Thursday, February 22, 2024

Local Sound Man Jay Awada the “Rockstar Not in a Band”

They say producer George Martin was the fifth Beatle, football fans are the “twelfth man” of their respective teams, etc. For the Toledo music scene, that perfectly describes sound man Jay Awada. Since around 1997, Awada has been one of the go-to sound men for most of the venues in Toledo.

If you’ve attended shows at Frankie’s Inner-City, The Ottawa Tavern, Headliners, the Main Event, and so many others since the late 90s, chances are Awada was manning the soundboard. 

Beginnings in the 419

Jay Awada was born and raised in Toledo, where he went on to attend Start High School. An only child, Awada was raised by his mother along with the presence of his grandparents. Describing it as “basic suburbia life,” Awada said he had a happy upbringing. He added that he was more interested in staying out of trouble rather than getting into it.

While growing up, his family made it a point to expose him to different kinds of music. Awada recalls the sounds of Motown along with artists like Marvin Gaye, Patsy Cline, and more being played on heavy rotation. Awada said the first album he was ever gifted was a cassette of “From Here to Eternally” by The Spinners. One of the first albums he remembers buying for himself was “Escape” by Journey.

According to Awada, the mid/late 80s through the 90s and the music of that era was pivotal in his coming of age. During this time, there was one day where he came across a group of kids skateboarding. Early on after he started hanging with this crew, he noticed they would wear band t-shirts, drawing up his curiosity and getting listening recommendations. While falling in love with skateboarding, he also fell for various East and West Coast Punk groups including Misfits, Black Flag, Adolescents and Descendants.

On top of skateboarding and Punk music, Awada soon became aware of the local Toledo music scene. He even recalls attending Frankie’s Inner-City for the first time when he was 14 or 15 years old. From attending those early shows, he thought having live music in town was the coolest. It was at these shows where he started to take notice of the guy in the back of the room running sound for the bands. He was enamored with the sound guys for not only getting to hang with the bands, but being the one to help them sound their best. “A sound guy is like the rockstar that’s not in a band,” Awada said.

Getting Started

After attending local shows peaked his interest in sound engineering, Awada got his start by helping run sound for local theatre programs. He even took music theory classes at the University of Toledo to further develop his ear for understanding live sound. It was during this time where his craft really developed and opened his eyes to this calling in life. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play a musical instrument or be on stage, I wanted to be the behind-the-scenes guy. It fits my niche and persona,” Awada commented. 

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One of the first live-band sound opportunities Awada got was at The City Lounge. Primarily a venue that hosted swing/big bands, this is where he was able to get hands-on experience with live musicians in a band setting. It was then in 1997 at the Hard Hat Café (eventually becoming Headliners, 4500 N Detroit Ave) where he ran sound for his first big show. Once more local music venues started opening in Toledo, that’s when Awada’s path on the soundboard really became what it is today.

Toledo Music Scene – Yesterday and Today

With all of the venues, bands, and artists that have come and gone throughout the years, Awada has remained a constant. When asked about working with the Toledo music scene, Awada states “it’s cool to see all the different styles and coming across things that are new and different. But it’s always cool seeing young, new bands getting to play shows at these venues we all love. Over the years, I’ll be talking to these new bands who are nervous to play for the first time; doing what I can to calm them down and reassure them that their set will go well. Then it’s great seeing them down the road where you can tell they’ve put in the work to improve their sound and stage presence. It’s interesting seeing certain genres (ex. Hardcore) thrive with no end in sight. I still see people who are in their 13th, 14th, 15th band (no joke); they’ve evolved, yet staying who they are at their core”. 

When live music returned to Toledo after the pandemic subsided enough in mid-2021, Awada definitely noticed the before and after. Awada commented “in general, shows are starting and ending earlier than they used to. Something about the pandemic caused people to not want to be out too late and leaving a show at 1am or 2am. Most shows start an hour or two earlier than previously.”

While shows starting and ending earlier isn’t the worst thing in the world, a clear post-pandemic positive Awada pointed out was all the new bands that came out of it. It definitely keeps him busy, as you’ll find him these days predominantly running sound at The Ottawa Tavern (1815 Adams St.) and Frankie’s Inner-City (308 Main St.). “It’s great. It’s widely-diverse and great seeing all of these people who have been in the scene for years hone in what they do. Being able to work at The Ottawa Tavern and Frankie’s at the same time is a blessing,” Awada said. 

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Beyond the Soundboard

When Awada isn’t running sound, some of his favorite activities include continuing his love of skateboarding 35 years in the making and riding his bike. He also said being outdoors in general is where he thrives.

Awada loves adventure and loves to travel when he can. A few months ago, he and a friend drove from Ohio to California and back. He said a dream trip would be visiting Beirut, Lebanon, claiming Lebanese descent from his father’s side.

High Praise

Since his early days of running sound for musical theatre to present day, Jay Awada has become a quintessential part of the Toledo music scene. He’s even been able to run sound for some of his favorite bands throughout the years, including Misfits. Claiming that to be a full-circle moment. 

Besides his sound experience, what sets Awada apart is his welcoming energy, his trademark goatee and dreadlocks, and one of the biggest smiles in the city of Toledo. As much as every band around here gets excited to play at Frankie’s or The Ottawa Tavern, you know a lot of that has to do with being in the same room as Jay Awada.

“Jay brings such a great energy to every show he runs. He always does a great job and his experience really shows every time you work with him”, Emilio Alvarado, a member of the local band The Currents, said.

Mason Baker, a member of the local band January Man, said, “I’ve known Jay for ten years at this point and I feel so grateful to have known him that long. He’s one of the nicest people I know; if anyone in Toledo’s music scene deserves a write-up, it’s him. Not only is Jay a great guy, but as a live sound engineer, he does a fantastic job consistently every time I’ve seen a band or been fortunate enough to have our band have him do sound for us”.

Tanner Wertz

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