Ohio Is For Lovers: Hawthorne Heights has winning festival formula



Last year, Dayton-based Hawthorne Heights presented three highly successful Is For Lovers festivals featuring emo and pop-punk acts. This year that number jumped to 10 national events, including the second annual Ohio Is For Lovers at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 9.

“We’ve obviously been to this venue a lot and hold it in extremely high regard and reverence so it’s exciting to be able to go there and put on our show,” frontman JT Woodruff said. “We’re down here trying to spread the gospel of the genre and 20 years in we’re busier than we’ve ever been.”

In 2023, Is For Lovers festivals were held in places like Hawaii (April 29), Lake Tahoe (June 24) and Utah (July 21). After Cincinnati, the festival season closes with events in Tennessee (Sept. 10) and Massachusetts (Sept. 17). If all goes as planned the brand will see even more growth in 2024.

“We feel our prospects are better than they’ve ever been,” Woodruff said. “We’re going to try to grow this thing to the moon, which we hope we can do. We’re talking to a lot of people about getting even bigger and taking it international. It’s great to feel the interest all over the world and to see people taking notice of what we’re doing.

“It’s pretty wild to think this really started in a tiny basement in Troy, Ohio,” he continued. “Now you’re talking to people from Japan, Australia and England about getting in on the festival based on a song written in that basement in Troy. That’s ‘Field of Dreams’ stuff. We didn’t imagine any of this stuff.”



Small team, huge hearts

Hawthorne Heights has built its career with a staunch DIY ethos and old-fashioned hard work. Woodruff (vocals, guitar) and bandmates Matt Ridenour (bass, vocals), Mark McMillon (guitars, vocals) and Chris “Poppy” Popadak (drums) use that same approach on the festivals.

“We’re out there setting up the gear, setting up the flags and trying to make sure the world looks exactly how we want it to look,” Woodruff said. “We’re taking all those careful considerations to make sure everybody has a good time. We grew up with that Midwest work ethic where you don’t let people take anything away from you. As long as you’re willing to put your head down and do your job and do it with a smile on your face, you’ll always have work, right?”

Big names and rising talent

Last year’s festival included headliners the Descendents, New Found Glory and Motion City Soundtrack. This year’s big-name acts are Jimmy Eat World, Alkaline Trio and Underoath.

“It’s wild because these are our favorite bands in the genre and outside the genre,” Woodruff said. “These are bands we’ve listened to for years. We just love every song these guys do. If you’d told me five years ago in our first year we’d have the Descendents and New Found Glory and then our second year we would have Jimmy Eat World and Alkaline Trio, I’d say, ‘You are crazy.’ It’s amazing to be able to work with them as partners in something.”

In addition to well-known groups, the Is For Lovers events also feature rising bands and regional acts. Dayton’s own the Raging Nathans, Better Away and Nightbeast were involved last year. Local bands Knavery and Life In Idle are on this year’s bill.

“One thing we can’t lose sight of is we came from this scene,” Woodruff said. “Offering people an opportunity to get up on the big stage and put on a show is one of the special moments of all of this for us. Sometimes bands just need a chance to play to people who aren’t their friends and family to prove they belong. Even if nothing comes out of it that day, the inspiration that provides a young band could turn into a song that changes somebody’s life.”



New local partner

Hawthorne Heights also worked locally with Warped Wing Brewery for a special Is For Lovers Juicy India Pale Ale.

“We’re really excited about our collaboration with Warped Wing,” Woodruff said. “I’m so proud of all the partnerships we’ve made but it really all comes down to fan support. This is all fan-driven and that’s why the festivals are successful. Our fans care about this music and how it moves them and that’s why the emo community has taken to this so much. I keep telling them, if you guys keep this up, we’re going to become emo Parrot Heads and that’s like the best dream any band could have.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.


What: Hawthorne Heights presents its second annual Ohio Is For Lovers with headliners Jimmy Eat World, Alkaline Trio and Underoath

Where: Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati

When: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m. Doors open at noon.

Cost: $128.75 general admission, VIP packages available

More info: www.isforloversfestival.com

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