BY EMILY RICHARDSON
“It’s our clubhouse!” exclaimed Jared Gonzalez of the Dover Ballroom, a DIY venue in Dover that he and friends also call home. “It’s where we make the posters; it’s where the songs are written. We play Nintendo on the movie projector. It’s a family.” Dover, Ohio, is not exactly the musical epicenter of the nation, but Gonzalez and his crew have created and fostered something authentic and special for their community with the venue and associated record label, Mewn Wrox.
The Dover Ballroom has two floors: the first features an old stage from the 1920s, and the second is a loft apartment. When they moved in, Gonzalez said, “We thought, ‘Wow, what a great space, and our landlord is really cool … let’s have some shows here.’” Coby Hartzler and Jared Riblet of State Bird moved in, and at the time they were on a record label that they weren’t happy with. They were anxious to put their record out, so they decided to do it themselves. “Mewn Wrox kind of started from there,” said Gonzalez. What developed since then is a creative and distinctly positive collaboration among area musicians and underground music fans.
Shows are booked with a respectful DIY sensibility that has all but disappeared from many cities’ music scenes. “One-hundred percent of the door goes to the bands. Once in a while we’ll keep five bucks for toilet paper, but we let them play, stay at our place, and accommodate them as much as possible. It’s a house show venue.”
Gonzalez also describes the team dynamic among the group — he helps put shows together, designs posters and record covers, and handles the website and media. Jeffrey Bowers, another musician on the label, is also responsible for a lot of the booking.
“He’s really good at finding bands that are big-sounding” noted Gonzalez. The label aspect is mainly handled by Hartzler and Riblet, who operate a studio in Dover. Everyone pitches in where needed. It works, Gonzalez said, because The Dover Ballroom and Mewn Wrox are not operated like a business: “I’m just thankful that we’re able to do this.”
Originally from Mexico and raised in South Florida, Gonzalez had always been part of the DIY and hardcore scene. “I always knew what it was like to be on tour, and I thought about what my dream venue would be, how would I treat people. When I moved up to Ohio, I met all these great kids that were doing really cool things. I’m from keeping things small and doing as much as you can yourself so the money goes back to the bands.” This perspective has grown the community that Gonzalez and his team always wanted, and it’s a supportive climate that is increasingly rare.
The Dover Ballroom hosts mostly local bands, many of which are part of Mewn Wrox or feature members from those acts. Musical projects are shared, and talents are traded to achieve new and unique material. From thrash punk to more bare acoustic sounds, Gonzalez said that the Dover scene lends itself well to cooperation in music. He and Bowers also try to book acts that aren’t big yet but are on their way: “Bands like Surfer Blood, before they hit.”
Bands currently on the Mewn Wrox roster are State Bird, Astronaughts, Eddie and the Shadows, Jeffrey Bowers and Air Is Watching. “They’re all so talented,” Gonzalez asserted. “The new State Birds album is the biggest love letter to The Beatles and The Beach Boys – I love it.”
The Dover Ballroom strives to be the clubhouse that no one wants to outgrow when they “grow up.” They have a projector and movie screen for films and video games, and they host events for others who are trying to build the creative community. “We don’t want it to just be us doing this,” Gonzalez said. “With everyone being so addicted and tied to a virtual world, the more people that say, ‘Hey, get out of your room, go do something with your friends,’ the better.”
Even if you’re not located near Dover, check out what the Dover Ballroom/Mewn Wrox guys are doing. It is a genuine, constructive and fun effort. Fittingly, Gonzalez says, “The Dover Ballroom is OFFICIALLY influenced in big ways by The Smell, Foot Clan HQ from the first TMNT movie, Wham City, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and The Batcave,” among others. The only remaining questions: When is snack time and what is today’s secret word?