IMAGINE SPENDING A WARM SUMMER EVENING watching freighters cruise down the river while listening to live music, hanging out with friends, drinking a few beers and eating some local food. Now imagine paying only $5 for admission.

Welcome to Rockin’ on the River, a summer tribute band concert series on the shores of the Black River. Here, promoter Bob Early managed to create the ultimate summer music line-up in an ideal setting at a price that makes a night at the movies seem extravagant.

Now in its 34th year, Rockin’ on the River is the longest-running, most highly attended concert series in Northeast Ohio, according to Early. After a 29-year run in Cuyahoga Falls, its stint in Lorain began five years ago. Starting May 24 and running through Sept. 6, Rockin’ on the River will headline 18 events — 15 on Fridays and three on Saturdays.
“We open at 5 o’clock, and there’s music until 11,” Early says. “There’s free parking, motorcycles are under cover, children 12 and younger are free and the ticket price is only $5.” While food isn’t included in the price of admission, Early has assembled an array of vendors serving fare from Indian to Mexican and Caribbean cuisine.
Crediting former Lorain Port Authority Director Rick Novack with the success of the Lorain location, Early is equally complimentary about Novack’s successor, Tom Brown.
The benefits of the concert series far surpass the entertainment. “They help us with economic development,” says Brown. “We had to reinvent Lorain and prove to the public that it’s a safe, secure city. Bob has captured crowds. He has attracted people from out of town, out the county and out of state. This is huge for Lorain.”
While Early takes some credit, he says it comes down to dollars and cents. “Other concert promoters have missed the boat with cost. The truth of the matter, when you think about it, is that there are few bands that have all their original members. These bands use the same instruments. They have the same show with lighting. They might be better than the original bands.”
Both Early and Brown stress that the concerts are family-friendly. “It’s such a sprawling site that families can sit up on the hill, play soccer or just run around,” Brown says.
This summer’s line-up includes tribute bands playing Michael Jackson, Prince, INXS, AC/DC and disco. “At our first press conference we predicted that in four to five years people will come to Lorain for these concerts. They’re here. They all want to be part of Lorain,” Early adds. “This is the perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.”
Brown points out that Rockin’ on the River is a “sign that summer is here. When it’s taken down, that’s when our fall begins.”
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