BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
The District Stage will wrap up its summer music schedule this weekend in downtown Port Clinton. It is appropriate that first up on the weekend card on Friday night at 8 p.m. will be Athens Wheeler, a northwestern Ohio group that featured Port Clinton musician and attorney Ron Nisch, who died suddenly less than a year ago after suffering a stroke.
It was Nisch who spent many hours creating a solid summer schedule of bands and a variety of music for what is now The District Stage, lining up an amazing array of bands to make the downtown stage a resounding success. He became the Entertainment Coordinator of Music on Madison, the precursor to The District Stage, and included his own band, Athens Wheeler, in the mix, recognizing that diversity would help in the road to success.
Nisch was right, and music lovers flocked to Port Clinton throughout the summer from around the region and beyond to give our small town an enormous amount of attention. It also economically gave the city a boost, proving the mainland could match the musical talent on the local islands and in larger cities nearby.
While this summer’s schedule is coming to an end this weekend, the stage will remain for a while. Specialty events are in the planning stage through September, and will be announced soon.
Rick Thomas has joined Athen Wheelers to replace Nisch, joining a very tight-knit group that also includes lead singer Dorothy Dennen, Bill Lenhart on drums, Franz Schlievert playing bass, Steve Mockensturm playing keyboards and Paul Juhasz holding down the horn section.
“Any time the band gets together to play music, Ron Nisch is with us in spirit,” said Dennen, who has played with Nisch for more than 20 years. “Music brought us all together, and in our hearts we carry him with us every time we take the stage.”
Athens Wheeler is a versatile rock, rhythm and soul band whose set list gracefully careens from extended jams to Motown soul to Appalachian mountain music, classic R&B and straight ahead rock and roll.
While Nisch was an accomplished guitarist, the veteran musician also knew all of the other bands — some local, some obscure and others surprisingly famous on a national stage. His bookings were solid, a bonus for afficianados coming from Columbus, Toledo or Cleveland.
“Ron Nisch’s efforts took a an open air stage concept with an exceptional sound expert and built The District Stage into what it is today,” said Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider. “Everything done with respect to booking bands and fine tuning the entertainment is based on his efforts and the efforts of many others he recruited.”
Snider says that every single time he steps on the big stage, he thinks about his friend.
“Ron Nisch had my total trust and friendship. He was always last person I talked to before going on stage when introducing a band or speaking to the crowds. We all sorely miss him.”