Restored ballroom in downtown Newark celebrates its first anniversary with a music festival

When Thirty One West opened the doors to its Newark ballroom a year ago, the owners of the restored, historic theater knew the venue would attract some concert-goers from out of town. But they didn't realize just how often Columbus music fans would make the trek east to the town once known as “Little Chicago.”

“We've been surprised by the enthusiasm and support from Columbus,” said Reece Thompson, who lives in Columbus and owns Thirty One West with Tom Atha and Alex Miller. “It's been pretty overwhelming as far as how many people we've brought into Newark who are not from Newark — a lot from Columbus, but also all over the state and out of state. For our larger shows, more than 50 percent of our audience is from out of town.”

To celebrate a better-than-expected first year, the downtown Newark venue is hosting Thirty One Fest, which boasts a lineup featuring Newark artists such as Hope Dealers; Columbus bands, including Playing to Vapors, Yellow Paper Planes, Swarming Branch, the Saturday Giant, Souther, the Cordial Sins, Montezuma, Hello Emerson, Field Sleeper and more; plus regional and national acts like Ari Hest and Adam Remnant. Bands will perform on five stages from noon to midnight at Thirty One West on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“There are so many friends and musicians from Columbus who came out … before we were even a venue, or opened a show, or volunteered to do something,” Thompson said. “We wanted to give back to them, so we thought, why not make this first anniversary about these artists?”

From a programming standpoint, Thompson said Thirty One West is ahead of where he hoped to be at the end of year one. The venue has hosted artists such as Of Montreal, Leo Kottke, Martin Sexton, Damien Jurado and others, and this fall the ballroom will feature performances from Marc Broussard, Justin Townes Earle and a return visit from Kottke.

Thompson, a videographer who also runs Flicker-lit Productions, has also continued the Ballroom Revival Sessions, a video series featuring live performances from musicians who visit Thirty One West. And inside Thirty One West tenant Bootlegger Bar, the small stage was tripled in size to accommodate full bands along with local singer-songwriters.

In addition to Thirty One West's other tenants (a barbecue restaurant, art gallery, yoga studio and play cafe), Thompson said that 14 apartments are in the works and should be completed in the next 18 months.

Already, though, Thompson said Thirty One West has helped to make downtown Newark more vibrant. “We've seen a number of new restaurants pop up. Our local hotel is often sold out on show nights. … We're seeing people walking dogs. That seems trivial, but that means people are living downtown,” he said. “We plan to keep growing the talent we're bringing to town — bands people wouldn't expect we'd have in our second year.”