Street serenades: Out-of-work performers play neighborhood concerts

Musician Sam Winterberger played his guitar regularly at area bars, like open mic night at Working Class Brewery in Kamm’s Corners, Brick and Barrel in The Flats, and Toast in Gordon Square. But when the coronavirus hit in March, the Fairview Park resident was left without a creative outlet.


“I used to play open mic night every Thursday, but in March all of my gigs got cancelled,” Winterberger recalls. “I was kind of bummed—I didn’t have anyone to play with.”


At the same time, Shaker Heights resident and entertainer John Thayer found himself collecting unemployment after the nursing homes where he would perform for the residents stopped letting visitors inside.


Sam WinterbergerStuck in their homes, both Winterberger and Thayer started thinking about what they could do with their free time. The answer was obvious to both men: Perform concerts for their neighbors.


Many Northeast Ohio musicians have taken to the streets, yards, parks, and online streaming venues to share their talents with their friends and neighbors. Thayer and Winterberger are no different.


Thayer first started showing his at-home concerts near the beginning of quarantine in March and broadcasting via his Facebook page. Then, one nice day in April he and his childhood friend Mitchell Cronig (who plays harmonica and sings) decided to play in Cronig’s back yard.


Then, the duo had an idea. “Because of the COVID thing and a lot of older families in the neighborhood, we said, “let’s just do it out front,” Thayer recalls. “We said, ‘why don’t we just do a concert out here.’”


Thayer says they had noticed more people walking up around the Lomond area in Shaker, so they started playing out in the neighborhood on a regular basis—on Winslow Road every week and other streets in the area.


“I don’t mind playing.” says Thayer. “It’s kind of like bringing the neighborhood together. Our goal is to have a happy hour on any given day.”


Thayer says they are now calling themselves Acoustic Therapy, Inc. and would like to eventually play nightclubs and the coffeehouse scene, he enjoys playing for his neighbors.


They have played at Thayer’s house on Riedham, on Winslow, Scottsdale, and Normandy Roads in Shaker, as well as concerts in South Euclid and Lakewood. Thayer says he is open to playing for anyone who wants to host the duo at their house.


He says they play for free, although when a Shaker Heights High School teacher asked him how much they charge, Thayer answered “I’ll do it for tips.


John Thayer “There are no complaints if you don’t have to pay,” he says.


Thayer lists “Margaritaville,” “Summer Breeze,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Lean on Me” as some of the favorites, but they can play just about any genre from any era.


Thayer and Cronig take requests, too. “I have a song list with me of about 250 songs,” he says. “My goal is to play something for everyone.”


Thayer was recently invited to play at the Van Aken District this Friday, Aug. 14 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.


Thayer’s neighbors, the Baker Family—Kechante, Kemora, and KJ—are scheduled to join Thayer and Cronig on vocals and percussion, after recently hosting a concert at their home.


Winterberger is also gaining a following. He first broadcast out of his basement via his Facebook page before taking his gig outside to his yard in early April. “I got 100 views the first week and by week four I had 1,000 views,” he says. “The thing started, not because of necessity, but because I wanted to keep playing music.”


In no time, his urge to play turned into regular Thursday night concerts from his West 224th Street yard. He still has his day job, as a wine sales rep for the entire Northern Ohio region, but he continues to entertain the crowd—which keeps getting larger.


“It’s just for the joy of playing,” he says. “We cone it off, so people keep a safe distance. Now we have a steady group of neighborhood people.”

He now plays regular Thursday evening concerts in his yard (and simulcast on his Facebook page) from  "7ish p.m. to 8ish p.m.," he says. "Often I start early and end the gig later."


Winterberger is a “huge [Bob] Dylan fan” and was raised on classic rock but plays a variety of tunes—from Lead Belly, Eric Clapton, and Muddy Waters to Isaac Hayes, Billy Joel, and Pink Floyd.


“A huge part of what I play is ‘60s and ‘70s pop,” he says. “We just try to make it accessible and fun.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.