Saying goodbye to Cedars

When Joseph Simon opened Cedars Lounge back in 1975, there were no aspirations to become one of Youngstown’s premier live music venues.

Those changes came a few years later at the suggestion of his son, Tommy Simon, and have continued under the guidance of his granddaughter, Mara Simon, and Billy Danielson, who have maintained that cultural vision on North Hazel Street for 30-plus years as other flashy clubs have come and gone.

“The first few years Cedars was open, my dad would bartend a few nights a week,” Mara Simon said. “Around 1980 or 1981, my father, Tommy Simon, proposed a concept to my grandfather that would eventually redevelop the business entirely. That concept was live music, poetry and art.”

This first came together with local musicians Don Yallech and Jeff Bremer who created a weekly original live jazz night. After seeing the jump in business, Simon then collaborated again with Yallech on another one of his projects, the Youngstown post-punk act the B-Minors.

The B-Minors would be the first of thousands and thousands of bands to play Cedars.

More than 1,000 acts have performed on Cedars’ small stage in the back corner of the bar. In addition to countless local musicians,, Cedars has hosted Jonathan Richman, Violent Femmes, Goo Goo Dolls, Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500, Blind Melon, the Tom Tom Club the Lemonheads, Gogol Bordello and Okkervil River.

With the sale of the building, Simon and Danielson are forced to relocate the business to a new building.

“While Billy and I had no choice in this transition, I’ve been told you should make the best of the cards dealt to you,” she said. “Relocating will, of course, be different with being on Hazel Street for as long as 38 years now. Cedars has always embraced the different and rolls with the punches. It’s always been about the people who have made the place, not the physical location. Billy and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to relocate and keep the tradition alive.”

Cedars will be say goodbye to its old home Friday with “Bon Voyage 23 N. Hazel St. – Cedars Mini Fest,” presented by Cedars, Wild Kindness Records and Pixel Pop Photography.

The evening will include comic and art vendors, records and local wares and vegan goods by SPACEbakery as well as live performances by the Building, Andre Costello & the Cool Minors, the Raspberry Reich and poet Rahkeem Brown.

“The show on Jan. 25 is going to be a lot of fun,” Simon said. “The Building has always put on a solid show. David Pokrivnak, operations manager of Wild Kindness Records, has always done a great job of putting on so many great events. We’ve already have had a few farewell shows for the Hazel Street location, all of which have been bittersweet.”

For Simon, there are so many highlights of Cedars, and she said Cedars has become a fixture to the city and downtown Youngstown and, most importantly, all over the world.

“For me personally, one highlight that sticks out in my mind is the first show I got to see at Cedars,” she said. “It was the Japanese act, Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, in 1997 or so. I stood there in a sea of people watching this really good band from Tokyo, Japan. It was amazing to see all the people watching, listening and hanging with each other. It was like a hideaway full of artists, musicians from all over the world, and no shortage of eclectic people. I finally got it.

“Now I understood why this place was so loved and what my father had worked day and night for. Cedars has been a sibling, sort of, that speaks to me. Tons of other well-known musicians may not have played at Cedars, but hung out there, such as the members of the Psychedelic Furs.”

Aspasia Lyras, Cedars Lounge event promoter, recalls the summer of 1993, when she first walked into Cedars Lounge and was in complete awe of the venue. The first band she saw at Cedars was The Cowslingers, a rockabilly act from Cleveland.

“The first night I walked into Cedars, it was a jazz night,” Lyras said. “I was never into big clubby, college or dance clubs, but Cedars Lounge was my type of place. I could walk up to anyone and just start a conversation. It was my second home. I liked Cedars when I was in college because it was a hidden gem, and not many people knew about it. Well, they knew about it, but were scared to go or it just wasn’t their type of scene. Cedars was great, and I loved that.”

Pokrivnak has booked many shows at the venue in recent years, including Dean and Britta, indie legend Calvin Johnson and Bubu music innovator Ahmed Janka Nabay. He has fond memories of the place.

“Cedars has been home to so much growth and inspiration,” Pokrivnak said. “Throughout the years, Cedars has always been honest, real and inspiring. Personally, it was a place where I first got on stage, the place where I was served my first drink.”