The lodge is tucked among a stand of trees along Route 303 in Peninsula, right in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Visitors deposit their cars on the other side of the road, walk through an underground tunnel and emerge at Happy Days Lodge, where the park’s Conservancy has been booking bucolic shows for the past 10 years or so. It’s as pleasant a concert-going experience as any in Northeast Ohio.
Fashioned mostly from American chestnut (no longer available following a blight last century that took out some 3 to 4 billion trees) and sandstone (hauled over from nearby Deep Lock Quarry), Happy Days Lodge is a unique building that fits in perfectly with its natural setting.
“When you come to Happy Days Lodge for a concert, it’s an experience,” program director Chris Auerbach-Brown says. “It’s got its own flavor. When bands come in — if they haven’t been here before — that’s their first reaction, like, ‘Wow, what is this place?’ It’s a different place than what they typically experience on the road.”
The 4,000-square-foot Great Hall seems like an ideal place to see an evocative concert; it feels almost like stepping into Winterfell or something.
The Heritage concert series came out of the Kent State Folk Festival that was held in Howe Meadow back in the 90s. These days, a nice spectrum of genres is represented: Americana, bluegrass, “newgrass,” traditional Celtic, classical and, now and then, some Cajun music. This season, shows begin on Feb. 10 with bluegrass band Mountain Heart. (They’ve sold out a whole bunch of shows here at Happy Days, Auerbach-Brown says.) From there, the rest of the lineup through late April
includes: The Honey Dewdrops, Solas, Vishtèn, The Outside Track, Harpeth Rising, Alarm Will Sound and Peter Mawanga & the Amaravi Movement.
What’s going on Happy Days Lodge is just one spoke in the wheel of the Conservancy.
“Many Northeast Ohioans don’t realize: It’s right here for you to access,” external affairs chief Kristina Haas says. “And there is a plethora of ways you can experience this park, from accessing the trails to riding the train, going to the farmers market, coming to a concert.” The Conservancy has done an excellent job in the past few years of marshaling all manner of resources and talents to offer park visitors assets like art galleries, interpretive outdoor programming and a bevy of musical events — from Happy Days Lodge to Howe Meadow and beyond.
“We really want all Northeast Ohio residents to be aware that there’s a national park and find an experience that resonates,” Haas says. “It’s their park.”