Rialto Theatre in Akron's Kenmore neighborhood outgrowth of owners' musical passions
By Kerry Clawson Akron Beacon Journal
Published October 28, 2021
Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series spotlighting live music venues in and around Akron published by the Akron Beacon Journal.
For the Vaill brothers, Seth and Nate, owning the Rialto Theatre in Akron's Kenmore neighborhood has been an outgrowth of their own musical passions.
Seth, 36, and Nate, 41, originally from Norton, put together the folk band, A Band Named Ashes, when Seth was about 19 and Nate was about 24. Nate wrote music, played guitar and was lead singer, and Seth started in the band playing bass before moving to keys.
The sons of Norton teachers, the brothers dropped their own plans to become educators as they began touring regularly with their band. In 2008, they started recording and editing their own music at their home studio, which led to engineer Nate gaining recording clients.
"We need a facility to kind of house bigger artists and do bigger recording," Seth Vaill related about the brothers' goal at the time.
They started renting-to-own the old Rialto movie theater at 1000 Kenmore Blvd. in 2010, creating a recording studio for themselves and other musicians while renovating the theater over the next four years.
The goal was to create one venue where musicians could record, practice, mix, edit and perform. That includes providing a theater performance space for album release parties.
The Vaill brothers purchased the 1920s-era Rialto in 2014, going into family business with parents Bill and Sue with Just a Dream Entertainment Inc. The Rialto Theatre was born in 2015 when they got a liquor license, and local artists started playing at the venue.
By 2017, the Rialto was growing and attracting traveling artists, including Clark Beckham from American Idol. They have also hosted comedians, including Dustin Diamond ("Screech" from "Saved By the Bell,"), and they rent for private events.
Among its diverse offerings, the venue also has swing dancing nights the second and fourth Wednesday of every month.
The Rialto closed due to COVID-19 in March of 2020 and didn't reopen until this past July. The theater hosts artists in every genre, including folk, rock, hip hop, country and alternative.
Now, the brothers are gearing up to open an intimate new live music performance space — the Rialto Living Room. It's a lounge area at the front of the building where guests can get a drink at a new second bar, order sandwiches, salads or appetizers from a small café and listen to music.
The space was created by relocating the Rialto's front recording studio and moving it next door on Kenmore Boulevard.
The Rialto Living Room will have its grand opening Dec. 17 and 18 at Kenmore Winter Break, an annual mini-festival that features local musicians. Each night will feature three bands on the main stage and three solo artists in the Rialto Living Room.
Vaill recently talked about the Rialto as part of a Beacon Journal series spotlighting live music venues in and around Akron. (Some responses have been edited for brevity.)
What does the Rialto Theatre have to offer that might be different from other area music venues?
We try and take an opportunity for artists to do multiple things at our venue. And what I mean specifically about that is the recording, the mixing, playing at an actual performance space where the venue is dedicated to the show. We actually record — both video and audio — the actual shows. So the artist can actually take that home, and we've done Live at the Rialto. So in other words, we actually use the space to record the performance so they can actually release the album. We're run by musicians for musicians and music fans.
What's the most challenging thing about running a concert venue?
Making each show as successful as they can be, and a lot of that has to do with attendance. You need to create avenues to make each show have a little spice to it. You give your audience opportunities to kind of see new things and create opportunities to see new stuff. We're not gonna do folk all the time. We're gonna do a hip hop show, we're gonna do a theater show, we're gonna have a play, we're gonna have a comedy show.
Conversely, what's the most rewarding thing about running a concert venue?
We think music — arts and culture — is one of the most rewarding things in our society. We think it's an opportunity for people of all different backgrounds to share something.
What have been some of the most memorable shows at the Rialto Theatre?
The most important show is the first show we ever did back in May 2015 [including A Band Named Ashes and country artist Mark Leach], because that was the start of our wonderful venture that we're doing today.
Why was it important for you to include two recording studios at your venue?
One is more like a vocal booth, the other is more like a band setup. We think it's important, because for artists having an album recorded and tracked is a really important part of being a musician.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming concert schedule at the Rialto Theatre