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The Arts Are Alive in Archbold: How a Northwest Ohio Town Is Becoming a New Music Destination

The Arts Are Alive in Archbold: How a Northwest Ohio Town Is Becoming a New Music Destination

Max Nofziger has a knack for nicknaming cities.

Consider, for instance, the slogan he championed while serving on the city council of Austin, Texas.

In 1987, Nofziger, who had moved to Austin from his hometown of Archbold, Ohio, finally won a seat in city government in his fifth election, thanks in part to the help of his musician friends. As a council member, he established the Austin Music Commission and challenged it to think of ways the city could help its local artists.

“About three months later, the commission’s chairwoman came back with a list of about 20 things. One of them was that we could declare Austin the ‘live music capital of America,’” Nofziger said. “And I go, ‘Well, I like the idea of a slogan, but why so modest, you know? I mean, we’re Texas. Why don’t we be the live music capital of the universe? If the Martians don’t like it, then they can vaporize us.’”

Ultimately, they compromised on declaring Austin the “live music capital of the world.”

The name stuck.

A sixth-generation resident of Archbold, Nofziger traces his roots to the early pioneers who settled in the Great Black Swamp area of Northwest Ohio. Like many of his classmates, Nofziger was active in the high school band and chorus. Of the 400 students in the school, Nofziger said he’d guess just about everyone was involved in at least one of the musical organizations. Even now, he said, not much has changed.

“I know the talent and tradition in music is as deep and rich as the topsoil here—and this is one of the top ag-producing areas in the state of Ohio,” he said. “We have a really fertile environment through generations to develop music.”

From the weekly assembly of local talent at the Wednesday-night community jam sessions to the crowds that turn out for the city’s summer concert series, it’s clear there’s a hunger for music in Archbold that extends beyond the city limits.

“I think we are going to develop the reputation of a little town with great music,” Nofziger said.

Through local partnerships and ArtsNEXT funding from the Ohio Arts Council (OAC), the Austin to Archbold Concert series has presented 18 concerts featuring award-winning musicians from Austin and Nashville since its launch in 2016.

This past season, Texas Songwriters Hall of Famer Will Sexton dropped by to play in Ruihley Park, while Tish Hinojosa, a folksinger who has appeared numerous times on the PBS program “Austin City Limits,” played a spirited outdoor set in Archbold’s Woodlands Park.

“I don’t think there is another town in the nation that is bringing in a concert series like this,” Nofziger said. “We’re a small town, but we’ve got high-caliber entertainment from ‘music city’ (Nashville) and the ‘live music capital of the world.’”

Highlighting local talent is also a focus of arts programming in Archbold, said Doug Gilliland, founding member of the Archbold Music Commission and member of the Black Swamp Arts Council board.

“We’re really amazed by all the great arts and music offerings in town,” he said. “What we’re hoping to do is bring together all these different entities and focus on creating a destination arts scene in Archbold.”

Through the Tri-State Youth Bluegrass Initiative, which received OAC ArtSTART funding this past July, elementary school students in Archbold, as well as surrounding border counties in Indiana and Michigan, will get to learn how to play the bluegrass instrument of their choice.

“The main activity will be providing free lessons and access to instruments to young people on a regular basis. Our first session will begin in the spring,” Gilliland said. “Our goal is to offer 10 hours of free instruction on guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bass each semester.”

Bluegrass provides a logical entry point for students because its historic ties stretch beyond Appalachian Ohio into the northwestern part of the state, where many families migrated in search of factory jobs following World War II. Since then, bluegrass has been an integral part of the region’s aural identity, Gilliland said.

“There’s that natural connection with the music,” he said. “Our program recognizes that and pays homage to that tradition in Ohio. It kind of symbolically links the two sides of the state together.”

Geographically, Archbold is the crossroads for a variety of industries. Located at the center of the “Four County” area of Northwest Ohio, Archbold serves as a hub for education, manufacturing, and tourism.

To Gilliland and Nofziger, it’s only natural that it becomes a mecca for music-lovers as well.

“The end goal, as I see it, is to create a self-sustaining live music scene that inspires and encourages young people to become involved in music and the arts,” Gilliland said. “It would be neat to hear people say, ‘Hey, there’s a show in Archbold—we don’t need to drive to ‘the city’ for a great show!’”

If concert attendance is any indication, it seems that word has already started to get out. And concert-goers are not turning up empty-handed.

“Even though (the Austin to Archbold concerts) are free shows, people are willing to put $10 or $20 in the tip jar. So, that really denotes their support and their interest,” Nofziger said, adding that tip jars for the concert series typically range from $300 to $500 in donations.

The outpouring of support has inspired Nofziger’s nickname for his hometown.

“I call Archbold the ‘tip jar capital of America.’ Maybe the free world. I’m not certain. I’m checking on that,” he said, chuckling.

No matter the exact wording, one thing is clear: Archbold is making a name for itself in the music world.

“I think there’s something special happening in this little town,” Nofziger said. “I am a big believer in the power of music and have seen it do miraculous things in people’s lives. All the things that music can do, that’s what I want to develop in Archbold. That’s what I want to do—share music with people and share that power.”

To learn more about the Archbold Music Commission, visit archboldmusic.com.

For more information about OAC grant programs, visit oac.ohio.gov/grants.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo: Austin, Texas, artists Albert and Gage perform as part of the 2017 Austin to Archbold Concert series. (Photo courtesy of the Archbold Music Commission)



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