Shuffle: Spirit of the Bear's Fiction Forest Festival Spotlights Youngstown's Music Scene

Jul 12, 2018

Young indie rock band Spirit of the Bear is working to put Youngstown’s music scene on the map – by curating its own music festival. The second annual Fiction Forest takes place this Saturday.

James Harker started playing music when he was at Boardman High School, and eventually started adding friends to form Spirit of the Bear. The band includes Danny Svenson and Ethan Schwendeman on keys, Jamie Vitullo on drums, and Mike Perorazio on bass.

Building a following
The band started playing shows in 2014, mostly at churches, parking lots and coffee shops.

"We were 15 and couldn't really play in many bars yet," Vitullo says. 

"Then one night there were so many people watching us at Suzy's...maybe a couple hundred people packed in this bar. That was the first time I was like, 'We're a real band!'"

Spirit of the Bear has released two full-length albums, Remains in 2016 and followed by Fade Into Blue in 2017. 

'We were striving to have a sound that no one else had in the city because we knew people would rally around that'

Fiction Forest
Now, most of the members of the band are in college, and they've been putting most of their energy into playing shows and curating their Fiction Forest festival. 

Harker says taking over the festival happened by chance. They were approached by Brian McCale, who offered to manage the band through his Steel Standing Entertainment

McCale also manages another Youngstown band, Jones for Revival, which was putting on its annual Revive Fest at Youngstown's B&O Station.

"Jones for Revival slowed down and all moved to different places and aren't doing as much," Harker says. 

"So we picked up the slot where their festival was because at that point we had a big enough draw. We can bring a couple hundred people to our own show, we might as well host our own festival and see if we can get all of the biggest bands in Youngstown to do it."

Showcasing Youngstown
Spirit of the Bear took over the festival in 2017. This year it's grown to 15 artists with about half from Youngstown, including J.D. Eicher, The Vindys and The Labra Brothers.

Harker says he wanted to work to showcase the city’s music scene that doesn’t get much attention.

"It's such a small, close community and everyone bands under this idea that Youngstown is the armpit of Ohio, but they're proud of that."

"We were super young coming up in the music scene, and we were striving to have a sound that no one else had in the city becuase we knew people would rally around that and lift us up. And that's why we're in the position to be able to host our own festival."

As for Spirit of the Bear, the band released the single, Hollow, in May. They're planning to release their next full length album in 2020.