attendance, Pat was jamming away, letting his Passion flow out through the room and into the hypnotized crowd.
By the time we scored seats just two rows away from the rostrum, my indignation had vanished, allowing me to enjoy the show. Although Sweany may divulge a genre that was established decades ago, he does so with contemporary gist, and his mastery of the Art is nothing short of extraordinary. This night in particular, seeing Pat play stuff like his yet-unreleased "I'll Take Care Of You" is an engrossing phenomenon, and when I listen to old Leadbelly tracks from the 30's, I feel as if I can relate to his audiences. It's not even the sense of being witness to a Legend, rather just the absorbing consciousness of listening to someone that's managed to express the feelings that we all endure.
After Sweany delivered his mesmerizing set, Jimmy Johnson took the stage and, with His Chicago Blues Band, rocked the house proper. They put on one hell of a show, performing their various tunes along with some covers with a precision that's expected from a guru like Johnson.
After their intermission, a fantastic incident took place that will be forever ingrained in my memory. Johnson came back from the short break, and invited Pat Sweany up to the stage to jam for a bit. Although they only played a couple songs together, I noticed that Johnson was actually following Seweany's lead, and not vice-versa. The spirit of this Art had come around full circle right before our eyes.
When they were finished, Pat was switched with Johnson's Band, and although they played for a good while longer, and quite remarkably at that, they couldn't top the performance that Patrick Sweany gave that night. Leaving the Stage, I began to have all sorts of intrepid aspirations to behold such a weird twist on protocol again, and I can't wait for the next time this happens.
I'm still somewhat sore about the lack of unique films available near my house, but I was quite impressed with the transformation. Should you ever find yourself stuck in NE Ohio, make your way to the Kent Stage and see what's going on, unless it's a Tuesday night, of course. Pat at the Zephyr is a must.