Victor Wainright and the Train at Waterfront Hall. Photo credit: Crin Joy.

WEERock: Waterfront Hall

Since the summer of 2023, Waterfront Hall has been bringing the tunes, good vibes, and joy to Water Street in the former Berry Supply building. From punk and metal shows to funk and blues to a good jam session, the crew at Waterfront Hall is firmly planting their feet in Wheeling’s growing music scene. Within a year of opening, they have provided joy and entertainment to downtown Wheeling and are currently gearing up for their first street festival, Waterfront Fest, on May 4. The diverse talent coming through their doors and the inclusive atmosphere welcomes everyone to experience happiness in the present moment together. This is why we’ve chosen to highlight owner Dan Milleson and his crew at Waterfront Hall for our next WEErock!

Venues with intentional missions and spaces for music are essential to not just building a music scene, but also allowing artists to share transcendent experiences through sound that resonates with all who are there to share it.

“We need music,” said Waterfront Hall owner Dan Milleson. “We need to be in communion with each other and experience ‘the now’ together. It feels fundamental, and you know it when you’re standing there shoulder to shoulder in a crowd, listening to someone express themselves – especially when the expression is absent of ego. This is a positive and uplifting experience, and I’d argue that our little corner of the world needs more of that. So like Clientele, The Silver Rail, The Bridge Tavern, Nail City Record, and others, we are working to heighten the collective mood.” 

The 1873 building that once held the oldest family business in Wheeling is now home to an endeavor that embraces music, culture, and enjoying the moments not only as a community but also as a connected family. In the midst of life’s ups and downs, Dan and his Waterfront Hall tribe are dedicated to cultivating joy and happiness. Rather than just talking about big ideas and putting them off until some hypothetical future venture, Waterfront Hall knows that the time for joy is NOW. 

Picture provided by Waterfront Hall’s Facebook page.

BRINGING IN THE TEAM

As with any successful endeavor, having a top-notch team is paramount. “In March 2023, when I was sitting in this building alone, the challenge was to build a team of selfless people who want to make something beautiful. And something that serves others. Somehow, it all fell into place. Our live production team consists of Rachel Krems, Jan Dijkstra, and Tim McCormick,” said Milleson. 

All of Waterfront Hall’s production team assists with booking acts. They look for talent and musicianship, of course, but also those with goals and mindsets similar to theirs: People who are community-oriented and strive to be part of something bigger than themselves, as Rachel Krems, a talented musician herself, puts it. 

“I feel very blessed and excited about the opportunity to be involved with the booking at Waterfront Hall. I love Wheeling and I want to help build something meaningful for our community here. It may just be booking entertainment, but ultimately, we have the opportunity to foster art and culture in our Friendly City,” said Krems.

Kaydon Board, Rachel Krems, Madison Richards and Vincent Diprosperis behind the bar at Waterfront Hall.

Tim McCormick, a long-time sound technician for Carnival Cruise Line, provides full audio-visual (AV) support both as installation and running the shows’ audio and lighting. In collaboration with Jan Dijkstra, they team up to provide a full experience for audiences. McCormick became part of the team in May 2023 and installed all of the AV setups with periodic help from other busy Wheeling assets, Josh Blackmore and Sean Geery, when they were available.

Being there from the beginning, Tim McCormick gave us some insight into how it was for him during the opening days. “The Hall [as many staff members and regulars call it] has grown exponentially. When it first opened, it was a mad dash for the Run for Roses event in the final 96 hours to open doors to the first shows with the Dead Revival Band. I found myself in the final 48 with a wicked sinus infection and could barely hear. I brought Jan [Dijkstra] in at that time as I wanted the show to be good,” said McCormick. 

Dead Revival Band at the opening of Waterfront Hall. Photo credit: Essington Creative.

Jan Dijkstra works as a production and sound technician with McCormick, in addition to being the stage manager for acts and the producer for Waterfront Hall’s open mic/jam nights. His interest in live music didn’t start at Waterfront Hall. In 2014, he created the very popular Facebook group Ohio Valley Gigs and has been a musician with the band Bucket of Puppies since 2015. “In 2022, I heard word of a new music venue coming to Wheeling, WV. I have had a desire for several years to bring something like Waterfront Hall to our area. After following the early progress of Waterfront Hall, I reached out directly to Dan,” said Dijkstra. “I wanted to share my excitement for his project and to be a part of its success and impact in our community.”

A PLACE FOR EVERYONE

Our last WEErock article highlighted the intentional, collaborative, welcoming mindset for all genres of entertainment at Silver Rail Bar & Grill. Waterfront Hall shares the sentiment that Wheeling needed more types of music represented. 

As far as variety of entertainment goes, Milleson wants it all. Still, within their first year of business, we expect them to expand their reach, embracing various genres as time passes. “If we want to be a place for the whole community, we need to welcome the whole music community. There’s a lot of weirdness out there, and I say that as a term of endearment,” said Milleson.

“I think that the city needs a wide variety of musical acts and entertainment. We have a lot of different vibes throughout the area. I think it’s important to include all different styles of music and art at Waterfront Hall. In doing so, we can help cultivate a sense of community between folks who may never have thought they would have anything in common,” said Krems. “I love that on some nights, there may be a hockey game or Toughman going on at the arena, and the symphony playing at the Capitol – two totally different vibes just a walk away from each other, and Waterfront Hall being right in the middle we get to see both crowds. It’s super fun and I love it!”

Splash Panel at Waterfront Hall. Photo credit: Essington Creative

“Waterfront Hall strives to have an open environment for all genres of music to have a place to share their craft in a professional atmosphere,” said Dijkstra. “In our time that we’ve been open, we hosted everything from country to hip-hop, blues to jam bands and all music in between. Being in a jam band myself, I enjoy mixing those shows and bringing that environment to the Wheeling music scene that some might not experience unless they travel to Pittsburgh.” 

Hip Hop and R&B have been a largely underrepresented genre in the Ohio Valley, and thankfully, venues like Waterfront Hall and Silver Rail Bar & Grill are giving them a space. Waterfront Hall has hosted the 50 Years of Hip Hop Celebration by Ron Scott at the YWCA and has given the stage to other artists, too. 

Hip Hop artist and producer Isaiah Keys wears many different hats and can now add “event promoter” to his resume. He got an opportunity to bring an event, “That Bag Thursday,” to Waterfront Hall. A play on the hashtag #TBT (Throwback Thursday), the event creates a showcase that allows artists to share their journey rather than simply capitalizing on their efforts. During the event, a full set performance and the crowd favorite of the night will win “That Bag,” which contains different prizes in each showcase tailored to help the winner continue to pursue a career in the music industry. “Finances are the number one killer of independent artist’s careers in the world of hip hop,” said Keys. 

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Ron Scott hosting the YWCA’s 50 Years of Hip Hop Celebration at Waterfront Hall. Photo credit: Crin Joy.

Through Isaiah’s journey in self-teaching himself how to do mixing/mastering, video edits, content creation, and graphic design, as well as honing his own skill as an artist, Waterfront Hall gave him an opportunity to create a space for up-and-coming artists. “I’ve learned a lot that can be helpful to artists who are just getting going and I genuinely want to help them because I know how difficult it is to maintain this life long term.”

According to Keys, Dan, Rachel, and the staff at Waterfront Hall trusted him with his wild ideas. “I can use any influence I have to step back and shine the light on so many other deserving artists in the area. There’s enough for ‘everyone to eat’ and being an event host, promoter, and planner is a great experience for me, broadening my range as an entertainer as well. Quoting Tupac, Keys said, “I may not change the world, but I might inspire the ones who do.”  “I live by that genuinely. It’s bigger than me,” he said. 

“I think at first everyone thought we were going to be a ‘Dead Tribute Bar.’ That’s far from the truth,” said McCormick. “Yes a lot of us are ‘[Dead] Heads’ that are involved, but we have hosted every type of music genre you can imagine. And are actively working on so much more. There will always be the jam band stuff. But it’s not the driving factor.”

THE HEARTFELT HARMONY OF A FAMILY

In any industry, connections mean a lot. This doesn’t mean simply who you know. It relies on strong bonds, trust and shared experience in building the world we want to see. What is even more meaningful are the connections that become friendships that evolve into a brother/sisterhood that shares all the work, hardships, and successes together. 

Jan Dijkstra immediately felt his connection to Milleson’s vision for Waterfront Hall during their first discussion. “I shared my background in music production, management, and promotion. We had a great meeting and instantly hit it off like we were old friends,” said Dijkstra. “I truly feel blessed and thankful to be a part of Dan’s team. He’s super supportive and involved and is surrounded by amazing staff, not by chance. Everyone involved at Waterfront Hall has a great time working together and is very passionate about what they do. It’s truly like a big family.”

“The whole staff is like a happy little family,” said McCormick. “Ian Gulley is one of the hardest working folks I’ve met. And he’s one of my biggest fans. He kept me grounded throughout the install when there were times I wanted to flip my lid. Kyle [Frazier] kicks butt with his comedy stuff. Rachelle is a true bar boss. I don’t know how she puts up with Jan and I sometimes, as we can be quite demanding and pushy on the acts we want or how we want things. But she makes it happen. She works really hard to get the acts booked and on the calendar.”

Ian Gulley, Tim McCormick, Jan Dijkstra and Dan Milleson .

Kyle Frazier, the host of comedy open mics (and also a producer of his own comedy show), echoes the family sentiment that comes from not just the talent of the staff but more so who they are as people. “The goal behind Waterfront was to create somewhere where patrons not only felt like they were somewhere new and exciting, but that they also felt embraced by the atmosphere of the staff. “We can teach how to bartend, we can’t teach character” is a phrase he [Dan Milleson] uses to end every meeting,” said Fraizer. “ I have never had a boss be so interested in my hobbies outside of work.” 

“Our staff goes above and beyond their designated responsibilities, which is an ideal situation. But if you take a closer look, what you’ll find is a genuine circle of friends who truly care about each other,” said Ian Gulley, General Manager at Waterfront Hall. “Whether it’s karaoke on a Tuesday night, bowling on a random Sunday, or a late-night bird scooter run, we tend to always be around each other. As much random fun, we all have together, there’s no need to put on a front when life’s happenings inevitably complicate matters. That’s probably the best feeling anyone could have stepping into work.”

There are so many people who go into making shows at Waterfront Hall that it is difficult for us to highlight them all, but we see you and appreciate you. From bar staff to amazing food vendors and their hard-working staff at Wood Fired Pizza and Avenue Eats, to photographers like Amelia Essington, Amber Doneski Wright, and Gage Vota taking pictures at shows, to Bruce Wheeler introducing blues acts, to Matt Locy and Bucket of Puppies bandmates jumping in to help with lights and Doug Boston who selflessly lends his talents and equipment to ensure the shows are spectacular, it takes a village to make it all come together. 

Boston has been driving support to many music endeavors throughout the years, including, but not limited to, local artists Matt VanFossen (who has an upcoming bow at Waterfront Hall on May 17) and Gage Joseph. While he may not be asking for much credit, we’re happy to give him a well-deserved shout-out. Referring to Doug Boston, McCormick remarks, “He’s been there as well from day one as support, a brother, a sounding board, and a provider of gear…only asking for gas money as he does it. He’s been to at least a dozen shows. And when I haven’t seen him in a bit. I can turn a Corner at the [Waterfront] Hall, and there he is. It wouldn’t be as awesome as it is without his love and support.” 

“Waterfront Hall is the most legitimate example of the phrase ‘Work hard, play hard.’ There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but we laugh so hard together in the end,” said Rachel Krems. “ I love my coworkers so much, and we [have] felt like family since the moment we all got hired. It feels like we can all find our little niche and passion at the Waterfront, where we can contribute to the place, adding our own personal style to the community that we share.”

Picture provided by Dan Milleson.

We notice and applaud Milleson and his staff, who have a special ability to find untapped talent, skills, and passion in not only the entertainers they book but also in those who become part of their crew. While some may see a simple goal of providing entertainment, the Waterfront Hall family is also providing opportunities for those who have always hoped for the chance that they never saw themselves getting. They didn’t just get that chance – they also became part of a supportive, loving collective that leaves a massive footprint in the music and culture scene of Wheeling. As an audience, we have the joy of sitting back and enjoying the beauty of music, laughter, and community with them.

“The thing of highest difficulty [bringing in a like-minded team] has actually become the best part – and that’s working with people I love,” said owner Dan Milleson. When we asked him what brings him joy in working with live music he responded, “The smiles on the faces of the people who are enjoying the shows, seeing them dance, and the shared hope for the future.”

Want to know what’s coming up at Waterfront Hall?  

You won’t want to miss their upcoming Waterfront Fest and the North Atlantic Beer Mile Race this Saturday, May 4. 

In collaboration with The Pine Room Podcast, the event is hosting vendors, music, food and drinks all day. Entertainment includes Tom Batchelor Band, Bucket of Puppies, Road Hogs, and Caravan Company. 

Waterfront Fest is benefiting Augusta Levy Learning Center, Helping Heroes, and The Road Home Animal Project.

You can find more details and get tickets HERE.

If you want to keep up to date about live music and happenings at Waterfront Hall, be sure to follow their Facebook page, their Instagram @waterfront.hall and their website at www.waterfronthall.com.

• Crin Joy is originally from the Pittsburgh, PA area. She obtained a degree in psychology from Wheeling Jesuit University. She has spent 16 years of her adult life in Wheeling and loves putting her psychology and social work background into everything from operational and marketing consulting, event organizing and anything else that helps Wheeling continue to grow. She has spent over a decade involved in entertainment scenes and now loves cultivating experiences that bring people joy. When she’s not out and about or working on a project, she loves spending time at home with her boyfriend and many fur kids watching 90s movies or playing video games.