Thursday, February 19, 2015

Big Love Fest 2015

Big Love Fest 2015

For the second year in a row, Big Love Fest, a free festival celebrating community, creativity, and collaboration, will take place from noon-midnight on all three floors of the Musica complex (51 East Market St, Akron) Saturday, February 28.

The theme of Big Love 2015 is “S/Heroes,” recognizing and celebrating those who inspire individuals and the community. Global Ties Akron, The Akron League of Creative Interventionists, Akron Peace Project, Musica, and other local organizations have partnered to present this second annual event.

To get an idea of what is entailed in a Big Love Fest, 2014’s event featured 20 bands, five yoga classes, five food vendors, seven community-building workshops, seven installation artists, 10 poets, a meditation space, and was attended by 1,000 visitors.

Big Love Fest is also a zero-waste focused event (i.e. last year’s 1,000 visitors only created one bag of landfill trash--everything else was either recycled or composted). Few festivals have a zero-waste focus, and Big Love was estimated to be the biggest such event in greater Akron last year. ReWorks and Gill Gillono of Chicago VeganMania will once again be working with local organizers on the zero-waste focused aspect of Big Love.

Entertainment this year includes Zach & the Bright Lights, Light of the Loon, The Admirables, Rachel Roberts, The Help, The Poplars, Time Cat, and Angie Haze, among others.

One of last year’s highlights was a room-sized metal and cloth art installation by Michael Marras and Jessica Lofthus, depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes. The sculpture was commissioned to travel to several regional summer festivals. Michael Marras will again be creating for Big Love, as well as artists Megan Shane, Jessica Myers, April Couch, Caty Petersilge, and Mara Fragge, as well as live performance painters.

Other activities will include yoga classes by Blue Hen Yoga, Free Akron Yoga, and Body Karma Healing Yoga; hands-on children’s programs by Spring Garden Waldorf School; various workshops presented by The Akronist; and community workshop topics including “The Artist as a Place-Maker/Community Builder,” “Healthy Eating on a Budget,” “Implicit Bias Training,” “Hug Workshops,” “Urban Agriculture,” and more. Food vendors include Mustard Seed, Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, and Urban Eats.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

This Band Could Be Your Life: By Light We Loom

Akron Empire is excited to welcome back guest blogger Erica Scheutzow, who has written for us quite regularly over the past few years. When she is not sharing her favorite things about Akron with us, she runs a small business called As I Breathe I Hope, where she handmakes quirky original plush characters made from new and recycled fabrics. Check out AIBIH on Etsy and on Facebook.

This Band Could Be Your Life: By Light We Loom
By Erica Scheutzow

After many years, the band Bethesda has come to an end but members Shanna Delaney and Eric Ling aren’t done yet! Without skipping a beat, Shanna and Eric are pushing forward with their new project, By Light We Loom.

I heard the release of their first single, “The Ignition” in December and it was absolutely magical. I must’ve listened to it on repeat for what seemed like hours. Shanna and Eric possess a talent, passion and drive that makes you smile ear to ear when you hear their music and make you want more. I couldn’t be happier about their new venture and what they’re bringing to the music scene.

It was my pleasure to have a Q&A session with them about this new chapter and share their happenings with all of you. Let’s dig in!

Erica: How was the name of your new band decided upon?
BLWL: The name originated from the classic literary piece The Odyssey.  In this story, Penelope (Odysseus’s wife) is facing the hard reality that her husband might not be coming home.  Meanwhile, because of her beauty and fortune, she was being sought after by many men.  To put the suitors off, she weaves a funeral shroud for her father-in-law, Odysseus father, and says she will pick a suitor once she has finished.  Penelope, unwilling to give up hope of her husband’s return, would secretly undo the weaving that she had done the day before, and we imagine her doing this by candlelight. We loved this imagery of hanging on to hope, even when all signs seem to be saying that hope is lost.  In our minds, by light she loomed.  In a similar way, we were experiencing a period of “what now…” following the end of Bethesda (our former band). We could either let music in our lives wither away or pick up the broken pieces and loom them back together with hope. Like Penelope, we labored to prolong the hope and continue to do what we love most -write and perform music.  There is also a double meaning. Loom is also a verb meaning “to be made majestic” or “to come into greater view.” We connected it with the idea that it is by God’s light we are the truest, rawest, greatest, most beautiful form of ourselves.

Erica: What was your vision for this band?
BLWL: We knew that we wanted to continue to have a BIG sound and engage our audiences with high-energy shows. It’s just who we are.  Figuring that out with just two people was a task, but with the help of looping technology, we have been able to build songs that we are really proud of and really seem to capture what we are all about.  Truthfully, we are just excited to write and perform new music.  It is a fresh start for us.  We decided not to carry any songs over from Bethesda and to just create something that is wholly new and wholly us.  Our vision is to continue to write and perform music for ourselves, our God, and our fans.  We hope that in some small way, our stories and our songs can connect with people and trigger a memory, a thought, or a conversation that reinforces that hope that drives and energizes all of us.

Erica: How would you relate the style and influence of your sound to your listeners?
BLWL: It’s difficult to describe - which we think is a good thing. It’s folk-story songwriting with indie-pop dancey synths, beats, and guitars.  We write songs that have deep personal meaning to us and try to perform them with the energy and emotion that each song deserves.  We hope that what we do is engaging, original, and familiar all at the same time. Something you can dance to, sing along to, and sit and contemplate life to all in the same night.

Erica: How would you depict your style of writing lyrics and music?
BLWL: Lyrics are very important to us.  We are constantly moved by the things we encounter in our day to day lives.  We try to harness this emotion and these feelings and tell an honest story with them that speaks to the difficulty in life, in both the mundane and profound, and the constant backdrop of hope.  It takes time, but we think it is time well-spent. For the music, Eric basically locks himself in a room for hours to start.  It really is a grand experiment.  He writes the chord structure and the melody, and then builds synth beat loops for the entire song based on what seems to fit and give the song the desired energy.  Then, he writes a hook on the guitar.  Following that, he goes and searches for the sound to communicate that loop (whether it is a vintage synth or an antique horn, or others).  He then designs the loop. After that, it’s counter melodies, rhythmic backing tracks, and on and on until we feel like the song has the desired effect.  Then we play it - A LOT.  We talk about it - A LOT. We change and tweak it - A LOT.  After a long and exciting process, we finally play it and think, “THAT’S IT!” All of that to say, we are not searching for a specific “style,” but are really building every single melody, hook, beat,  and harmony around the original song and lyrics.  We are trying to create a beautiful and engaging tapestry on which to hang our song.  It’s a process, but one that we love!

Erica: Do you have any other notable contributors to this album?
BLWL: Our producer and recording engineer, Jim Stewart, has been instrumental in helping us take our loops that are designed for live performance and modifying them for a studio recording. His input and wizardry has been HUGE!

Erica: When is your debut show?
BLWL: Our EP release will be Friday May 1st 2015

Erica: Do you have any upcoming festivals on your roster?
BLWL: We luckily got to play a few fests already in our short time together (We just started in August 2014). We got to play Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, NeoCycle Fest in Cleveland, and Heights Music Hop in Cleveland. We’ll be playing Brite Winter Fest in Cleveland on Feb. 21st.

Erica: Will you be traveling locally or nationally for this album?
BLWL: We are currently working on late winter and spring tour dates  regionally.  We are planning trips to Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, and more.  We also have local shows lined up with great local and national bands. We have already had the privilege of playing with some great national bands, such as The Kin, Twin Forks (Dashboard Confessional side project), Tiny Ruins, and more in our short existence. We’ll be playing with Frontier Ruckus at Beachland on February 7th. We are truly excited about what is in store!  As we grow, we hope to continue to expand out and reach further into national tours once again.

Erica: What do you hope to gain through this new venture?
BLWL: We aren’t sure what the end-goal of this venture is at the moment. With Bethesda we had a clear, driving goal, but now we’re just enjoying writing and performing music and taking opportunities that present themselves. However, we certainly hope to continue to meet incredible people that care about music and others wherever we go. The rest is just the icing on top.

Erica: How can fans access your new album?
BLWL: Our album will be available on iTunes and our Bandcamp for purchase on May 1st, 2015.

You can learn more about By Light We Loom by visiting their website or their Bandcamp site. You can also follow their adventures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Don't miss them at Brite Winter Fest in Cleveland on February 21st!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Aladdin’s Eatery: Healthy & Exotic Lebanese American Cuisine

Akron Empire is beyond excited to welcome aboard new guest blogger Wendy Voelker! Wendy is a professional events planner, and recently moved to NEO from the Capital Region of New York State (just north of Albany). A New Yorker born and bred, she's slowly adjusting to the Akron-area food scene. An accomplished home cook, Wendy was organically trained in culinary skills by her mom, and is particularly obsessed with baking (usually bread). Her favorite food is hummus, and she is still in search of an authentic NY-style pizza in Ohio. Wendy can also be found at, which she's been writing since 2007.

Aladdin’s Eatery: Healthy & Exotic Lebanese American Cuisine
by Wendy Voelker

I’m relatively new to NE Ohio, and I’m having fun exploring new places to eat around town. I live and work in Twinsburg, so heading to Hudson is a great option for me, both for dinner and lunch. My most recent expedition was to Aladdin’s Eatery in Hudson with my friends Nicole and Francesca. I love Middle Eastern cuisine and Aladdin’s does it right.

Aladdin’s Eatery is based in Lakewood and has many locations throughout NE ohio as well as Columbus, Toledo, and Pittsburgh. In case you were wondering (because I was), Aladdin's Eatery is a separate company from Aladdin's Bakery, located in downtown.

This was the second time I’ve eaten lunch at Aladdin’s. The first time was so good; I couldn’t wait to go back. Their menu is rather extensive, and includes lots of vegetarian and vegan choices, and pretty much everyone can find something delicious on there. There are also plenty of options that include beef, chicken, and lamb. I’m currently experimenting with vegetarianism (and going dairy-free as well), and there were more than enough options to keep me happy.

The Aladdin’s outpost in Hudson is on 44 Park Lane, tucked into the First and Main district, aquaint and friendly shopping area full of restaurants, retail outlets, coffee shops, art galleries, and even a Heinen’s supermarket. There’s plenty of parking available, including a covered parking deck, all free. The inside of the restaurant is open and airy, painted in muted primary colors and filled with tables (I didn’t see any booths). The hostess seated us quickly, even during a busy weekday lunch.

Our server Jason was friendly and attentive, and got us drinks and a starter right away. We requested an order of hummus - because eating hummus in a Middle Eastern restaurant is practically a law, isn’t it? Aladdin’s hummus is as simple as it gets - chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon, a little salt. Very traditional. It’s actually slightly more lemony than other hummus I’ve had, which was very pleasant.

At this point, my friend Nicole urged us to get a side of their hot sauce (her favorite), so we ordered some to go along with the hummus. I asked our server if he knew what was in it, and he said he didn’t know. In fact, he said, the hot sauce was the only thing that was *not* made in the restaurant itself - it’s made in their central location, and shipped to the restaurants in large containers. He didn’t know what was in it, but implied that it’s more or less a proprietary formula and that the recipe isn’t shared with anyone. So, little detectives that we were, we examined the little plastic container from all angles and tasted it repeatedly to try to figure out what’s in it. We did everything short of breaking out the electron microscope in our investigation. We are pretty sure it’s a puree of vinegar, banana peppers, some other kind of hot pepper, and spices. Definitely no garlic, and probably no cumin. It’s a delightful sauce, very light with a piquant heat-- not overwhelming, just a nice bite. We mixed some into the hummus, and it was brilliant. Make sure you ask for some on the side with whatever you order.

Nicole ordered the Falafel Salad (for the uninitiated - falafel is deep fried chickpea patty, usually containing a spice mix of cumin, coriander, parsley, garlic, and cilantro). She claimed that she *always* orders falafel, whether it be a salad, a roll, or a pita pizza (at Aladdin’s those are called “pitzas”). Her salad looked fresh and filling, consisting of four falafel patties on a bed of mixed greens with cucumbers, scallions, and sliced tomato and some feta cheese and tahini yogurt dressing on the side. The portions are hearty - she took half of it back to the office for later.

I ordered the Baba Falafel Rolled, which is falafel patties, baba ghanoush, greens, tomato, turnips, pickles, and parsley, rolled in a pita. I had ordered this on my previous visit, but I had to have it again because of the baba ghanoush and the pickled veggies. It’s a perfect sandwich, in my opinion. Earthy spices, peppery greens and puckery pickles, all wrapped up in a lightly (but perfectly) grilled pita. Heaven on a plate.

Francesca ordered the Dawali Rolled, stuffed grape leaves topped with feta cheese, tomato, onion, and Aladdin’s dressing, rolled in a pita. Another fine-looking sandwich. And the made-to-order freshness of the food was confirmed, because Francesca asked for the pickled vegetables to be added, which aren’t normally included. Raves all around - “fresh, authentic, and delicious” was the verdict.

We were all impressed with how fresh everything was. Crisp greens, freshly grilled pitas, everything made to order. Their soups are all large, hearty portions, and are adequate as a meal all on their own. And the prices at Aladdin’s are extremely reasonable - you can fill your belly and be satisfied for the rest of the day for between $10-$15.

As we were leaving, we spied the large and tempting dessert case next to the register. Cakes, tortes, baklava, ladyfinger cookies, and more. Not just Middle Eastern desserts here, that’s for sure. We were too full to try anything, but I made myself a promise to take a piece of something sweet home with me the next time I visit.

Which will be very, very soon.

The Takeaway:

● Lots of locations means that there’s probably an Aladdin’s near you. Don’t squander this

● Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free friendly. And a flyer on the tables indicated those offerings would be expanded soon.

● Order the pomegrantate green iced tea. Unsweetened, but fragrant and delicious.

● If you’re with a group, don’t be afraid to ask for separate checks - this request is always granted, with a smile.

● Make sure to order a side of hot sauce. Trust me on this.