Wayne Beck is on a mission. It is 9 a.m. on a chilly March Saturday morning and I have been charged with transporting him and his collection of “Akron Sound” Museum artifacts from his Highland Square apartment to the Big Love Festival at Summit Artspace in Akron.
We unload the contents of my minivan onto the loading dock, and Wayne protects his collection as though it were his newborn baby – which I suppose, in a way, it is.
As he assembles the exhibit for the day, Wayne has a story to tell about each piece. If something is part of the museum, rest assured Wayne is able to tell its whole story, and then some.
The “and then some” part is because Wayne is not just an admirer of Akron music history: he has lived it. He spent the nights of his youth in local haunts like “The Crypt” and “The Bank” with a ringside seat to the likes of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, Devo, Unit 5, Tin Huey, Rubber City Rebels, The Walking Clampetts, The Waitresses, Rachel Sweet, Trudee and the Trendsetters, Hammer Damage, The Bizarros…I could go on and on. He loved the music and the experiences those bands brought to Akron (some of them well beyond Akron). He knew something special was happening then, and history has proved him right.
There was so much I had to do that day at the Big Love event, and I didn’t see Wayne again until 9:30 that night when we loaded his collection back into my van. As I entered the room, I found him packing each piece carefully and explaining to curious passersby the stories (and the fun backstories) behind the instruments, articles of clothing, hand scrawled notes and song lyrics, etc.
He shared every detail with the same enthusiasm he’d had more than 12 hours earlier. Was he bone tired? Yes, but all it took was a question about a harmonica or a rubber suit and all traces of fatigue disappeared. If ever there was a guy doing exactly what he is meant to do with his life, it is Wayne Beck.
Preserving the ‘Akron Sound’
A few weeks later, Wayne and I had lunch and talked about the “Akron Sound” and the museum that will preserve its history for future generations. Wayne was eager to share his stories, and I was eager to listen to them, so we settled in for our chat.
When I asked Wayne what the “Akron Sound” was, he talked about Akron in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as a place suffering the effects of the decline of the rubber industry and skyrocketing gas prices and unemployment.
Area musicians were making music unlike anything out there. It was influenced by broken blue-collar dreams, traditional rock and roll, the emerging punk movement, and of course, the personal experiences and preferences of individual artists. The result was a generation of Akron bands that combined those influences to create music that was offered in diverse ways but somehow connected at its roots. It is that connection that changed music on a global scale, a connection that Wayne Beck believes must be preserved.
He went on to talk about how, as he continued to dig further, he discovered much more about Akron’s musical history and decided it was important that it all be included in a museum curated to reflect the “Akron Sound.”
Wayne talked about the Howard Street jazz scene that existed in the heyday of jazz and of the greats that played in the clubs there – greats like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and a host of other jazz legends.
He mentioned the 1990s and the wave of local musical talent, some of which included The Fifth Wheel, The Twist offs, Indian Rope Burn and The Loons. Bands Tin Huey and The Waitresses were still on the scene as well, still playing, creating and influencing the “Akron Sound.”
Wayne went on to talk about the 21st century “Akron Sound.” Of course, The Black Keys is always the band mentioned first in such a discussion, and they have earned that spot, but Wayne was quick to point out that there are plenty of up-and-comers who are getting the attention of “Akron Sound” lovers right now.
Artists such as the nationally recognized Red Sun Rising, as well as Time Cat, Copali, The Gage Brothers, Jeff Klemm, Gretchen Pleuss, Emma Shepard, The Help and the Hands and Rachel Roberts…once again, a list too long to name them all.
I asked Wayne about how the idea for The “Akron Sound” Museum originated. He explained that a number of years ago, Wayne and his friend, concert promoter Giselle Fleming, discussed the idea for an “Akron Sound” exhibit. Wayne loved the idea and went to work to create what has now taken shape as the “Akron Sound” Museum.
As work on the exhibit progressed, Fleming introduced Wayne to successful Akron real estate developer Tony Troppe who loved the idea. (To simply call Troppe a real estate developer doesn’t tell the whole story. He has a knack for spotting historic gems and rescuing them from the wrecking ball to breathe new life into them while improving the quality of life in downtown Akron. Some of his successes include Musica, BLU Jazz+, Uncorked Wine Bar, and Cascade Lofts.)
Wayne sent Troppe a copy of a Knight Arts Challenge grant proposal he had submitted. While the grant was not to be, sharing the submission with Troppe led to a beautiful collaboration. Troppe generously offered the use of Musica for The “Akron Sound” Museum’s kick-off event, and he also offered to share his own expertise to help Wayne turn this dream into a reality.
The kickoff event was a success. Musica’s Jay Minkin was on hand spinning vinyl, and lots of folks stopped by to learn about The “Akron Sound” Museum and how they could become a part of it.
Another local who has taken an active role in launching The “Akron Sound” Museum is Josh Stone, front man of The Fifth Wheel, an Akron band that achieved success locally and regionally in the ‘90s and has now reemerged onstage and in the recording studio.
Stone is currently leading the effort (and headlining the show) for an “Akron Sound” Museum Benefit Concert. The concert is set for Friday, May 20 at 7 p.m., at Jilly’s Music Room. There will be a 5:30 pre-show featuring Tracey Thomas, former front woman for Unit 5. Thomas will perform a set of jazz standards. The Hurt will play at 8 p.m., followed by The Fifth Wheel at 10 p.m.
When I asked what it was about this project that made him choose to give so much of his time and energy, Stone responded, “I love this city and its music scene. I always have, even before I was a part of it. I’m proud to be an Akron musician. The ‘Akron Sound’ Museum is too important not nurture and help grow. I’m honored to be so closely involved with helping Wayne during the museum’s infancy.”
Wayne has found a temporary location for The “Akron Sound” Museum at Summit Artspace. They are welcoming The “Akron Sound” Pop-Up Museum from May 19 through June 4. The exhibit may be viewed during regular hours, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 7 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment. June 4 hours will be noon to 9 p.m. with a performance that evening by Rachel Roberts.
What comes next for The “Akron Sound” Museum? With a little help from the community, there is a bright future for Wayne Beck’s museum as he works to gain official nonprofit status and continues to curate donated and loaned “Akron Sound” artifacts. If it is up to him, there will be a brick and mortar location for the museum this year. He envisions a space where folks can go to learn about, play, listen to and celebrate the music of Akron’s past and present.
To learn more about The “Akron Sound” Museum, go to https://www.facebook.com/Akronsoundmuseum/?fref=ts or www.theakronsoundmuseum.com.
For information about The “Akron Sound” Museum Benefit Concert, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/979345832173528/.
For information about The “Akron Sound” Museum Pop-Up Museum, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/228540794180237/.