Sound Check: New Jilly’s Music Room is a nice place to catch a live show

By Malcolm X Abram Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Last week, I lamented that I had yet to visit Jilly’s Music Room, the brand-spanking-new live-music venue and bar that opened the day after Thanksgiving in the Akron spot formerly known as Northside.

Well, I took a trip downtown to check out the place Saturday night and see local bluesman Colin John with singer Long Tall Deb, who is pretty tall, and I must say I was quite impressed.

Anyone who hung out at Northside will barely recognize the uniquely shaped room, as proprietor Jill Bacon Madden has made some pretty big and helpful changes. The wall separating the old wine bar from the rest of the place has been removed, making the entrance less of a choke point, and the actual bar has been updated and moved. The whole place is painted and carpeted (yeah, carpet!) in a soothing, calming shade of blue (cobalt? midnight?) and the wall that used to hold the bar is now lined with tables.

The stage is in the back corner, allowing performers to face the entire audience. There is still a dance floor and the sound is good, although as is often the case in smaller clubs and bars, I could have used a little more booty in the bass. The servers and bartenders were friendly and attentive, and the menu has been upgraded from standard bar food to fancy (gluten-free!) bar food including tapas, blackened tiger shrimp and a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels in a white wine/garlic butter/tomato broth that was quite delicious.

Jilly’s Music Room obviously doesn’t have the previous venue’s weathered old-school charm, and there’s no reading material scrawled on the relocated squeaky-clean men’s room wall yet (stay classy, Akron). But if you need a dive bar fix, there are other places in town you can get that kind of atmosphere. Jilly’s is a nice place to have a few drinks and see some live music, and given the surely hefty investment that’s been put into upgrading the place, Bacon Madden is clearly in it for the long haul.

The shows, most of which happen Wednesday through Friday, are free, and on most nights, there are two shows by different bands. That’s quite a pace to keep up, even with all the local talent hungry to perform, but Bacon Madden also acquired an apartment for traveling bands to use overnight, so she’s got ambitions of bringing national and/or regional touring acts to her stage.

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, this weekend’s slate at Jilly’s is quite full, beginning today with a 5:30 p.m. set from singer/songwriter Ryan Humbert (is there anywhere in this state that dude hasn’t played?) and at 8 p.m. a set by singer/songwriter Tracey Thomas. On Friday night, the Colin John Band returns for the early set followed by the Juke Hounds, and on Saturday, rootsy singer/songwriter Gretchen Pleuss, who released the album Out of Dreams in July, will take the early slot followed at 8 p.m. by tuneful pop rockers Scott Hanson & the Champagnes.

It’s always good to have another place for bands to play, and it’s even better when that place doesn’t smell like Monday morning dive-bar mop water, and you can get a line-caught yellowfin tuna slider encrusted in cracked black peppercorns.

Random acts of live music

Ripper’s Rock House will hold a Toys For Tots collection tonight. Donate a toy and, well, feel a little better about yourself while you listen to Chuck and Larry’s Vinyl Redemption beginning at 7 p.m. Chuck and Larry are “two guys and a few crates full of records” and they spin soul, rock, punk, metal “and everything in between.”

At 8 p.m., long-running local holiday band Missile Toe will do its annual punk- and garage-rock takes on classic holiday music. They’ve been at this for well over a decade, and it’s generally a fun and slightly silly evening hoisting beers and sneering through Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Johnny Rotten-style.

The Kent Stage also has a couple of holiday-themed shows, including a Holiday Hip-Hop Showcase on Friday night. Scheduled performers include Bschors, Joey Long & Kjay, Thy Mule, Matt Campy, Circleside, Big Squeeze, Jloudz, Superjones, Saint Dank, Dude Sufi and Brandon Mims. The show starts at 7 p.m. and I wonder if any of the evening’s presumably young emcees are schooled enough to know Run-D.M.C.’s classic 1987 hit Christmas In Hollis, or going even further back into hip-hop history, Kurtis Blow’s 1979 Christmas Rappin’.

On Saturday, musician/actor Chris Isaak will bring his latest “holiday concert” to the Kent Stage. Isaak most recently released Beyond the Sun, a tribute to the legendary rock ’n’ roll and rockabilly music made at the equally legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, which has clearly been a huge influence on the retro crooner/rocker. For fans, that means an evening of Isaak’s hits such as Wicked Game, alongside classic Sun-related tunes by the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, and a healthy heaping of holiday songs.

And, since we’re all in a holiday mood, downtown Akron venue Musica will play host to a benefit concert dubbed Akron Artists For Akron Benefit. The evening has a strong lineup beginning at 7:30 p.m. with the soulful bluesy Americana of Tall Tales of Akron, followed at 8:30 by the space blues of Dave Hammer’s Power Supply. At 9:30, the Ridges will perform, followed by percussion-heavy Latin jazz octet Ahi Nama at 10:30, jam band Hayden Calling at 11:30, and the evening is closed out by soul/pop rockers Winslow at 12:30 a.m.

Alongside the bands will be a raffle and a silent auction featuring works by several local artists, as well as a few “live painters” who will create throughout the evening. The entry donation is $10, but if you’re in a really giving mood, feel free to give more; proceeds will be donated to patients at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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