— “I can’t believe how cool this is. There are so many awesome people and cool things in Akron I didn’t even know existed! And they are all here at the same time!”
– said to me by a random passerby in the stairwell in the Summit Artspace at the Big Love Festival
The third annual Big Love Festival recently wrapped up at Summit Artspace in Akron. Big Love is a free, annual all-day celebration of the Akron community. Each year musicians, visual artists, poets, storytellers, educators, restaurateurs, healing practitioners, community nonprofit organizations of all kinds, and scores of individual volunteers collaborate to make the Big Love Festival a joyful and transformative event.
Each year the Big Love Festival draws several thousand people from throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond, and those numbers have continued to grow. For the first two years, the Big Love Festival was held in the Musica Complex, but the increasing numbers created the need for increased space, and this year the festival took over all three floors of Summit Artspace located at the corner of East Market and Summit streets in downtown Akron.
Over 4,000 people came to Big Love 2016 to enjoy local music and art, interact with local community organizations, and eat delicious local food, all within a zero waste and family friendly atmosphere.
When you are in a space for the first time and hold an event for 4,000 people, there will most certainly be surprises and challenges. It is when those challenges present themselves that we get the opportunity to see what Big Love looks like. Over the course of the day, I was witness to many beautiful acts of love and kindness throughout the building, but for me, there was one person who rose above the crowd and personified what true Big Love is all about.
Angie Fawn arrived at the beautiful Summit Artspace at 9 a.m. the day of the Big Love Festival and immediately spotted a need. She saw artists, musicians, vendors and volunteers struggling to load their supplies and equipment into a three-story building with one freight elevator and one wheeled flat cart.
She noticed that people were struggling to find the cart and operate the elevator, and Angie stepped up. She offered to staff the elevator and keep track of the cart. She came up with an efficient system and she made it work. At 10 p.m. that night, when I helped a vendor load
his car, I discovered that Angie was still there. She spent the entire day working in that elevator. She didn’t complain, even when the building’s over-taxed main elevator broke for a few hours in the middle of the day and the freight elevator became the only option for the disabled and parents with strollers. She didn’t look for glory, either. She kept her sense of humor, and though few visitors knew it, she kept the festival running, with a little help from her faithful dog, Red Bull.
As I mentioned earlier, Big Love was spread throughout the Summit Artspace Building, and following is a little bit about what that looked like.
The first floor housed the Healing Room, a space that offered its visitors the opportunity to enjoy yoga, meditation, reiki, massages, and other offerings intended to provide guests with a beautiful, relaxing space to recharge themselves body and soul, and all for free. The room itself was lovely, with beautifully tented rich fabrics, a twinkle light installation that made the room feel as though it was lit by the stars, and pillows, pads and cushions everywhere to give guests to the room a soft place to land.
Also on the first floor were children’s puppet shows and vendor tables. Krsnaa Fitch created a sweet, silly performance whose aim was to teach kids about ways to love our city and each other and to encourage us to get involved and volunteer in our community.
The second floor was home to the Community Stage, on which
acoustic musicians, poets and storytellers performed and speakers gave talks about topics important to the community. The second floor also was home to vendors galore selling their handmade and up-cycled wares and to community organizations like the Akron Sound Museum and Let’s Grow Akron informing the public about the work they do and about how everyone can be a part of it. Notable second floor performances I managed to catch included Wandering Aesthetics Theatre Company’s masterful storyteller Kyle Jozsa, as well as gifted young singer-songwriter Josie Reynolds.
The Main Stage, dance floor, food vendors, and bar could all be found on the third floor. Restaurants such as Miss Julie’s Kitchen, Coffee Pot Café and Western Fruit Basket served vegan food, and let me tell you, this cynical omnivore was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it could be once I gathered my courage and gave it a whirl.
As far as the entertainment on the Big Love Main Stage, it boasted some of Akron’s finest talent. There were some excellent performances.
The acts I was able to catch
Singer-songwriter Gretchen Pleuss kicked off the Main Stage lineup with a set of her beautiful songs. Pleuss’ beautiful melodies were a lovely welcome to the day. Following Pleuss were the always-excellent Rhodes Street Rude Boys. The Rude Boys once again rocked the house with their unique brand of reggae/punk/roots/rock music. Next, Angie Haze captured the audience’s attention and held it with her soulful lyrics and melodies, and after her performance, Haze graciously posed for pictures with young fans eager to express their appreciation for her work. The Help and the Hands were at their Gypsy-jammin’ best, delivering the kind of energy-filled performance that has made them a staple of the Akron music scene. Also memorable that afternoon was DJ Roger Riddle. Riddle and drummer Elec Simon kept the dance floor full with their fun, funky, fly mix.
As day turned to evening, rapper/hip-hop artist A-Minus lit up the night with his charismatic energy, powerful positive messages, and infectious beats. Light of the Loon – well, this self-described, “indie, bizzaro-folk, anti-folk, singer-songwriter, folk, rock band,” just keeps getting better. My personal take on what they do is musical performance art at a very high level. After Light of the Loon, Acid Cats took the stage to treat the audience to their “acidic jazz rock.” Acid Cats is a band loaded with talent and unique in genre, and when they play they leave it all on the stage.
How do you top a lineup like that? The answer is to have Zach and the Bright Lights headline the show. Front man and Big Love co-creator Zach Freidhof masterfully brought all the positive messages and joyful celebrations together on the Main Stage with a performance that resonated joy, community, and passion for living a life filled with Big Love.
Okay, it’s an awesome festival. What else is Big Love? The Big Love Network describes itself as “…a network of like-minded individuals that share the value of a greater community love, for a whole city in all its diversity. We are inspired to build bridges and spark creative collaborations across race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender and anything else that seemingly keeps us apart.”
For this team of hardworking people, the “Big Love” they feel is for the people of Akron – all the people in every corner of every neighborhood of Akron. They are determined to guide the people of Akron and help them empower themselves to take ownership of the future of their neighborhoods. They aim to teach Akronites how to re-imagine our city’s spaces as they could be and to re-imagine life in our neighborhoods as we would like it to be.
For more info, visit bigloveakron.wordpress.com.