By Jake Brandenstien
September 25. The last time I conversed with my friend, Nate Offerdahl, owner of Westside Bowl, was when I got a call from him on March 14 informing me the venue’s two-year anniversary show, which my band, We, The Creature was supposed to play, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Half a year has passed since and my sense of time has been scrambled like an egg over high heat – this event feels like yesterday to me, yet simultaneously far away. So much has happened.
I contacted Offerdahl and asked if he would like to meet and discuss the current state of Westside Bowl.
I pulled into the parking lot of Westside on September 25 at about 3 p.m.
When I stepped into the building, the staff told me Offerdahl was running a few errands and would return shortly.
I sat outside to wait on the wood-floored front patio and admired the nice weather, where I was eventually joined by Offerdahl.
–Offerdahl and I returned inside, where he showed me to a table near the main stage and bowling alleys. The venue was jarringly silent, with no sounds of bowling balls striking the pins and knocking them down and no bands on stage announcing to the crowd “ok, we’re going to play one more” and the audience yelling with enthusiasm and raising toasts in response.
Although this visit was not the same as others, the memories of the venue’s energy were everywhere.
A bittersweet sense of nostalgia washed over me as I looked around and experienced the now familiar feeling of stepping into my second home. Offerdahl and I pulled our chairs out and sat down to discuss six months ago, now and the time in between.
“When we first announced on the 15 of March that we had to close, I was very concerned about what we were going to do,” Offerdahl said.
“Shortly thereafter, we started that ‘pay it forward’ program with the pizza, which really took off and kept us open.”
The “pay it forward program” was first introduced by local Youngstown bands, Rebreather and DAGGRS on the week of the first stay-at-home order. The two bands would pay for a certain amount of pizzas, allowing lucky incoming callers to acquire a pizza on the house. Other regulars took interest immediately, paying for anybody looking to grab a bite. The concept caught on like a wildfire and has been going strong ever since.
Offerdahl says pizza is still the most popular item on the venue’s menu.
Westside Bowl, in collaboration with downtown Youngstown restaurant, Space Kat, created the ‘jerk chicken’ pizza, which Offerdahl says has been selling very well.
From live venue to live streaming.
Jimmy Niemczura runs sound for the bands at Westside Bowl and is currently operating the livestream performances.
I asked him about the differences between the livestream shows and the regular concerts.
“Really the only big difference is the crowd not being there. Otherwise, everything else gets set up pretty much the same,” Niemczura said.
He also added that Westside Bowl typically hosts one band at a time for its livestream events, so there’s no real rush to get people moving gear as there might be during a live venue performance.
Local Youngstown band, Hawktopus performed one of these livestream shows for Westside Bowl over the summer; they played a fantastic set and the quality of the stream was excellent.
I met up with Tiger Hewitt, the guitarist, to ask him what he thought of performing via this medium.
“I really had no idea what to think about it. It felt really good after the fact … During the performance, it was a weird thing,” Hewitt said.
Offerdahl said that the reception to the livestream performances has been positive, even though it’s not quite the same as a regular show.
An exterior view of Westside Bowl on Mahoning Avenue. Photo courtesy of Jake Brandenstein
Next steps for Westside.
I asked Offerdahl what the next steps for Westside Bowl were.
“We’re transitioning weather-wise as we slide into October,” Offerdahl said.
“Up to this point, it’s been carry-out only, and in the last two months we’ve had some seating outside. With the weather changing we’re going to have to start bringing folks in, or they’re not going to come – no one wants to sit outside when it’s 30 degrees.”
Offerdahl added the venue will probably start offering bowling a few weeks after transitioning to indoor activities.
As for shows, Westside is starting to look at the spring for scheduling shows. However, they may do some in-person solo acoustic-type shows outside or inside for the rest of the year, depending on what the venue is comfortable with.
Offerdahl said that they would like to take a slow approach to offering live, indoor events again so they can be in a good position next spring as opposed to rushing anything.
Despite the troubles endured in 2020, the sense of community in Youngstown has not left.
“It was soul crushing to have that anniversary show get canceled,” Offerdahl said. “But by the generosity of others, we have made it through a very difficult time”.
After exchanging goodbyes, I went back home and got a text from a friend. He invited me to go to … Westside Bowl.
We met that night and spent some time outside in the new seating area. It was a cool evening and other people were there enjoying drinks and feasting on some pizza.
The wash of nostalgia and the feeling of the venue’s untouched spirit returned as I sat back and listened to some weirdo pop tunes from the 1980s [the B-52s, to be specific], feeling strangely optimistic.