'This is a Hail Mary': Akron DIY Music Venue Looks to Raise $135,000 to Save its Digs

The house of It's A Kling Thing!, a haven for Midwestern punk and hardcore shows since 2007, is up for sale

click to enlarge A backyard show at It's A Kling Thing! in an undated photo. The house is up for sale for an asking price of $137,900, which the tenants are trying to pay themselves. - It's A Kling Thing!
It's A Kling Thing!
A backyard show at It's A Kling Thing! in an undated photo. The house is up for sale for an asking price of $137,900, which the tenants are trying to pay themselves.
Most music venues in the U.S., if not all of them, operate under the guiding capitalistic assumption that they provide a venue for a good show, you enjoy the show, and after what you pay goes to artists and rent and operations, there's profit at the end.

Those embedded in the DIY scene don't operate that way, and not only shrug at it, but hate it.

Margins are slim, and leases or handshake agreements are tenuous. Houses get sold, neighborhoods change, and DIY venues come and go.

Such a fate has befallen on of the longest-running DIY spots in Northeast Ohio, if not the entire state.

On August 17th, after 16 years functioning as a punk-stylized haven for local and traveling bands, the house hosting It's A Kling Thing! was put up for sale by its landlord. The asking price: $137,900.

On September 3rd, the three tenants currently orchestrating Kling's bill—Gerald Smith, Wes Martin and Thom Olenik—decided to go ahead and move forward with what may be somewhat impossible for a trio of musicians and recent college grads: attempting to raise the six-figure sum themselves to keep the space alive through a fundraising effort.

"It’s a Kling Thing! is one of the longest-running DIY punk houses in the Midwest. Our sacred space has been a staple of underground music for 16 years, and has strong roots not only in the local community, but nationally and internationally as well," the group's GoFundMe page reads, while acknowledging the longshot odds. "This is a Hail Mary, but we think that it could work!"

Though the pandemic put a wrench in the sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder ethos of most DIY spaces, there's been, after three years, a slight rebound of newer or reshaped venues returning in full force.

Those like Kling, along with other Northeast Ohio staples and newcomers, like The Birdhouse, Prototype Collective or Bless This Mess, act as necessary no-cost, no-frills spaces, their proprietors argue, that serve a particular fanbase and upcoming artists. And their removal, they say, limits opportunities for burgeoning bands—often those who don't play elsewhere.

"Every single show, there's new people," Martin, 24, told Scene, recounting Kling's revival in September 2021, after a year-and-a-half hiatus. "Now, it's at its most successful, and at the most risk ever of dying."
click to enlarge A fundraiser show for Casper Dandridge. - It's A Kling Thing!
It's A Kling Thing!
A fundraiser show for Casper Dandridge.
After their landlords divulged they were putting Kling's address, and the house next door, up for sale, panic set in for the three musicians, who had helped run the venue for the past six or seven years.

The owner, Roger Stewart, who actually grew up in the 123-year-old house as a teenager, had told the three he was effectively retiring—"I'm 63," he said—and that they would have to relocate once the home found its buyer. He denied that Kling was ever a burden; no noise complaints or major damage (say, drywall holes) were reported, to memory. Only the oven and dishwasher needed replacement.

"Once they told me they wanted it," Stewart told Scene in a call, "I felt bad. They'd been there awhile been great tenants."

"It's tough to sell it," he added. "But I can't take it with me."

Feeling rushed by the urgency of Stewart's realtor, Terry Mullins, Martin and his housemates had a crisis intervention to discuss "potential plans" as the For Sale sign went up in Kling's front yard. They discussed possible mortgages with Kling founder Jordan Welker (Welker was already paying one on his home in Columbus). They considered trying for a loan themselves, but none were in a position to get approved.

So, GoFundMe seemed like a last resort. As of September 6th, the guys have raised $16,585 of the hoped-for $134,000. The faith lies in, Martin explained, banking on raising enough cash to buy the land contract the house sits under. The house would remain in Stewart's name, and Martin and crew would follow a sort of rent-to-own model.  "I'm basically being a banker," Stewart said.

That is, if the current interested party backs out. After inspection, Stewart suggested the home might be sold for a tad lower price, in the ballpark of $110,000. Which still may be high for its tenants and their benefactors.

To Martin, a guitarist himself, the effort in raising money is rooted in Kling's history as a community space, not one itching to make a cut on bar tabs. (Any ticket revenue is via donations.)

The recollections overcome him: the time he quit his job at Swenson's, in 2020, to see Shin Guard. The time, in 2017, Prince Daddy set one of their vinyl records on fire. Or, in August 2021, when Kling hosted a 300-person fundraiser after the death of superfan Casper Dandridge. "We had over 300 people," Martin said. "We broke just over $1,000 in donations."

"Its value for networking is so high," he added. "Modern Baseball. Tiny Moving Parts. They came through, and they still shout out Kling when they sell out a 1,500 cap venue."

Even for Mullins, who's been monitoring Kling's Zillow page for the past two weeks, the notion of three DIY hosts crowdfunding six figures to try and buy their own community music venue is, for her, unheard of.

"I've never heard of anything like this," she said. "It's pretty unique, let me tell you. Pretty unique."

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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