Since Lebron James announced his return to the Cavaliers a lot of national attention has been focused on the city of Cleveland. When all of those eyes set their gazes on the North Coast will they see anything beyond the four #1 draft picks striving for an NBA championship? Certainly Michael Symon has been doing his part to bring attention to the city’s food scene, but few people outside of Northeast Ohio know just how good the Greater Cleveland Area is for music. Here are ten reminders of why Cleveland rocks.
10. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Leading with the most obvious choice, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sits on the shore of Lake Erie, and while it may look like a strange glass pyramid from ground level it was actually designed to look vaguely like a record player when viewed from the air.
While I’m personally not big on memorabilia, for the folks that are the Hall has one of the best collections of things worn, used and played by some of the best artists in the history of rock and hip hop. Music historians should love the archives of documents and recordings dating back to the 1920s located two miles away at the Center for the Creative Arts, and touring bands should take note that admission is free if you can prove you are on tour. Usually a laminate or piece of merch will suffice.
9. Alan Freed And “Rock & Roll”
There is some debate on the origins of the phrase, from the 1930s pop tune “Rock And Roll” by the Boswell Sisters about the rhythm of a boat on rowdy waves to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s jazzy love song “Rock Me” from the 1940s. It’s widely accepted, however, that Cleveland radio DJ Alan Freed popularized the term in the early 1950s using it on his show to describe bands that would later be recognized as the first in the new genre. Whether or not he invented “rock and roll,” it was Freed that made sure listeners associated those words with the sounds coming from the guitars of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, and the piano of Little Richard.
8. I Rock Cleveland
I Rock Cleveland doesn’t exclusively cover Cleveland artists. You can certainly find reviews and news about many acts from across the world on the site, but by all accounts blogger Bill Lipold offers these insights as an unrepentant Clevelander through and through. That said, Lipoldi does know the scene well, and that knowledge makes itself apparent in his reviews of records from local artists and recaps of local shows. In addition to his opinions on new music the site also features a monthly concert calendar, playlists from when Lipold DJs at the Beachland Ballroom and fun one-off features like suggestions for game day music for the Cleveland Browns.
7. Alternative Press Magazine
There was a time in my mid- and late-teens when pop-punk and post-hardcore were everything, and in those days of heavy hooks and gritty angst Alternative Press was there to clue me in on the latest up-and-coming bands. Twenty-nine years after starting as a fanzine handed out at live shows, A.P. is still serving its demographic of Warped Tour faithful. The publication went from being put together by a group of high school punks in an Aurora kitchen to having international distribution and an office on Cleveland’s west side. The magazine also sponsored its own tour of the U.S. and Canada for seven years, and this summer it is hosting its first A.P. Music Awards across town at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
6. The Cleveland Blues Society
The Cleveland Blues Society is likely the first and only site you need to visit if you’re looking for a dose of blues in the city (or a taste of ’90s web design). Not only because if you Google “Cleveland Blues” you are bombarded with links to a baseball team from a hundred years ago (see above), but also because it’s a terrific resource. It’s where to find listings of area blues bands, blues-centric radio shows, clubs where you might hear some blues and a schedule of blues jams around the city.
5. Cloud Nothings
Dylan Baldi spent one semester in college. In 2009 he was a freshman attending Case Western Reserve University on Cleveland’s east side majoring in saxophone performance. On the weekends he’d return across town to his parents’ house on the west side to write songs and record himself using GarageBand. Baldi would make up random bands and post the songs to Myspace using those monikers just for fun, but quickly enough the small label Bridgetown Records offered to put out the first Cloud Nothings EP, Turning On. Soon after Baldi received an offer to play in New York, and when he realized he could actually turn these tunes into a living, he wrote his parents a seven-page letter explaining why he was dropping out of college.
Five years and three albums later Cloud Nothings are one of the most exciting bands to have come out of the Cleveland area in quite a while, though sadly the city now has to share him with the world. Baldi is currently in the U.S. touring on the recently released Here And Nowhere Else, but moved to Paris early this year to be close to his girlfriend.
4. Music Saves
There are quite a few good record stores in Cleveland — many of which are listed in this handy guide from the aforementioned I Rock Cleveland — and I’m sure there will be plenty of folks that are upset I picked North Collinwood’s Music Saves above all the others. It is, however, the store in Cleveland that’s most likely to have that record from that band you heard on this blog (or any other blog for that matter), and if you’re lucky that band might just be playing an in-store show on the back patio. When I was growing up in Cleveland, Chris’ Warped Records and Speak In Tongues in Lakewood (and, sure, Revolution on Coventry which is still there) were the stores that were the centers of the scene. They were community hubs in addition to record stores, not only hosting shows, but also selling tickets for a lot of the small clubs in the area. I was bummed when both stores closed in the mid ’00s, but it is great to know that a store like Music Saves has emerged to fill the void.
3. All Of These Great Clubs
For a very large chunk of the 20th century Cleveland was a significant stop for touring musicians. Chuck Berry’s first public appearance was there, as was Elvis Presley’s first show north of the Mason-Dixon line and David Bowie’s U.S. debut. Though the city’s presence in the public consciousness has fallen considerably since those days, it’s still a place that sports fantastic places to see music. Cleveland institution The Beachland Ballroom probably hosted most of the bands you love before they were famous, and the same can be said for the similarly illustrious Grog Shop. In the early 2000s The Grog spun off the B-Sides Liquor Lounge hosting dance parties and DJ nights, and on any given evening one might find Diplo, ?uestLove or Andy Rourke behind the tables. The Happy Dog is a relative newcomer to the scene, but often hosts readings and live music accompanied by some killer hot dogs, and an enormous list of house-made toppings. The Happy Dog gets bonus points since it’s about to re-open the Euclid Tavern which used to be like a second home to touring crusty punk bands like The Queers, who seemed to be playing there every week. Has your favorite band graduated from small clubs? Maybe they’re playing at The Agora which gives away no ground to more famous venues like Irving Plaza or the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Go see some music in Cleveland. Seriously.
2. The Cleveland Orchestra
Raise your hand if you thought that the Cleveland Orchestra was internationally renowned, was one of the best in the country, and has been for nearly a hundred years. Cleveland is the smallest city to host one of the United States’ “Big Five” orchestras (the others playing out of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago) and though the group may represent the smallest population, its reputation is enormous. In 2008, when Gramophone Magazine polled a panel of international critics and listed its top 20 orchestras, Cleveland’s was ranked seventh in the world, beating out the Los Angeles Philharmonic (8th), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (11th), the New York Philharmonic (12th), the San Francisco Symphony (13th) and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (18th). The only American ensemble to place higher was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at fifth. Check out the Cleveland Orchestra at its home in Severance Hall which was built specifically for the band in the ’30s. Though the group might be out of town performing in Miami, New York, Lucerne or Vienna.
1. Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor was born and raised in western Pennsylvania, but it was in Cleveland – where he relocated after one year of college – where his musical talent, lyricism, and imagination would finally come together to forge one of the great shapers of the last 25 years of rock.
After arriving in town Reznor worked as an assistant engineer and janitor at Right Track Studio, a name that proved prescient for him. Reznor got permission to use Right Track’s equipment to lay down some demos, and though he was playing in a few different area bands at the time he recorded most of the instrumentals himself. Versions of many of the tracks from these sessions would eventually fill out the first Nine Inch Nails record, Pretty Hate Machine. Though Northeast Ohio seems destined to share its stars with the world, locals will always remember and appreciate that Trent Reznor chose to make his start in Cleveland.
Honorable Mentions: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Mushroomhead, Machine Gun Kelly, Kid Cudi, Tracy Chapman, Scene Magazine.
Honorable mentions if we’re including the Akron/Canton area: The Black Keys, Chrissie Hynde, Marilyn Manson, The O’Jays, Devo, Macy Gray.