BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
Crowds of music fans from around the region have heard the word. For fun times and great music, Port Clinton is calling you!
“We‘re a small town of only about 6,000 people, but our Music on Madison Stage and friendly downtown bars, restaurants and unique shops are driving a new industry. It’s called tourism,” said Mayor Mike Snider. “And it’s quite obvious we’re doing things right.”
Putting the right team together to make it all happen took lots of planning and plenty of time — and some luck driven by the blood, sweat and tears of some savvy folks.
When the Music on Madison Stage wrapped up its summer season last Saturday on the Live Nation Stage on Madison Street, it was appropriate to spotlight Athens Wheeler Band, which featured the musical talent of local attorney Ron Nisch.
Nisch has been the Entertainment Coordinator of Music on Madison, rounding up a seemingly never-ending list of musical acts of every persuasion. The bands played on the spacious stage every Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday nights, as well as Sunday afternoons. More than 80 bands provided downtown entertainment from May through early October.
Its success has been helped by the popular downtown DORA open carry alcohol rules, a growing number of restaurants, taverns and shops, and an increasing schedule of wonderful summertime activities.
“My goal has been to present consistently high quality music acts on a professionally-run stage, so that both the artists and the attendees can rely on Port Clinton for great shows every week,” said Nisch, a guitar player. “I think we’ve presented a really good variety of music and have a very accomplished sound man, Stu Staunton, who makes the bands sound so professional.
“We also emphasized modern party and dance acts, such as Distant Cousin, The Skittle Bots, Killer Flamingos and Arch City Lights. We also presented country-flavored acts like Eric Sowers, TJ Hayden and Willow Hill, and even touring and original music acts including Laura Rain and the Caesars, Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils and Shane Piasecki and the Lone Wolf Hippies.
Nisch knows there is a lot of local talent close to home, as well.
“That’s why we also emphasized groups like Jordan and Josh, The Junk, Ron Howard, Miss Kitty and the Litter and Lance and Shannon, and offered our popular Sunday afternoon shows,” he said. On Thursday evenings, Nisch rounded up lots of acoustic acts and singer-songwriters so “we had lots of party fun bands, and provided a wide variety of quality music from all over Northwest Ohio, and beyond.”
Nisch said the diverse crowds have grown substantially over the last two years.
“People come up to me all of the time to tell me what a great thing have going on here in Port Clinton. It’s really unique,” said Nisch. “None of this would have been possible without the collaboration of the City of Port Clinton and Main Street Port Clinton, and a buy-in from all of our great sponsors.”
Sponsors include Polter Real Estate, Magruder Hospital, The Frederick Agency/Auto Owners Insurance, Weickert Realtors – the Morgan Realty Group, GenoaBank, Ohio Telecom, Bayside Comfort, Fraternal Order of Eagles #2295, Poggemeyer Design Group, Toft’s Dairy, Gully’s Lake Wear, Northern Exposure and Lake Fish Company. Special weekend sponsors have been Shores and Islands Ohio and Crown Battery. Carrying part of the funding load have been Rosie’s Bar & Grill, The Brick House and McCarthy’s Restaurant & Pub.
“Next year I hope we can make the sponsorship and participation even broader to include more businesses and venues. This is the idea of a new area promotional theme focused on Ron Miller’s fantastic song, ‘Port Clinton’s Calling Me,’ emphasizing the face we’re bringing hundreds of people to downtown Port Clinton every summer weekend to benefit all of our shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses.”
The Live Nation Stage that is on permanent loan to Port Clinton, thanks to summer resident Brandon Bucar of Live Nation, gives the city a professional appearance, said Snider.
“So many people now come to Port Clinton throughout the summer to enjoy the music, and to enjoy our Lake Erie community, great restaurants and friendly atmosphere,” said Snider. “We get calls all week to find out who’s playing and when.”
That’s a big difference for Ron Miller of Our guest Inn in downtown Port Clinton, who wrote and recorded “Port Clinton’s Calling Me,” the town’s new promotional theme song.
“Our guests used to talk about the music they heard at Put-in-Bay when they returned from the island each night,” said Miller. “Nowadays its stories are about the Music on Madison Stage performers and the other local bands in Port Clinton. That’s quite a chance in just a couple of years, and is great for the downtown businesses in Port Clinton.
Snider said city officials had no clue the Music on Madison Stage would succeed, but they knew they had to give it a try after experiencing hard times during the pandemic and fielding too many cancellations at local hotels, motels and restaurants. Enacting DORA open carry regulations were the start. The influx of bands and entertainment to the Madison Street area that followed was well received by the community, and it all blew up overnight as new businesses set up shop.
“That was unexpected,” said Snider. “The expansion of economic development was never on my radar. We were just trying to save what we had. We began to get state and federal grants that we really needed, and with a plan and our own startup money, we were on our way.”