— In person, Zach Freidhof is soft spoken and kind, but underneath this calm demeanor is an intensity, one that fuels his many community efforts: from panel discussions about religion to concerts and leading zero-waste efforts at neighborhood festivals. He’s also one of the catalysts behind the Big Love Festival, which continues its annual tradition April 1.
“I love this community,” opines Freidhof. “There’s so much talent, so much potential.” Big Love, he adds, allows us to look toward “the type of Akron we see as possible, where people can be creative, can be engaged and learn about sustainable practices and habits in as deep a way as we can possibly find.”
The all-day festival, part of the Big Love Network, will take place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Well Community Development Corporation, 647 E. Market St. (the former First Presbyterian Church) and will feature local musicians, visual artists, healers, teachers and storytellers. On the surface, Big Love is an arts and cultural neighborhood festival, but the motivation behind this annual event is much bigger, one that hopefully leads to action and real change. Entry to the event is a suggested $5 donation, but no one will be turned away for their inability to pay.
Last year’s Big Love Festival brought about 15,000 residents through the doors. This year’s theme is “Bounce Beyond,” which reminds residents to look forward toward the community we all want. Freidhof asks these simple questions: “What kind of Akron do we really want to see? How do we look at the resources we have to get there?” Often, when people are unhappy with their surroundings, they point out the problems, but don’t work toward a goal. This festival allows community members to work toward these goals through a number of workshops and creative exercises.
And then there’s the music, the art, the healing space and the storytelling. According to organizers, Big Love is “a transformational placemaking festival for and by the people of Akron, aimed at highlighting artists, healing practitioners, organizations, musicians and local food and craft vendors, all while fostering leadership and authentic collaboration as we seek to build community and compassion.”
Like past years’ festivals, Big Love will center around a large art installation, which this year is a giant story tree that will appear to grow through the Well’s sanctuary/main room where the main stage will be located. And keeping with this theme, participants may write a few paragraphs about their connection to place on “leaves” for the Story Tree installation, which will be shared by organizers, along with helping with the group’s efforts to address community needs.
And speaking of stories, a “campfire room” hosted by the Wandering Aesthetics theatre group will encompass story circles, a group exercise used to promote understanding and explore social issues and identity among populations. That room will be transformed into a DJ room after 4 p.m.
Zero waste, minimal impact
The art installation, which falls in line with a goal of minimal impact, will be created so that the materials do not cause any lasting damage to the ceiling, walls and other interior aspects of the Well. The festival’s art director is local artist Francisca Ugalde, who, at last year’s event, worked with community members to create a mural called “Find Yourself,” which was a projection of a map of Akron over which residents painted. Since then, she has showcased pieces of the mural throughout different venues in the community.
There also will be workshops related to our affiliation with place, which will explore racial justice and social justice. In addition, zero-waste workshops will be available. Freidhof and his other collaborators have helped reduce the waste produced at a number of other community events (like Porch Rokr), separating the compostable materials and the recyclable materials, to where very little is actually headed to the landfill.
Leaving a minimal footprint is key to this connection to community, says Freidhof, who adds that Steve Larson will lead the zero-waste team and will help guide the Big Love Festival toward a zero-waste event. Larson and his team will be visible to attendees, and will offer educational materials. Hopefully, says Freidhof, these same attendees will be motivated to adopt these practices in other aspects of their lives.
The event’s theme of “Bounce Beyond” applies to the notion of looking forward while also taking heed of the past. “The ‘Beyond’ point is a big deal for us,” says Freidhof. “We think it’s really important to be looking forward.”
Workshops, healing, performers
The lineup of performers will span the building, from the main stage to the “grassroots stage.”
With AaRron “Ace” Epps as the MC, the main stage will include noted performers like Gretchen Pleuss, jazz pianist Theron Brown, The Admirables, Umojah Nation and Zach & the Bright Lights (Freidhof’s band), along with the Druk Fusion Band, which plays a mix of Nepali folk music and Western music.
There will also be a kids’ space available throughout the day, which includes a dance party, crafts, family yoga, puppet shows, improv and story time.
Another prominent theme for this and other Big Love events is healing. Workshops at the Rooted Space (run by Rooted Akron) will include “Mindfulness for Your Health,” “Meditation with Energy,” “Elevate Your Spirit to Serve,” “Navigating the Mind” and “An Exploration of Hypnotic Induction,” among other sessions.
Rooted Space healing practitioners will offer reiki, thai massage, acupressure, sound healing and nature-based energy healing, along with a number of other healing modalities. This event is a good opportunity for residents experience some of these healing techniques, Freidhof adds.