Sep. 15—The Ohio Players were off the road during the coronavirus shutdowns, but there was plenty of activity surrounding the pioneering funk act, presenting a free concert at Levitt Pavilion in Dayton on Saturday, Sept. 18.
In late 2020, Daytonian Keith Jenkins of the Oniru Group and Sculptures of Sound Music launched an online petition to get the Ohio Players on the ballot for inclusion in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That honor still eludes the band, so if you're interested in helping rectify that serious oversight, the petition is still open here.
The group received some hometown recognition in April 2021 when a portion of Hillcrest Avenue, near Salem Avenue, was designated as Ohio Players Way. Two months later, the Players returned to live performing after more than a year off the road.
"The first part of the year was down but for the last four or five weeks, we've been out working," drummer James "Diamond" Williams said. "We did a private party in Chicago last week. It was a Kappa party, a fraternity party. The week before, we went and did an outdoor festival in Skokie, Illinois. Before we play Dayton, we play this big musical festival in Milwaukee. Miley Cyrus and a whole bunch of people are playing there so that's kind of exciting."
While he is overjoyed to be back out performing for live audiences again, Williams admits he's still trying to get back in peak drumming form after being off so long during the COVID shutdowns.
"One of the first gigs we got back out and did was a Juneteenth situation in Pittsburgh and I felt like I had done 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali in his brighter days," he said with a chuckle. "I was beat up. I just felt sore. We had been practicing but that's nothing like being in front of a real crowd.
"I don't have a real crowd in my office studio so it's kind of hard to simulate that so I just felt like a beat up old man," Williams continued. "I mean, body-sore, muscle-sore and everything but it was all good. It's little by little but it's good being back."
For the Ohio Players, the free show at the Levitt is its first performance in the area since the 937-Live: Hometown Legends for Relief concert at Rose Music Center in Huber Heights in September 2019. The fundraiser to support Miami Valley residents negatively impacted by recent tornadoes also featured performances by Lakeside, Zapp, Steve Arrington and Faze-O.
"I just hope everything works out and we have good weather because we look forward to an exciting crowd at Levitt Pavilion," Williams said. "I want the streets to be blocked off because so many people are coming across them from every side of this city to see the band. It will be an exciting night. You know, there's no place like home, man. I'm going to click my heels three times and just be happy that people are coming to see the band. It's going to be great. We'll be ready, man, we'll be ready."
The Players will continue to perform sporadically through 2021, with two dates in October and one in November.
"We're still playing so things are still going along," Williams said. "We've got seven or eight gigs booked for next year already, which is great. We're back out here in the world and engaged again but, you know, things are looking a little risky again. We're going to keep our fingers crossed and hope things continue to work out for the best.
"We'll just keep chugging along, man but this situation with COVID has been a daggone hindrance to everything as far entertainers' careers," Williams added. "We're just up in the air, just waiting to see how things are going to work out for the world."
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HOW TO GO
Who: Ohio Players
Where: Levitt Pavilion, 134 S. Main St., Dayton
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18
More info: www.levittdayton.org