“People are my thing,” says Wesley Bright, and the thousands of music fans who have caught the energetic singer’s act in the last four years would be disinclined to argue. As a crowd-pleasing soul shouter, Akronite Bright has been been a rising star on the local music scene since his 2011 debut with his former band, Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites, igniting stages all over Northeast Ohio, and on tours beyond. Now the Cleveland native—real name, Brent Wesley—performs just as Wesley Bright, doing the same great soul sound.
His style—in music, clothing, and dance—has a distinctively retro feel, but it’s always been just Wesley being Wesley, and that remains, even as he now wants to “show off the vocal chops, instead of the energy chops.”
“I don’t believe in trying to put together an act to fit a certain mold,” he says. “What I do, I perform exactly as I know how to perform—get out there and do what you know how to do. And everything that goes along with it—looking good, looking sharp, being a gentleman.”
Like a lot of musicians, Bright has a number of side projects, but one has been increasingly important to him lately. It, too, is a full-flowered expression of vibrant urban life in its multiple forms and flavors. In 2013, Bright began keeping honeybees on a reclaimed vacant lot he often passed in his Highland Square neighborhood.
“Just like a lot of people who want to make change and stay busy,” he says, “I got into beekeeping because of that.”
He considered urban farming or a community garden for the lot. But then he visited Amish country with his wife.
“I tasted some honey and I said, ‘Man, this is good.’” That’s when a friend suggested that keeping honeybees might be a good use of the lot. Bright began researching and became convinced it was a good idea for this urban property.
So he created the Akron Honey Company.
“I knew what a bee was, but I never understood the culture and the nature of a honeybee,” he says. “I didn’t understand the importance.”
The American Beekeeping Federation says approximately one-third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from bee pollination. They pollinate broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, and cherries.
Bees also pollinate many flowering plants, keeping gardens productive and beautiful. And then there’s the honey.
Bees have also proved to be an important part of the neighborhood ecosystem.
In 2014, Bright created the Honey Company of Akron Market Day—held in the tall grass of his beeyard, which drew between 150 and 200 people. Last year, in August, he repeated the event. The second Honey Company of Akron Market Day featured Sweet Mary’s Bakery, Akron Coffee Roasters, Urban Buzz beeswax candle company, and a woman from Durango, Mexico, who brought to Akron recipes to make her speciality, Not Yo’ Daddy’s Mexican Hot Sauce. The city shut down the street in front of his apiary for the event, which drew 300 people to the neighborhood spot.
Bright began to see the potential this had for breathing new life into the community. He was getting calls from potential customers asking how to get his honey, and schools were calling him to make presentations to students about his enterprise.
People were still his thing, but he was getting to them through honeybees. “I started realizing I was able to ignite this neighborhood,” he says.
He initiated a Kickstarter campaign to buy new hives and equipment, and has expanded his landholdings—the latest in the Middlebury neighborhood, the area’s first settlement.
“Akron before Akron was Akron,” as Bright puts it.
He also has plans to turn additional land in Cleveland into a beeyard. Placing beeyards in vacant urban lots makes it easier to keep the bees from bothering people—or, more likely, keeps the bees from being bothered by people. Bees eat flowering weeds, so the beekeeping puts neglected lots to productive use again.
Bright also realized that hives from different neighborhoods produce different flavors of honey—sweet, spicy, mild.
“There’s a whole different world of honey in the urban platform,” he says. The historic Middlebury location, he says, “gives a deep dark red honey—so full of flavor.”
Though the business is growing, he says it’s still small and will stay small. Bright says production depends on many factors, particularly on how well one takes care of the honeybees.
“If you’re just in it for the honey, you’ll lose honeybees.”
He hopes to yield 500–600 pounds of honey this year. And that doesn’t even address all that he hopes it will yield for the neighborhoods his bees call home.
“There’s a lot you can do,” he says, “with vacant land and some honeybees.”